Ten Things: that make Harrogate College a success story

Harrogate Colleges principal Debra Forsythe-Conroy.
Harrogate Colleges principal Debra Forsythe-Conroy.

It feels like it’s been around forever and it’s easy to take it for granted but Harrogate College has a proud history. Rather than resting on its laurels, it’s currently undergoing a period of radical improvement.

After testing times in the Noughties, it recently received a huge vote of confidence in the form of a £6 million investment in facilities. As Harrogate College’s principal, Debra Forsythe-Conroy reveals, this academic success story is ready for anything the 21st century can throw at it.

Harrogate College 'old boy' Richard Hammond, left, with is colleagues from BBC TV's Top Gear.

Harrogate College 'old boy' Richard Hammond, left, with is colleagues from BBC TV's Top Gear.

1 Harrogate College has more history than you might think

Located on the old ICI site at Hornbeam park, Harrogate College came into being as part of the University Extension Movement which began in 1873 under the auspices of Cambridge University.

Its currently part of Hull College Group after a spell of being linked to Leeds Metropolitan University.

It has nearly 3,000 students split between full time and part-time youngsters aged 16 and above, adult learners and apprentices.

Although Harrogate College attracts students from across the district, a total of 73% live in an HG postcode.

2 It’s getting state-of-the-art facilities fit for the 21st century campus

Harrogate College has just opened its £6 million technology centre as part of a growing focus on employability and practical skills.

The development includes two science laboratories, motor vehicle, electrical, welding and joinery workshops, fashion, art and recording studios and its hair and beauty salon named the Image Academy - all set up to the highest industry standard.

Pride of place goes to its ‘Bistro on the Park’ training restaurant. No practising here - it caters for real life paying customers.

The £6 million development was co-funded between the North Yorkshire and East Riding Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and Hull College Group.

3 Some of Harrogate College's old boys (and girls) have done rather well

Among Harrogate College’s most notable former students are British fashion designer Giles Deacon, famous for his collaboration with high street retailer New Look.

Others include film and TV actor Hugo Speer, New Zealand Member of Parliament Charles Wilson (1857-1932) and Richard Hammond, presenter on TV’s Top Gear show.

Perhaps most importantly (!), Marjorie Berry, who died in 2011 aged 105, studied at Harrogate College.

She, of course, was the mother of Great British Bake Off’s Mary Berry.

4 It’s led by a principal who’s a passionate educationalist

Harrogate College’s principal is Debra Forsythe-Conroy.

Boasting 40 years in education with a masters degree in education, this dynamic workaholic who lives in Collingham is also a part-time Ofsted inspector and staff member at Huddersfield University, among other roles.

Married for 27 years to Chris with one grown-up son, the college’s modern driving force is a keen walker in her spare time; she loves long walks on crisp cold days with her dog, and is also a published writer on beauty tips.

5 Harrogate College helps people get real jobs

As a college of further education and adult learning, Harrogate College has always has a keen eye on employability and skills for life.

Recognising a shift in demographics in the economy, as well as its traditional focus on vocational, technical and professional skills, the college is now a champion of apprenticeships creating real job opportunities for its students.

All of its full-time students aged 16-19 must complete 30 hours unpaid work experience during their course.

A total of 93% of its intake go on to employment or further education.

Harrogate College’s principal Debra Forsythe-Conroy said: “We work very hard on our apprenticeships with plenty of support from businesses and the young people themselves and see them as a viable alternative to earn and learn at the same time.

“Students can still progress onwards to foundations and higher education.”

6 Harrogate College flies the flag for Harrogate

Located just down the road from the headquarters of Saint Michael’s Hospice, Harrogate College’s local relationships in the community are deep and wide.

It recently teamed up with Harrogate Town FC’s U-19 Academy to enable students to play football while studying.

Students from Harrogate College also contribute to the catering at Harrogate Town’s ground on match day and help with match photography.

Recognising the importance of visitors to Harrogate for the local economy, 2017 will also see Harrogate College offer courses in Spa Heritage for the first time.

7 Harrogate College’s results and figures are good

Ofsted inspectors praised Harrogate College last year for its “high quality.”

Its record in GCSE results in English, Maths and Science is good.

In fact, the college scored a 100% pass rate at GCSE in science.

College principal Debra Forsythe-Conroy said: “I feel very fortunate to be working in such a great institution and with amazing, talented and motivated staff who want nothing but the best for their students.”

8 Harrogate College is aspirational

Harrogate College’s principal Debra Forsythe-Conroy is on record as saying that is she was only allowed to have one aim it would be that the college aspired to have the same reputation as the town.

As an associate college of the Open University, it also offers foundation degrees which can also be studied on a part-time basis so students can study while working.

Harrogate College is one of the few colleges nationwide which can validate its own degrees.

9 Harrogate College has strong links to local businesses and schools

As well as its close links to Harrogate Town FC, the college also has close relationships with Harrogate Hospital Trust, Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, Rudding Park, the Compass Group and Fishers Partnership, among others.

It is also part of a consortium with Rossett School in Harrogate, Harrogate High School and King James’s School in Knaresborough.

10 Harrogate College changes people’s lives for the better

Harrogate College’s principal Debra Forsythe-Conroy says she still gets a buzz walking into college each day.

She feels fortunate to work somewhere which retains a community spirit, as well as a commitment by its staff to high standards.

Most of all she loves seeing how students progress and prosper through their time at Harrogate College.

Debra said: “I remember one mother of an art and design student saying to my face “Thank you so much, you’ve changed my daughter’s life.”