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Pros & cons of small sixth form?

(15 Posts)
AChickenCalledKorma Thu 13-Oct-11 16:52:21

We are looking at secondary school choices at the moment. Our two main state options are pretty similar in terms of GCSE results, options choices etc. The main difference that stands out is that one school is half the size of the other.

The larger one has 1600 students overall, with 230 in the sixth form.
The smaller has 800 overall, with about 100 in the sixth form. And only about 30 completed A/AS courses in the 2010 league tables, which doesn't seem very many.

I have a gut feeling that a small sixth form could be a disadvantage in terms of not having a very big peer group to bounce ideas around with, possibly being limited in options if there aren't enough students wanting to study a particular subject. On the other hand, it could be great if there are very small, intensive classes where everyone gets loads of attention.

We have a big history of Oxbridge in our family and at least one child who seems to have the right kind of academic spark to aim there, if she wants to. So we want to pick a school that is equipped to deal with those kinds of results, if she is heading in that sort of direction.

webwiz Thu 13-Oct-11 17:21:53

Where I live there is movement between the school sixth forms at 16 and so choosing a particular school doesn't mean that you have to stay on at that sixth form. I would choose the secondary that is most appropriate and then look at the sixth form option again when your child is in year 11. A lot can change in five years and you will have a more realistic view of how both the sixth forms (and any other options) are performing and which is stronger in the subjects your DC wants to study.

MindtheGappp Thu 13-Oct-11 17:51:01

Does the small school have the courses your DD wants to study? If so, it doesn't matter that there are only 30 on offer.

I would always lean towards a smaller sixth form.

cricketballs Thu 13-Oct-11 18:01:40

In terms of the new funding for school 6th forms I doubt that the small one will still be there when your DC is in year 12.....

I agree with webwiz; there is a lot of movement for students in 6th form so your real concern should be the secondary rather than the 6th form. I have worked in a small and large secondary and would recommend the smaller every time (including 6th form for the reasons you have stated) as there is a lot more individual support available etc

SecretSquirrels Thu 13-Oct-11 18:49:14

The school leaving age is now 17 for those born after 1997 (I think). So this may affect the size of 6th forms.
A change at 6th form could be seen as a useful stepping stone to further education. Is there a 6th form college?

MowlemB Thu 13-Oct-11 19:18:07

I teach in a large 6th form college.

Research consistently shows that students do better at 6th form when they are in a larger institution (whether that is college or a sixth form). Students tend to do worse in smaller sixth forms.

Of course those, these are trends based on inductive reasoning and so may not apply to your specific situation. But unless the smaller one is a better institution - you are probably better off in the larger one.

I have taught in all of them, and I now find that being a dedicated 'A' level teacher at a college, the students benefit from better, more specialist teachers, who are more focused on 'A' level teaching. We also have a dedicated Oxbridge and gifted and talented programme, another specialist group for those applying to do medicine and so on...

kritur Thu 13-Oct-11 19:30:57

I agree that the small 6th form may not be there when your child reaches Y12. At the school I have taught at most recently the 6th form is likely to close soon because it can't sustain the small classes it had under the new funding regime. Look at the secondary school and make your mind up from there, there are lots of post-16 options, other school 6th forms, independent schools and 6th form or FE colleges.

The right post-16 education is highly individual and I could easily disagree with the previous poster as I think our small school 6th form had a lot of excellent points. I took many students through into science subjects at university who otherwise wouldn't have considered them without the intensive mentoring they received. And I am a very dedicated A-level teacher despite also teaching lower in the school.

MowlemB Thu 13-Oct-11 20:28:37

As I said, my post is not a personal point of view... I am merely reporting all the research and evidence.

I have the papers at work which demonstrate this more fully, but a quick google brings up this summary of the main arguments. In essence, students at school sixth forms on average do not do as well as those at larger institutions (although again I reiterate that this does not have to be a college, and this is a generalisation so may not apply to a specific institution).

students do better at larger instituions

Also, kritur I think you are equivocating my use of the term 'dedicated'. I do not mean that you personally are any less hardworking or committed to 'A' level teaching. I use the word dedicated to mean that I solely teach 'A' levels so it is the sole focus of my attention so I am able to spend more time on it. As I now only teach two year groups, I do more 'repeat' lessons so this allows me more time to develop resources etc, further more, as I share my teaching with lots of other colleagues I am able to specialise my teaching more - whereas in the school I taught all the 'A' level. Now I only teach the areas I am strongest in. With those who teach the more popular subjects, they may become even more specialist - for exam, one history teacher may only really teach one era which he knows really well. Trust me, I've taught in schools and sixth forms and the benefits of having larger sixth forms is that it does allow the teachers to focus or specialise what they teach.

MowlemB Thu 13-Oct-11 20:38:30

Actually, I might have to take that back.

According to the National Audit Office, students do do better in colleges rather than schools (on average).

AChickenCalledKorma Thu 13-Oct-11 22:19:24

Interesting views - I'm glad I asked the question. Will definitely have a look at that research MowlemB - not sure what college options there are around here, so that's an interesting new thing to think about!

I must admit I also hadn't really thought in terms of sixth form being a time to move institutions. I grew up in Scotland where (certainly at the time) it was definitely the norm to stay in the same secondary school through to the end. It certainly feels more manageable to focus on the 11-16 period and not worry so much about what comes next at this stage!

troisgarcons Thu 13-Oct-11 22:24:02

From personal persoective, working in a sec modern, we lose a lot of our Y11's to grammar 6th forms. We also take in a lot of grammer Y12 who didnt quite cut the mustard to stay in grammar. We also get, befoe October 1/2 term, a lot of out kids running back thoroughly unable to cope with Grammar education and ethos.

We remain consistently in the top 10% ALPS for results at A2. Simply - our 6th form has classes of 10 - its like a private education for no cost.

BertieBotts Thu 13-Oct-11 22:25:40

I agree that at sixth form it was definitely the norm (in the mid 00s) to look at all the options in the area. Some students stayed on at the same school, but many others moved to another school, or went to college instead. There was no pressure from the school to stay, in fact much emphasis about looking around at different places to see what different options there were. Not much mentioned about leaving education to work - I suppose they didn't want to encourage that.

When you do get to the sixth form choice it might be worth asking about class sizes and the minimum class size for a subject choice to go ahead, as well as which subjects various schools or colleges will offer, but it's a long way off and your DD will probably receive enough guidance to have a large part in the decision herself by then - I'd definitely stick to thinking about 11-16 now smile

troisgarcons Thu 13-Oct-11 22:57:14

The smaller has 800 overall, with about 100 in the sixth form. And only about 30 completed A/AS courses in the 2010 league tables, which doesn't seem very many.

Does it run other courses that dont reflect in the league tables?

AChickenCalledKorma Fri 14-Oct-11 16:55:50

Presumably, but I'm not sure what they are. Need to find out.

Pythianlegumes Fri 14-Oct-11 17:27:28

If a smaller sixth form is getting equal results, surely it is not as effective because smaller classes should improve results. Therefore I would say that the larger sixth form is better academically.
Going to a larger sixth form will also mean there will be larger friendship groups/more people DC will get along with.

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