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Abi Price: "By staying in their education setting for the duration of the day, learners are encouraged to spend time between timetabled lessons productively"

Making the switch at sixth form

Abi Price looks at the benefits and challenges for pupils joining an independent sixth form after attending a state comprehensive

Posted by Stephanie Broad | November 10, 2015 | People, policy, politics

We know that sixth form is a highly critical time in any young person’s education. With a significant jump in the style of assessment and a sudden need for much more independence in learning, there are so many factors at stake and a lot more pressure on each pupil.

Alongside this, pupils are making decisions that will have a huge impact on the next phase of their life, such as university options, UCAS applications and career prospects – not to mention the usual challenges of becoming a young adult. It is vital, therefore, that young people have the right setting to support their development. With all this to consider, how can independent schools get this right? 

For pupils leaving state education and entering the unfamiliar environment of independent sixth form this challenge can be even harder. As teachers it’s our responsibility to recognise these challenges and support our students in making the transition as seamless as possible.

First, it’s important to realise that the initial transition can be hard in terms of confidence, particularly if a pupil has experienced disappointing results in their previous school. It’s possible that pupils could feel shy and vulnerable in their new learning environment and may be reluctant to ask questions or nervous when asked to answer aloud in front of their new peers. 

At Kings Monkton, we make a conscious effort to build the confidence of new learners gradually until they are willing and able to contribute to lessons and feel comfortable asking questions in class. This includes making them aware that we offer pastoral care and that they can come to us for anything they feel they need extra support with. 

It’s also vital for teachers to bear in mind that transitioning pupils are most likely leaving behind friendship groups that have been formed for many years and having to start afresh somewhere new. We should be sympathetic to this, but communicate that such a change can have real long-term benefits too. As pupils leave sixth form and go on to start a career or attend university, having already undertaken and coped with one major transition can be a huge achievement to have under their belt. Additionally, navigating new surroundings and building new friendship groups means that these pupils’ self-esteem and resilience will already be one step ahead of some of their peers. 

While one of the key differences between a state secondary school and an independent sixth form tends to be the class sizes and the attention to detail in the teaching, this is undoubtedly another huge benefit that will help them reach their full potential. Within an independent environment, learners can expect to be in groups of fewer than 10 – with some classes often being as small as just one or two learners. In some instances, curriculum options may even result in one-to-one teaching. Such small classes also throw up plenty of opportunities for individual support and in-depth discussions about pupils’ development and, as such, pupils can expect to benefit from truly bespoke teaching.

Finally, within independent sixth form, the expectation is that learners attend the entire school day, in contrast to many colleges that only require pupils to attend during lectures for their subject choices. By staying in their education setting for the duration of the day, learners are encouraged to spend time between timetabled lessons productively. Using time between classes to carry out revision, research or reading helps learners to take ownership of their own progression and maintains the routine of a structured day that they received at GCSE level. 

While a transition from a state secondary school to an independent sixth form can be a daunting experience, with the right support and encouragement it can do wonders for a young person’s academic and personal progress. 

Abi Price is head of sixth form at Kings Monkton School in Cardiff.


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