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Applying to a new school for sixth form: what you need to know

Sixth form entry (Year 12) is one of the key entry points at independent senior schools, along with...

13.08.2021

Sixth form entry (Year 12) is one of the key entry points at independent senior schools, along with 11+ (Year 7) and 13+ (Year 9) and one that is increasingly common. 

Students will often desire a change of school after their GCSEs and in this article, we will cover why a move may be a good idea, what you should consider when looking to move, the admissions process and how to prepare for this. 

Why move schools at sixth form?

When moving at Sixth form, many pupils will go to a dedicated Sixth form college and we mention several benefits of the move below. However, many will also move into the Sixth form of a senior boarding school, either from an independent school or they may be coming from the state system and there are great benefits here too. 

New opportunities and personal development

As a general point for moving for the Sixth form, whether this be; from the state system to independent, to the Sixth form of a senior school or a sixth form college – this is the opportunity to have another friendship group, a different atmosphere, new teachers etc. You may feel that your child has been pigeonholed at their current school and this is their fresh start. Moving school allows your teenager to challenge themselves in new ways to make academic and personal choices that will impact their future lives in further education and beyond. 

Diversity of subject choice / different curriculum (IB/A Level)

 Sixth form colleges can usually provide you with a wider range of subjects with a more flexible timetable. Or, you may wish to move schools as have decided that you want your child to study IB or A Level and your current school does not offer this. 

Move to co-ed and / or boarding

One of the main reasons for a move is often to try boarding if your current school does not offer this or move to co-ed (or to single-sex from co-ed but it tends to be the other way round). Some of the top UK independent schools; Westminster, Magdalen College and Winchester for example are boys only until Year 12 when they accept girls for the Sixth form. Both boarding and a move to co-ed can reflect the real world more and preparation for university – boarding and being away from home for perhaps the first time. 

Independence and preparation for University

Sixth form colleges, in particular, can give more independence and individual space, especially within the boarding areas. A dedicated Sixth form boarding house or college can provide you with an environment much more similar to a university. Colleges tend to not have a uniform and at senior schools they often give their pupils the option to wear suits or the equivalent in the sixth form, reflecting the real world more a little more.  

What to else consider when choosing

Along with the previous points – do you want to move to boarding/co-ed etc – you should consider the below: 

Many senior schools will have a level they expect their pupils to meet at GCSE to move up into the Sixth form. If your child is not looking to meet those expectations, then talk to your school. If they are encouraging you to explore other options for Sixth form then they should also be able to advise you on where to try and which school may suit your son/daughter’s academic abilities, learning style etc. 

Entry and applications

Entry requirements of the potential school

Many schools do not have a particularly large intake at 16+ and, unless you are looking at Sixth form colleges, they will already have a cohort moving up into Year 12 so competition can be high. 

Application and visits

Although it can be a fairly pressurised few months there is good news. The sixth form applications are far more straightforward than any other stage and decisions are made quite rapidly and by the January of Year 11, your child can be left to focus on their GCSEs. 

Applicant input: Input from the applicant is required far more here than at any other entry point. Your son/daughter will need to dedicate time and effort to making their application stand out and preparing for any interviews. They should expect to dedicate some of the summer holidays of Year 11 to drafting personal statements and reading around the subjects they wish to study for A Level/IB and making their subject choices. 

When to visit the schools: Keep an eye on open days with the help of Scholato.com Schools will tend to offer a final open day at the start of the Winter term in Year 11. Visit before if you can to get in as many questions as you can on the subject choices, accommodation, timetable, extracurricular options etc. 

Deadline to apply: The end of September/start of October in Year 11 (a year prior to entry) is the main application deadline for most schools. However, there are some exceptions, namely Sevenoaks School, where the deadline is the 1st August a year prior to entry. 

The majority of applications will open in June of Year 10, if not before, and so we suggest getting applications started at the end of the summer term of Year 10 to ensure no deadlines are missed. Also, as we will explain below these applications will require more thought than those for the younger year groups it is best to get started in plenty of time. 

Applications are often completed over an online portal now. The various documents to be submitted can include:

– Personal statements

This can vary from schools providing an exact guideline and a word count (usually no more than 1000 words, more often around 350) to being asked for a few lines on recent achievements and strengths. As a general idea, you may want to think about including details on academic strengths and interests and co-curricular passions. Also, why do you want to join the chosen schools and what are your ambitions after once you leave the school.

– School reports

Either the latest report or reports covering all of Year 11

– Subject choices for sixth form

This is not to say these cannot be changed further down the line but when it comes to offering, schools will want to know for definite which subjects have been chosen

Exams and interviews

October / November in Year 11 is when the majority of schools host the examinations. 

Depending on the school, and often the sixth form curriculum (A level or IB), candidates will be asked to either sit exam papers in their chosen sixth-form subjects or sit exam papers in English and maths and then one or two chosen additional subjects.

The papers are more often than not written in-house and based on the GCSE syllabus. If one of the chosen subjects has not been studied previously by the candidate (economics for example) then a general paper is often taken instead. 

Interviews

October / November in Year 11 is when the majority of schools conduct the interviews. 

The school will specify in their admission process but candidates are usually either interviewed in their subjects chosen for Sixth form or a general interview with one or two members of the senior staff. 

As with the examinations, there are some sixth form subjects – Psychology or Economics for example, that are not often taught at GCSE. In this case, your child won’t be expected to speak at length on the topic. They will have a general interview but they will be expected to show their interest in their chosen subjects and why they want to study them.  

References

Your potential school will request confidential references directly from your current school. This could be before your exams/interviews or after. In either case, you should inform your current school so they are aware of and understand your reasons for moving and can support the application with a strong reference. 

Preparation

Practice interviewing with teachers/family friends/expert tutors. Interviews are not something that every student will experience in and they can be daunting without practice. Not every answer has to have been rehearsed but it should help applicants to relax if they can be comfortable in an interview setting, talking about themselves, their achievements and interests. 

Past papers for the examinations can be found on the school’s website. If not then look at other schools where you know the academic requirement to be roughly the same

Offers

For candidates who are successful in the tests and interview, the standard date for offers to be sent out is around 1st December in Year 11.

 Helpfully, almost all schools use the same date and will offer at least a two-week acceptance deadline. This allows you the time to make a decision on which to accept if your child has received more than one offer.  

Some schools make an unconditional offer so whilst they may expect successful candidates to gain certain marks or their GCSEs they will not take back an offer if they do not achieve these grades. 

Other schools will make conditional offers dependent on the grades an applicant achieves at GCSE. If this is the case, then it will be detailed in the offer and also there will be a guide to this when applying too. 

With the sixth form admissions process over by January of Year 11 there is then plenty of time to re focus on the upcoming GCSEs at the end of the year.

About the author: Georgina Lesmoir-Gordon has been an educational consultant with Bonas MacFarlane for over six years. She has advised many families from the UK and overseas on every step of the school entrance process. 

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