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Originally opened by then Minister for Education Margaret Thatcher in 1973 and known as Ilfracombe School & Community College, it was the first purpose built Comprehensive school in the country. Subsequently called Ilfracombe College, since the early 1980s, facilities available to students have included a television studio with an editing suite. Following fundraising and negotiations from 2001, the college was awarded specialist college Media Arts status in 2004 and was renamed Ilfracombe Arts College. In 2007, the school built a £3.4 million arts block named the Beacon Arts Centre. The arts department relocated to this department, freeing up rooms for other uses in the school. The previous art rooms were refurbished into new Administration, Student Services, and Learning Support areas. The previous Student Services were refurbished into a Conference room with video conferencing facilities. The school converted to academy status in May 2013, but continues to specialise in the arts.
There are five periods in the school day, each lasting one hour. They are organized as tutorial (20 minutes), lesson one, lesson two, break (30 minutes), lesson three, lesson four, lunch (45 minutes), and lesson five. This system replaced the old schedule of three lessons in the morning and two in the afternoon in July 2006.
Year 9,10,11 and Sixth Form Students are given the opportunity to participate in the Annual Ten Tors walk.
The school broadcasts regular Students Radio Shows in stereo on frequencies 103.6 & 107.7 MHz FM