Choosing a Sixth Form - all the rules I thought I knew are gone!

(91 Posts)
TheOriginalSteamingNit Fri 09-Nov-12 14:46:49

So we are currently looking at sixth forms for dd, 15.

Suddenly everything is different - no catchment areas, if you've got the grades, you get a place! With all the focus on places at 11, and debates about selection, no-one ever seems to mention that after all that, most schools actually can and do select by ability at 16! That is, if you haven't got the grades you can still have a place, but not necessarily do subjects you didn't do well in at GCSE.

We have looked at one so far, the other three are next week. Dd's school has a sixth form attached, but it is relatively new, and increasing in size and scope year by year. I want her to stay where she is: I think school have done well by her, and I think we should support their work in the sixth form and not bail out. But she wants to do French, which they don't yet do on site - they organize language students transport to a partner school, which I also know quite well, and where the language teaching seems to be very good. I think this could be the best of all worlds, but she is dubious.

On Tuesday, we visited what I have to describe as a pretty middle class school. About half from her year six class went there, depending which side of primary school they lived. It's highly regarded in the city, and does well nationally - there's traditionally been a flurry in year 5 of parents moving to its catchment. It also has a bit of a reputation for being a bit complacent at open evenings - 'we don't have to try to impress' - and that was the impression I got, too. I also think it seems to have a higher proportion of Ambercrombie and Fitchiness about it, and a bit of a 'mean girls' culture, but that's just impressionistic I guess.

However dp and dd really liked it - in a brief 15 min presentation, they bandied around all the right words about Russell Group and facilitating subjects, and got 7 year 13s into Oxford and Cambridge last year. Then again - that's their catchment, in part.

It's a bit like looking at houses when you're looking to move - each one seems like The One, and you have to wait and see, I suppose.... but this is all very new and strange to me!

Anyone else in similar position, or have any gems to share?

Themumsnot Fri 09-Nov-12 14:55:24

I'm in a similar position but we are in a semi-rural location and don't have many options. Our town has an FE college where DD has been for a taster day and liked, but their results are poor in many of the subjects she is interested in and it has not got a good reputation locally (overall results are below average nationally).
So she can get the train to a bigger town (90-min commute) where she will have the option of doing A-levels (results only marginally better than local college) or IB (not sure how that pans out results-wise but small classes and fairly stringent entry requirements). She is quite keen on IB but we don't know much about it yet.
There is a good school 6th form in a town about 45 mins away but she is concerned that everyone there will already know each other and she will be an outsider.
We have an options evening on Monday and they will all have reps there so hopefully we will find out a bit more. She is very academic and ambitious and we have a bit of a low-ambition culture locally so it would be good to find somewhere that encourages kids to broaden their horizons.

mrscog Fri 09-Nov-12 14:55:51

I am no expert, but do you have a Sixth Form college available to you? We have one in our area and it provides a wonderful educational experience in a much more mature atmosphere than school. People come out of the private sector to go to it. I went 10 years ago and there was a huge range of subjects and the staff were experts at A Level, and all the library resources etc. were pitched at that level too. From my experience and the experience of others I am of the opinion that school is not really appropriate for 16+ and we should have more colleges like the one I attended.

I'm sure whatever you pick will suit your DD really well smile

mrscog Fri 09-Nov-12 14:56:54

Just read themumsnot post - just to reiterate I'm talking about specific 6th form colleges and not FE (where results do tend to be lower and the atmosphere not so good).

3boys1cat Fri 09-Nov-12 14:58:25

My DS1 (now year 13) stayed on for the 6th form at his comprehensive school when all his friends went to the local 6th Form college. I think it was the best decision for him, mainly because it meant he could hit the ground running in Year 12 rather than spending the first half-term getting to know the place and the teachers and the other students. In year 12 they tend to do their first exams in January which means they don't have any time to waste.

It was also very valuable that the teachers already knew him and knew what he was capable of. At his Year 12 parents evening in the first term, his Maths teacher was able to say to us that he wasn't working hard enough and that he would be really disappointed if he didn't get an A. If he had gone to the 6th Form college, the teachers wouldn't even have known who he was.

So from our experience, I would recommend staying on at the current school provided they can offer the subjects your DD wants to do.

TheOriginalSteamingNit Fri 09-Nov-12 15:00:47

Yeah, we have a college but neither we nor dd are that keen - it's about as opposite an end of town as it gets, so transport would be a real pain, and it is also not really designed for the capacity of students it now has - just not physically big enough, by all accounts.

But then, I think the opposite - ie., that school is good until 18. I also like the idea that teachers who know her well already would be writing her references and so on.

TheWave Fri 09-Nov-12 15:01:58

We are in the same position of looking around for DD1 to change 6th form. it is very interesting how the schools do it all differently in terms of selling themselves so far.

I wondered how it worked with all the different dates of application. Some closing dates are before others, before even some open evenings elsewhere.

What if you decide on one, apply and apply elsewhere too? can you hold 2 or more places? for how long?

TheOriginalSteamingNit Fri 09-Nov-12 15:02:29

I have no idea! blush Weird, isn't it?

fraktion Fri 09-Nov-12 15:02:48

themumsnot IB is excellent but you need to achieve high all round. Also enquire how long the school has been doing it. I wouldn't go for anywhere with fewer than 5 cohorts.

OP your DD is sensible to want all the subjects in the same place. It's difficult to nip up to see the teacher if they're on a different site. A supportive school is good but moving can be a chance to break the presumed mould, however that means she needs to impress right from the start as they will only have a year to wrote the UCAS references. I think sixth form should be separated out as it's a different style if working and changing the school can make that transition more successful.

What are her reasons for wanting to move?

IMO they need to offer the subjects she wants, have experience if supporting people to get onto the course she wants, be familiar with the calibre of university she wants and have a clear plan to welcome newcomers.

TheWave Fri 09-Nov-12 15:06:51

Also finding in interesting that the religious schools are now keen to get everyone in that they did not want at Yr7 (as long as meet the grades etc).

"Our sixth form bring a lot of varietyskills etc to the school..." Yes but you didn't want that earlier though apparently.

TheOriginalSteamingNit Fri 09-Nov-12 15:09:15

Pro moving (her reasons) - thinks other school know the ropes re. getting you into Cambridge. You get fortnightly progress tutorials in small groups (though as this is the first school we've seen, that may turn out to be the case everywhere). Intermittent desire to be somewhere new. Boyfriend will probably go there, as will some other friends. All subjects under one roof

Anti moving (her reasons) - idea of seeing school through 11-18 - being a sixth former there - easy to walk to every day - sixth form facilities much newer and nicer - intermittent desire not to be somewhere new!

Themumsnot Fri 09-Nov-12 15:14:20

Fraktion - could you come and advise on my IB thread here I am trying to research it atm and getting increasingly worried about the university offer issue.

Themumsnot Fri 09-Nov-12 15:15:27

TOSN - it's a minefield isn't it when there seems to be no clear answer.

TheWave Fri 09-Nov-12 15:18:15

It may depend on the personality.

Especially in a coed school, the girls (who often have friends in the years above) might feel they have outgrown the school and the cohort they have been with.

Except they shouldn't forget there is often movement into their own sixth form. We have been trying to find out the net movement in and out of schools for Year 12 as this might be informative to us. Also why and who leaves might be relevant.

The Oxbridge thing might be misleading though, as if you are one of only, say 2 or 3 thinking of applying, the school might be really focused on helping and pushing you, getting you to link with other schools etc; whereas in a bigger group you might get the sessions but the school will get enough in without your child particularly being one of those pushed, if that makes sense?

eatyourveg Fri 09-Nov-12 15:19:03

all the schools in our town have integral sixth forms and they work in collaboration. Where there is an A level subject with not enough uptake, you have the option to study it at another school locally. You can't choose any of the schools to go to as it has to be one that is viable ie you can get from one school to the other within breaktime so you get there on time. we looked at the local girl's grammar for ds1 and the combination he wanted meant going to the giirls high school for one subject. In the end he stayed where he was as he was advised (rightly imo) that doing a new subject and in 2 new environments would be tough.

Being a new girl in a new school where the majority of girls will have established friendships groups which have been in place since Y7 is going to be tough and even more so if there are lots of what you term mean girls - I would proceed with caution unless there is usually a high number of external people joining for Y12. There again all kids are different and in the end it depends on your dd's personality, how much she likes the place and wether the subjects on offer match what she wants to do

webwiz Fri 09-Nov-12 15:22:07

Where we live all the schools have their own sixth forms - one offers the IB and the other 4 offer A levels. There is some movement between them all and some DCs move to colleges that offer more vocational qualifications. DD1 and DD2 both carried on at their school into the sixth form and DS(15) will just do the same. As I have older DCs I know people who have had or have at the moment DCs at all the school sixth forms and so I have heard every piece of gossip, nonsense, hearsay and complaint going and so while they all present a different face I'm not sure that the sixth form experience is hugely different at any of them!

So if I had to choose (DS has made his mind up and doesn't want to move) I would look at how many new pupils join for sixth form ie is it a small number who have to join an established year group or lots of new faces. It might be nice to stand out as a new face or it might be a nightmare!

I would look at the results for the subjects that your DC wants to study and the size of classes. Although results depend on cohort preferably I would like to see that there are some high grades in there. I'd also ask what sort of class sizes they normally expect to have especially as this seems to be an issue at the moment with reduction in funding.

I would look at the leavers destinations - is it some to Oxbridge and everyone else off to "rubbish" courses or a good spread subjects across different universities.

Also what are the expectations on sixth formers - are they still treated like children (one particular school locally seems very guilty of this) or are they treated as young adults.

DS wants to stay put because he has already established himself as hardworking and well liked by the teaching staff also the school has strong teaching departments in the subjects he wants to do. With DD2 we went to every open evening and then came to the same conclusion. (Don't ask about DD1 I don't think anywhere other than her own school would have taken her!)

TheOriginalSteamingNit Fri 09-Nov-12 15:23:45

There is a lot of movement here between all the schools - although she is a bit anxious about being 'new' nonetheless.

theWave what you say makes a lot of sense - I suspect dd's current school would like to have someone trying for Cambridge, as the sixth form is only a few years old and it started out as vocational only, so A levels are a relatively new thing. They do organise trips to Oxford and Cambridge, and are clearly trying to push it as an academic 6th, now.

TheOriginalSteamingNit Fri 09-Nov-12 15:24:56

Have looked at leaver's destination for the school we've seen, not seen others yet. 7 to Oxbridge, lots to Durham, Manchester etc, quite a lot to less impressive places, and a surprising amount of gap years, given the current climate!

GrungeBlobPrimpants Fri 09-Nov-12 15:29:53

Our sec schools are grouped into consortia too - you're based at one school (and may do all your subjects there) but if there are specialities (eg Music A level) or unusual subject combinations then you have the option of doing a subject in another member of the consortia.

It's just like primary and secondary admissions all over again except that it's on grades not location. So now you can relive the joys of parental angst of which is the 'best' sixth form and get wound up in knots over it. DD's school has suddenly become regarded as 'no longer the best' (why not is beyond me) and there was a mass exodus after Y11. DD didn't even want to look at other 6th forms because although most of her friends left she isn't that confident and needs the security of knowing the staff and school for a bit longer.

I think you've got to go with gut feeling and your DDs - the choice is more theirs now. i wouldn't worry about Oxbridge admission numbers but Id ask questions about university application and support if your school's sixth form is new.

TheOriginalSteamingNit Fri 09-Nov-12 15:53:05

If only our gut feelings didn't change every few days! wink

GrungeBlobPrimpants Fri 09-Nov-12 17:01:58

nothing worse than wibbly guts! grin

I THINK you can hold more than one offer .... where pupils said they were going at end of Y11 and where they actually went in Y12 weren't exactly the same. Plus one I know who changed in first week of Y12 when realised dream 6th form not what she expected

TheWave Fri 09-Nov-12 17:27:50

Thanks Grunge I assume you can hold more than one as well up until the GSCE results presumably, it feels weird though and must be for the schools as well.

Do many schools ask for references from current schools? or is that just grammars and private schools?

GrungeBlobPrimpants Fri 09-Nov-12 17:44:44

TheWave I think DD's friends had to get predicted grades from their teachers, not sure about references - varied from school to school. (Ordinary schools here not grammars)

For schools here places were not fully confirmed until after GCSE results because obviously grades have to be met

TheOriginalSteamingNit Fri 09-Nov-12 23:11:30

Well thanks for thoughts so far: I will update when we've seen more!

MsAverage Fri 09-Nov-12 23:30:13

Our below-national-average school does not have a sixth forms, and we have been shopping around for a couple of months. It feels like we are visiting poker players - no slightest indications what they got, and what we can rely on.

A couple of schools were quite frank - "We will start talking from 6 A*s in GCSEs". Oh, well, good, thank you, we will not waste each others' time. The others are strange. "If a girls BELONGS to the school, she will get a place, regardless the grades" - many of the school repeat this mantra as if it has some hidden, although a very concrete meaning. I struggled to decipher that code, until it just dawned on me. Unbelievable that I was so stupid. "If you are from upper-middle class, we would be glad to accept your under-performing child". What else could it mean, if not this?

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