Dd1 & I would like some opinions on a dilemma about 6th form

(41 Posts)
emsiewill Fri 10-May-13 22:46:02

Dd1 has asked me to post to get your thoughts on her dilemma about where to go for 6th form.

She currently goes to a Welsh-medium comp (ie everything taught in the medium of Welsh) and has been predicted 6A* and 7A at GCSE. She is very ambitious, and has her sights set on a top university, and has even set her sights on going to the US for uni. All of this has come from her - we are not pushy parents in any sense.

We have always assumed that she will carry on in the 6th form of her school - all of her friends will be, and they offer all of the subjects she wants to do.

However, over the past weeks, I have been wondering whether it would be more beneficial for her to go somewhere that is more "focussed" on pushing the bright children and where they have the knowledge and experience of pupils going to Oxbridge etc and can offer support in applications etc.

We live near enough for her to go to Hereford Sixth Form College which is ranked as one of the best sixth form colleges in the UK. They offer an extension programme for pupils hoping to get into Oxbridge or similar and she would be able to do more than the 3 A levels plus Welsh Bac that she will do in her current school (ie could do another A level instead of the Welsh Bac)

We have never had an issue with her current school, and (as her results, hopefully, will show), the school has served her well & she has been very happy there. However, I was a bit perturbed when she had a careers meeting where she told the teacher she was interested in finding out about going to uni in America and the teacher said "oooh, no-one's ever asked me that before" and that was the end of it. They don't have many pupils go to Oxbridge (about 2 per year I think), and I don't know whether they will be able to push dd to achieve everything I think she's capable of.

Having discussed this with dd, she is now feeling quite confused. She has been very happy where she is, and of course, being in the 6th form at a school you been at since year 7 is an appealing prospect, with all of the kudos it brings. Her friends are all staying on, and she has been friends with most of them since reception class. However, she can see the value of what the 6th form college could offer her.

As I say, she has asked me to post on here to get the thoughts of mumsnet on this dilemma - what would you do?

Roshbegosh Sat 11-May-13 00:28:28

If the sixth form college is so good then that sounds a better option. No offence meant but learning in Welsh in the local comp does sound a bit insular and she might be better to broaden her horizons.

Well the current school does sound like it is doing well for her, by her predictions. I think there is a big value to continuing with your friends, and not having a potentially miserable upheaval. You have no guarantee that Hereford 6th form would choose to put her in the push-for-oxbridge group, though I get that they have more experience of preparing pupils for it. You can always go elsewhere for career advice, you are not restricted to the school careers advisor. I'd stay. But in the end it is down to what your DD wants to do.

steppemum Sat 11-May-13 00:48:51

if she is bright and focused, she is probably going to do well anywhere.

Of more concern to me would be which language she is studying in.

If she goes to Oxbridge or US, then she will study in English, is she then going to switch at university level, learning to write academically in English, having done all her academic writing up until this point in Welsh? Would it not be better to switch now? Then she will have the advantage of having studied well in both languages, which will give her an advantage, rather than going to end of A level in Welsh which may limit her choices.

I would want to find out how Oxbridge and US colleges would see a student who has studied through the medium of Welsh their entire school, and now wanted to change to study in English. It is like a Dutch/French/German student coming to study. Would she be required to sit a written English test for example?

Just to add, I am massively in favour of bi-lingualism and bi-lingual education, so I am not coming from a negative viewpoint IYSWIM

I would say it is wise to research with her fully what the options are, but at the end of the day it should be her choice. Staying at sixth form at your old school can be a good option. I do see your point too, but she needs to choose so that sbe owns the decision and feels good about it herself IMO.

steppemum Sat 11-May-13 01:04:03

another thought, switching schools is going to take some adjusting, especially if she switches languages. She has to be happy and want to make that switch. There is a lot to be said for familiarity at this stage.

StabInTheDark Sat 11-May-13 01:28:23


My eldest DD is a few weeks away from finishing her A Levels now and found herself in a similar situation when finishing her GCSEs. She'd been predicted 13A*s and didn't achieve those grades- she was gutted and decided she wanted to move to a different (better performing) school to take her A Levels and apply to university. She was very undecided until the last minute about what to do, but eventually decided to leave her old school.

She says now that it was the worst decision she could have made- she hates the extra travel and misses her old friends and the 'school spirit' that her year group had built up over five years. She feels that she didn't appreciate what she had (firm relationships with teachers, familiarity, solid group of friends) until it was gone. For her, the experience was fairly negative, and she believes (as steppemum says) familiarity would have been more useful to her than the swap.

I know that what I've said here is biased, and of course your DD could have an entirely different, more positive experience. I just wanted to give you my point of view having experienced this. Perhaps a visit to the sixth form college during a 'working day' to get a feel for the place would be helpful- your DD's gut instinct is important too! Wishing you the best of luck! smile

HeathRobinson Sat 11-May-13 01:56:26

Learning in Welsh so far sounds great to me (how cool!) but I do wonder if your dd's vocab is at the equivalent level in English? Imo, this is something you would need to check and address, if necessary, before university.

I think I'd come down on the side of familiarity. My dc is doing AS levels this year and has changed school, as the old school didn't have a sixth form. Half a dozen friends also went to the new school and this little pool of 'normality' has really eased the transition to the sixth form.

sashh Sat 11-May-13 05:43:07

She doesn't need A levels to go to uni in the states. She could skip VI form all together

Amaris Sat 11-May-13 05:59:55

I left my upper school to go to a sixth form college where I didn't know anyone and it was definitely the best decision for me, but then I was bored of my sleepy market town and needed to broaden my horizons. I did have parents that were prepared to run me around a lot though so I didn't miss out socially. There were lots of other kids who didn't know anyone either and I made friends really quickly. But as someone else said she will probably do well anywhere, so it might be more of a gut feeling for her rather than a well thought out analysis.

SwishSwoshSwoosh Sat 11-May-13 06:15:59

Don't forget though that excellent welsh does open additional doors for work in the future. I presume you speak English at home? So she is effectively bi-lingual?

I would say if this current school has enabled her to get to 13 a/a* at gcse it is hardly a slack school.

Notfluffy Sat 11-May-13 06:30:14

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

StrawberryMojito Sat 11-May-13 06:51:29

She needs to view the college, she may instantly love it or hate it which will make the decision easier.
Id recommend the college for the language reasons that people have stated above. Also, how well she adjusts studying away from her comfort zone will help her decide whether she wants to move to the USA.

StrawberryMojito Sat 11-May-13 06:54:19

I also agree with what not fluffy said...I went to a grammar school and the girls that ended up going to Oxbridge were getting all A* at GCSE. Not sure if this is standard.

claraschu Sat 11-May-13 07:01:36

Just be aware that getting in to a top US university, is very different from getting in to Oxford. If she wants to apply to Ivy League Colleges, you can pm me and maybe we could talk on the phone.

UnexpectedItemInShaggingArea Sat 11-May-13 07:05:39

She needs to go and visit the other college, meet the staff etc. do you know anyone who goes there that you can meet up with?

KatAndKit Sat 11-May-13 07:11:00

I always think it is better for kids to stay at their school unless it is in some way letting them down. Hers clearly isn't as she has done very well there. Friends matter so much at that age and there is a lot to be said for being somewhere where you are happy and have a good social group. Also the teachers know her already.

I don't know about the welsh medium issue. If she is bilingual then it should not be too much of a problem - she must have done well in GCSE English so her written English must be very good (I assume Welsh speakers do the same GCSE English as English speakers?). I doubt that a British university would look unfavourably on this and they are probably not allowed to discriminate. Most universities have an extracurricular English for academic purposes help course for speakers of other languages and she could attend that if she thinks she needs it.

Iteotwawki Sat 11-May-13 07:21:46

I would work backwards on this one.

Decide where you want to go for Uni and in what subjects.
Based on the requirements for that, see what you need to achieve at ALevel to get in.
Pick the 6th form (either local comp or college) that will best help you get those ALevels at the right grade.

If she has fixed on a US university then talk to as many people that can help her make it in as possible.

Iteotwawki Sat 11-May-13 07:23:14

Even more backward - decide what you want to do / where you want to be after Uni.

Then use that to help you work out which Uni (or college or poly) will put you in the best position to achieve that.


VelvetSpoon Sat 11-May-13 07:47:39

I think it's important to look at whether the current school can offer the right range of subjects taught to the right level - and also whether the sylllabus for those subjects will be ones that she's interested in. Then there's the emotional and practical aspect of changing schools, and fitting in (for want of a better term) in the new school.

I left my school after GCSE to go to another 6th form. Until my final year I had always expected to stay on there BUT when we got to discussing A levels, firstly they couldn't do French and I would have had to go to the local FE College for that, also the set texts for English, and the study area for history, were not at all appealing to me. There was a further issue in that the school academically was pretty poor - but tbh this was in the days before league tables etc so although I didn't think my school was great, it was only went I went elsewhere for 6th form that I realised how low the standard there had been!

My experience ultimately was a mixed one. To do the range of subjects I wanted, I had to go to another school. Most of my friends weren't staying on for 6th form (they were all going to the FE College or straight to work) so that wasn't a factor in making me want to stay. At my new school, I had to work a lot harder. I wasn't top of the year any more - which I had been previously, by a considerable margin - and that took some getting used to. I wanted to go to Cambridge BUT even though this was a very 'good' school, and lots of other girls in my year were applying, as the newcomer I didn't get much support other than from the Headmaster; I felt a lot of the teachers didn't think I was good enough, and made comments to my parents along the lines of how I shouldn't put all my eggs in one basket, there were other unis etc.

Anyway, in the end I did get the grades and went to Cambridge. I don't regret changing schools, I am utterly certain I would never have got in from my first school, but it wasn't a bed of roses.

Your daughter's situation is obviously a fair bit different from mine - her current school sounds good, and her friends will be staying there.

OTOH if she does leave, she's in a good position as she'd be going to a 6th form college meaning that she won't be (as I was) the new girl, because they will all be 'new' -unlike me going into a school where the rest of the 6th form had been since they were 11.

I think maybe a trip to the college is a good idea. Your DD may hate the feel of it immediately (there does tend to be quite a different atmosphere in 6th form colleges compared to the 6th form attached to a secondary school, and not all students like it, I know I liked the school setting and wanted to stay within that sort of environment rather than college).

Torrorosso Sat 11-May-13 08:41:15

Are any of her friends going to the sixth form college ? That would be the key thing for me.

It sounds like the school she's in has served her well and the fact she's happy there is a big advantage. The Welsh Bac is viewed favourably by universities ime, as is a Welsh medium education. She's bright and will have no trouble switching to English for further studies at university.

My daughter is trying for a US scholarship too and sat the American SAT exam last weekend - there's masses of information at collegeboard.org which you can research yourselves, as well as going to the open days the US universities hold in London.
Pm me if you want more info (dyn ni'n siarad Cymraeg)

senua Sat 11-May-13 08:58:00

Look at specifics. When you choose a school at Year 7, you want a 'general feeling' on how the school does overall but when you get to sixth form you are only studying three or four subjects - you want to know how well the school/college does in those particular subjects.

Do I take it that money is not a problem - if you stay in the Welsh system then isn't University free/subsidised?

Torrorosso Sat 11-May-13 09:30:38

I think it's being Welsh domiciled that brings the subsidy at uni - but do check! Not an issue if she goes to America.

cory Sat 11-May-13 16:11:49

agree with senua about specifics

dd is choosing her sixth form college not because it is the top performing college generally speaking (it isn't) but because it has a particularly good reputation and good contacts with HE insistutions in the field she is interested in

Grammaticus Sat 11-May-13 16:16:01

How committed are you and she to the Welsh? She might well be better competing for places without it, and therefore with something of wider application, especially if she is going to try for the really top places. I think she should move, she can keep in touch with her existing friends no problem, just as she would/will when she goes to uni.

noblegiraffe Sat 11-May-13 16:25:23

Having had a quick look at the website, and the story about the bus load of Cambridge academics coming to the college to do masterclasses, if that was my aim, then that college is where I'd want to be.

MrsHoarder Sat 11-May-13 16:25:42

I found (as a teen) that going to a large 6th form college was a good half step to university in independence, responsibility etc compared to school. Would think this would be especially valuable if her next step academically might be an ocean away.

Plus there is a definite value in doing some academic work in English before she gets to university and feedback plummets.

Why is she looking at the us and not the EU? Especially the universities over there that teach in English. Its where I'd look if I had the chance again.

Primrose123 Sat 11-May-13 16:30:00

I think she would benefit from doing A levels in English if she is hoping to travel and study elsewhere later. I know a very clever girl who did GCSEs and A levels in a welsh school. She then went on to Oxford and told me that she really struggled to do everything in English, when for her whole life she had done everything in Welsh.

It is fantastic that your DD is fluent in Welsh, but if she wants to study at university in English, then her written English needs to be excellent.

Torrorosso Sat 11-May-13 19:32:01

Grammaticus - I think you misunderstand. The op's daughter is having a Welsh medium education, not necessarily going to study Welsh language/literature at A'level. If she stays on in school, A-levels will also be studied through the medium of Welsh. However those could be any subjects e.g. history, maths, geography, whatever, and will have equal validity to any A-level studies through the medium of English.

So she will be competing on an equal footing with students who have studied only through English.

My eldest is at a Russell Group university now, having had a entire education through the medium of Welsh.

It did take a little while for her to get used to writing in English, but she is now getting high 2.1s and firsts in her exams and assessments. So, the language issue is a bit of a red herring - she would be fine at university after studying in Welsh.

OP - I agree your daughter needs to look at what the school or college is best at teaching and what the A-level results they had in those subjects were like last year.

noblegiraffe Sat 11-May-13 20:23:58

Saying she would be fine after studying in Welsh doesn't mean that there wouldn't be any difficulties at all.
I did a year abroad as part of my degree. Maths is probably the easiest subject to study in any language but even then the unfamiliar terminology was hard to get my head around. If she has only studied maths in Welsh (for example) then she is unlikely to be familiar with the English terms for prime number, factor, quadratic equation etc. I can't imagine how much harder it would be for a wordy technical subject like science.

Dozer Sat 11-May-13 21:59:01

It's not really surprising that the careers person at her school didn't know much about the USA options, I wouldn't count that against them!

The main thing is whether the teaching is good for the subjects she wants to study beyond GCSE and to go onto a good uni course / career that she'd like.

If she's serious about oxbridge and / or the US, then thorough investigation/thought might make things clearer, eg with US options look into finances (no UK student loans available for studying abroad), paid work options (no visa upon completion of a degree, limited work prospects while studying), distance from friends and family, cultural differences and so on - there's a thread about this at the moment.

At 17/18 i thought studying in america sounded amazing, I got into a course where it was an option, went for a year and, while educationally it was great I really hadn't thought through things, and regret doing it, even though it helped me get a good job later. People on my course who loved it and wanted to return found not being able to do that really difficult - the only ones who could were those who married americans!

Torrorosso Sat 11-May-13 22:01:23

Ime Welsh medium schools teach the English phrases for technical words side-by-side though (according to my dds and the school) - the concepts are language agnostic.

There is obviously some adjustment - all I can say is that the bright young people I've known have made that adjustment, and are doing well at universities in England in a range of subjects.

Torrorosso Sat 11-May-13 22:03:58

While there are no loans for the US, there are scholarships. The Fulbright Commission is another good source of information.

emsiewill Sat 11-May-13 23:25:23

Wow! Firstly sorry for not responding before now, it's been a busy day.

Secondly, thanks everyone for your input. It was dd's idea to post on here, she has spent her life (since she was 4!) with me using mnet for advice, and once again, you haven't let me down.

Just to address the Welsh language thing. I don't know the actual stats, but I would imagine the vast majority of students who have had a Welsh medium education until 18 go on to a university education in English, so I don't think it's seen as a disadvantage. Although dd's school has the best results in English GCSE in the LEA (and they do the same GSCE as all of the other schools, which all teach in English), I do think that there can sometimes be issues with technical language. For example, dd was invited to attend the Royal Institute maths lecture series & she did find some of the terms took a little bit longer to get her head round.

So I don't think the Welsh thing is a big issue, but it is something to consider of course.

I would be interested to know more about how the Welsh Bac is actually seen by universities - the school says that universities do take it into account, dd and her friends say that they have heard anecdotal evidence they don't - in particular Oxbridge (they say) doesn't.

You all make good points about the pros and cons from a social point of view, and although everyone will be "new" to the sixth form college, I imagine there would be groups of friends coming from local schools. There are some other people going there from dd's school, but none of her particular friends. It is about 45 miles away, 50 minutes on the train, so it would be a commitment for all of us really.

My gut feeling at the moment is that she should stay where she is, and we should really look into exactly what support she will need to get where she wants to go (and work out where that is), and how we get her that support if the school isn't able to do so. On that subject, does anyone know anything about Futurewise? Or is there enough free advice and support out there?

claraschu & Torrorosso thanks (diolch!) for your offers, I will definitely PM you to find out more.

A lot to think about...

Grammaticus Sun 12-May-13 09:40:32

Maybe I did misunderstand, I don't know about the welsh system. But the OP said her DD could "could do another A level instead of the Welsh Bac" which sounded a lot more use to me!

Torrorosso Sun 12-May-13 09:57:49

I wouldn't advise The Welsh Bac in favour of an A-level – she needs to do at least three A-levels plus the Welsh Bac.

However, universities generally seem to view it favourably. My daughter says it gave her a lot of confidence when she has had to make presentations at University, as there is a focus within the Bac on individual research which has to be presented to a professional panel.

RedHelenB Sun 12-May-13 10:56:29

If the school she is at gets 2 pupils per year to Oxford or Cambridge then I don't really see a problem with staying where she is.

emsiewill Sun 12-May-13 16:44:46

Just to clarify, she will be doing at least 3 A Levels as well as the Welsh Bac, and will in fact be starting 4 AS levels as well as the Welsh Bac, with the possibility of carrying on and doing the 4 full A Levels.

At the sixth form college, she could start with 5 AS levels plus "general education" and then either do 4 A levels or carry on and do 5 (but I think that sounds like overkill).

I have no evidence for or against the Welsh Bac - the school says it's great, dd and her friends say it's not. I do think of both points of view "well, they would say that, wouldn't they".

senua Sun 12-May-13 17:59:04

It is about 45 miles away, 50 minutes on the train

That's too far. Social life really kicks off in sixth form and that's too far for parties, clubbing, movies'n'duvets, etc.

If she is really keen on Oxbridge and the like then she needs to prove that she is a motivated, independent learner. She cannot rely on college or school being the sum total of her education; either way she is going to need to find extra-curricular top up (books, periodicals, internet, summer school, exchanges, etc). She might as well stay local and use the time (not spent in commuting) to good effect.

emsiewill Tue 14-May-13 13:45:19

Just to update on this. Dd has decided she definitely does want to stay where she is now. All of your input has definitely helped.

I've also done some research based on the information you've all given, and it's been really useful to get a better idea of what's out there.

She's started her GCSEs this week, so is concentrating on them now. I was treated to a lot of information on Biology in Welsh yesterday - quite interesting as my Welsh is very basic & I didn't even do Biology 'O' Level!

Thanks again for all of your input.

mrsmellow Tue 14-May-13 13:59:34

Just to add - I was in a similar position to your daughter at this stage (but in Ireland) and my Mum was encouraging me to move (this was in 1993 though!). I didn't want to, we made a deal about how I was aware of what was required and that I would put in the work - I am very glad I didn't change - I did extremely well and the last 2 yrs at school were my favourite. I agree with someone up thread who said that if she's good enough, she can do it anywhere - you are the one who makes it happen - she sounds mature enough to realise that. My motto was (on a poster on my wall) "think big and your deeds with grow, think small and you'll fall behind, think that you can and you will, it's all in your state of mind". It is now up to her to make what she wants of her life. Good luck to her grin

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