I'd start by chatting to your DC about what sort of place they think they'd like ( a school or a college, central or suburbs near where you live; highly academic or more laid back. Do they want lots of on-site extra -curricular? Most important of all, do they have a strong interest in specific subjects that may not be available at all schools. E.g. a friend's daughter wanted to do textiles and her school dropped it as an A level subject the year she'd have started 6th form, so she moved to do it.
Look at extra support - careers and uni advice and where the pupils/students end up, also at pass rates.
I wouldn't do anything yet. (I speak as Mum to a dd ending Yr9 and a ds ending Yr11, so have done it once ). It's much more relaxed (IME) than the worry about getting into secondary school of choice. A lot of youngsters go to other places - apprenticeships, local 6th form colleges, etc., and 6th forms at school tend to be smaller than other year groups. She needs to think about what sort of things she'd like to do - is university an option? Does she want to do a more practical job ? The Skills Show is quite interesting - free, and visits different parts of the Country - you can go just as a parent and child, it doesn't have to be a school group - and they have all sorts of trades there, telling you about what you would need to do to get into that area. Also people from colleges, apprenticeship schemes, the armed forces, big local employers etc. If nothing else, it's quite a nice day out - they get to have a go at lots of things.
No, I don't think it is as intensely competitive, and it is more informal (they can make offers to whom they like, with conditions) - this is for state secondaries. For the private schools it will depend how many places they expect to offer.
It varies hugely - honestly you need to contact the schools and ask for example, how many places they have at sixth form level, and how many applicants. You need this info from the schools directly, don't go on internet hearsay which could be out of date. When you have a list of possibles, then do let us know, and you may get some useful insights. You will find loads of useful info on most websites.
The Good School Guide is often recommended but it seems like PR puff to me.
Thanks for the helpful answers. I'm wondering if entry into the sixth form at the popular London schools is as intensely competitive as entry to Year 7 or do they significantly expand their places. Also wondering if I should start planning to visit schools this year, although sixth form is two years away. Are there any good resourses for info on private schools and boarding schools? My dd is interested in performing arts.
There are usually a couple of options for 6th form. A lot of schools have 6th forms incorporated into them and most students will go straight from Y7 through to Y13. You don't have to stay on, many move schools for the 6th form especially as many are co-ed for the last two years. These schools usually take external applicants in at Y12 although they may be limited in terms of a quota. In some parts of the country the secondary schools go up to Y11 and students then have the option of going to a 6th form college for their tertiary education. You can also choose to go to a college of further education (FE)
Generally and this is very much a general thing so there will be lots of variation, 6th forms in school tend to mainly offer A levels IB Pre-U etc as well as some BTEC/City & Guilds type courses which are usually in a vocational area. In 6th form colleges there may be a more even split and FE colleges will tend to focus mainly on vocational courses but they will also offer A levels.
You will need to think about what pathway your dd wants to follow, if she has any ideas about careers and what type of study would suit her best, vocational or academic. You can get into university with BTEC qualifications although there may be some restrictions for some courses I'm not sure. The most common form of qualification for entry to university for students from UK will be A levels, IB, Pre-U or Scottish Highers etc.
Yes, it is quite common but depends on your area. Yes, many schools hold open evenings. You should look at the websites of possible schools. If you don't know which they are, ask on here with your area, use the local council website, the govt performance tables etc. I think most people would consider an hour each way perfectly reasonable at that age.
We relocated to London from overseas this year and dd went into year 9 at the local school. Alhtough everything is going OK, I feel we suffered from a lack of preparedness and understanding of the school system so I'd really like to be on top of things come sixth form. I understand that kids often move schools for the sixth form but how do I go about checking out the options? Is there anything we should know about changing schools for the sixth form and is it usual for schools to hold open days and organise visits for prospective students?