Launching a new Sixth Form in the heart of Cambridge

Cambridge students are presented with a vast array of Post-16 study options as they complete their GCSEs. Due to the abundance of 11-16 village colleges in the county, students have traditionally left their secondary school in favour of one of Cambridge’s larger sixth form colleges to complete their A Levels or vocational qualifications.

To compete with larger Colleges, Schools with sixth forms need to stand out from the crowd to compete with the significant marketing budgets of the nearby colleges. The Netherhall School is no exception to this. Despite having a highly successful sixth form centre students still chose to study at the other nearby sixth form colleges.

The school, which had recently become part of Anglian Learning, saw this as an opportunity to create something completely different, and establish a new sixth form college brand in the centre of Cambridge and have subsequently expanded by over 40%.

To change this generational habit, we knew we had to really get to the heart of what students required from a sixth Form college to be successful. Talking to the students directly and using this engagement to inform the campaign, excite the students and their families about the changes, and establish a cultural shift across the school and the Trust towards promoting its sixth form offer.

We set about holding a series of interactive workshops, where we built a picture of what students thought about the current provision , what they wanted from their local sixth form, and what values they wanted their sixth form students to embody.

Armed with this information, we worked closely with our design agency partners, Speed Agency, to create a new name and a new brand. Students and staff had told us this new brand needed to feel distinctive and modern, but with some traditional features. From this brief, The Oakes College, Cambridge, was born.

A new logo and name alone was not going to win over the hearts and minds of the local community, though. The rebrand was supported by a proactive communications strategy starting in The Netherhall School and expanding out across all the Trust’s secondary schools to ensure the relaunch captured the interest of staff, parents, and students. The strategy also made recommendations on how these messages could be continually drip-fed through the school’s ongoing communication, annual engagement opportunities with students and parents, and how the visual impact of the brand could grow over time.

Since the brand was officially launched in September 2019, The Oakes College, Cambridge’s intake has grown by 40%. The Oakes College, Cambridge also has a thriving social media presence with over 1,300 followers on Instagram and almost 800 followers on Twitter.