Sixth form swappers
If your teen might benefit from a new start for A levels, here's what you should consider.
Usually once you’ve got your child into a secondary school you’re happy with, you can breathe a sigh of relief and consider them sorted for at least six years, until they head off to university/the working world and you can finally wash your hands of the little blighters (Joke! Sort of). When I was at school it was never a consideration that I’d go somewhere else for Sixth Form, but it does seem to be a trend that is increasing for a whole raft of reasons – parent power; increased school flexibility (and need to develop new income streams); a desire to try something different and make a new start.
So what are the questions for you and your offspring to ponder? I had an interesting chat about this with Alisdair MacPherson, head of sixth form at d’Overbroeck’s in central Oxford (the school actually started off as a sixth form before admitting younger children – see my review here). D’Overbroeck’s has a notable chunk of new arrivals rocking up for sixth form (no wonder – the school was 27th in the The Times’ A-level results in 2017), so he has great insight into why a change of scene might work (or not) for your child. Over to you, Alisdair.
The biggie: can your child achieve more?
You might have a child who has done perfectly OK up until now but you have a feeling they could do better. Sixth form is the time to take action – A levels are so important in terms of a student’s future destination in life. Are you happy that your existing school is going to help them achieve the results they need to get to where they want to go? If not, it’s time to start looking. Keep an eye out for Value Added scores (the uplift in grades from what your child might ordinarily expect to achieve) and the quality of pastoral care.
Would they benefit from a more grown-up environment?
Sometimes a student will say things like, ‘I keep getting told off because my tie’s not done up properly and it’s ridiculous. I’d rather be debating politics and economics with my teacher.’ Many schools have the same approach and environment for both 11-year-olds and 17-years-olds, so some students get to a point where they feel they’ve outgrown their current school. They might benefit from a more independent or standalone sixth form which can provide a stepping stone to ease the transition to university.
Can you find a better choice of A levels elsewhere?
Many schools become more limited in terms of what subjects they can offer at sixth form because the size of the school often shrinks at this stage (as some students leave after GCSEs). Plus, in the state sector, funding cuts are biting. It can be a problem if your current school is focusing on the ‘big’, academic subjects or doesn’t have much flexibility in its timetable if you want to study something more esoteric or an unusual combination of subjects. So if you’re visiting a potential new school, be sure to ask about the range and flexibility of their A level options.
Do they need to meet more boys/girls?
If a student has always studied at a single-sex school, it can be really beneficial for them to attend a co-ed one for sixth form. Clearly co-ed is more reflective of the real world and it can come as a shock to people at the age of 18 if they’ve never mixed in that way before! A co-ed environment can help students grow in social confidence and the ability to work in teams.
Can they deal well with change?
Society has become so much more flexible – we work flexibly and we change jobs frequently so it’s good to get used to managing change and honing the ability to start anew. And a change of school can also help with embracing diversity. If you have a student from a school where everyone is from the same background and the same postcode, it can be an advantage to move to a school with more of a mix, to get them used to meeting people who are different.
Has your child become pigeonholed?
Contemplating a new school can feel daunting for parents as much as children, but it can be a really positive fresh start for a pupil. You might have a situation where because they’ve been at their existing school for five years they have a pre-defined role that’s been in place since they were 11 – they’re known, for example, as being an average student, or not a joiner-in. A change can be a real boost – that average student might then excel, discover they’re amazing at psychology or another subject they’d never considered or decide to try out for a club. It’s a way to ditch out-of-date labels and expectations.