In preparation for the move from secondary school to sixth form, both students and parents alike face an overwhelming avalanche of decision-making and angst – as if the final year of compulsory education wasn’t stressful enough!
Year 11 typically draws to a close after GCSE examinations in the summer term. Many students are ready for a well-deserved break, before returning the following September to the comfort of familiar walls and faces on the same school campus. Meanwhile, whilst others may fear their last days of high school almost as much as the exams themselves (time to say goodbye), some are actually delighted to finally escape and try something new.
How do we navigate these different scenarios?
Firstly, brace yourself, as the circumstances rapidly become more complex, contingent upon a variety of factors, namely dependent on previous study routes, both state and private. Secondly, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to moving between secondary school and sixth form, but moreover, an array of options exist which can be tailored to fit your family’s needs.
Students who wish to move to another branch of their current school may feel more at ease staying with teachers and peers who have long contributed to their educational journey. However, a change of scenery is most welcomed by some individuals who feel ready to move on, make new friends and perhaps access a broader subject range in a further education or sixth form college.
Opting for a new place of study also bridges the gap when a transition to university is potentially only a couple of years away, encouraging students to adapt to new surroundings, gain further independence and discover different teaching and learning styles. Those graduating from private secondary schools may be surprised by the vast range of options available to them, given that moving between private and state sixth forms or colleges is also on the table.
Students from different settings and backgrounds often attend state sixth forms after high school, creating opportunities to socialise and form new friendships, regardless of where their nursery, primary or secondary years were spent.
Switching between systems may occur following financial burdens, changes to geographical catchment areas, strategic planning or simply due to changes in preference. There has also been plenty of press over the years urging the government to promote inclusivity and fair selection at university. This is to ensure that even leading institutions such as Oxbridge, offer places justly and not exclusively to students from private secondary schools and sixth forms.
In addition, the following UCAS guidelines reassure the notion that both Oxford and Cambridge rate merit over background. They stress the importance of displaying ‘academic ability and potential,’ along with a clear flair and competence in chosen subjects. Hence, course selection at sixth form age creates stepping-stones for further academic study, builds character and expands knowledge.
Consequently, some students may opt for a state sixth form experience in the hope of joining a pool of applicants from backgrounds unlimited to the private route. Certain Oxbridge colleges pride themselves on this idea of all-encompassing selection based on accomplishment and potential to thrive in said surroundings.
Should university choices influence my child’s options after secondary school?
Ambitions and dreams are to be encouraged and fulfilled, but unfortunately, some school leavers (and their parents) are already exceedingly stressed about 16-18 study options in relation to university, before GCSE results are even out. This takes away from the enjoyment of choosing A level, IB, or other vocational subjects and courses. On top of the pressure of selecting subjects which will act as a launchpad to next steps, or that a wrong choice could be the end of the world, students also face the conundrum of where to actually spend those two intermediary years.
Hence, we must refrain from instilling fear that community colleges or independent sixth forms will necessarily make or break the possibility to attain one’s first choice university. Instead we should promote and nurture positive pathways and explore all options, in order to find the perfect fit for our children. Whilst subject choices and combinations are extremely important for further study, students should also be motivated to choose subjects that they enjoy and feel comfortable with.
In terms of where to study, a Further Education college offering a slightly more informal setting with a vast range of subject and support options available, may be better suited to some. Others may switch from one school sixth form to another, or attend a smaller independent sixth form college, perhaps with specialised subjects and a lesser student population.
Should I stay or should I go?
To conclude, if you’re currently facing the challenge of helping secondary school leavers to decide whether to stay on at their school’s sixth form or to embark on a new journey elsewhere, then you may find these summarised tips helpful:
- Discuss subject interests, along with potential links to future aspirations
- Attend open days at other sixth forms, further education and sixth form colleges to explore different atmospheres and structures
- Consider support options, pastoral care, class and campus sizes
- Where specialised teachers and facilities are sought, check availability
Subject requirements for university must be considered and may ultimately help students to select their sixth form environment. However, where this is not the sole factor, let’s allow for enjoyment, talent and personal preference to also contribute to the decision-making process. A move between state and private institutions is not necessarily detrimental – you probably have more superb options available to you than you think. Let the open days and prospectus reading commence!
About the author: Melissa Harvey is a multi-lingual teacher, private tutor and educational writer.