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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?

circular Wed 14-Nov-12 08:32:00

Having a difficult time of it here too.
Open days only started last week, been to 2 so far, both of which DDl loved. One a difficult journey, the other less likely to get an offer from.
It seems though that "minimum requirements" are what must be acheived to be allowed to take chosen subjects. And are on rhe basis of what internal applicants must be predicted. The difficult bit is getting predicted grades high enough to get the offer in the first place.
For DDs first choice, although minimum is just 5 A* to C incl. E&M with A/ B in chosen subjects, as there are do many applicants those that typically get the offers are predicted 8 A*.

DDs school does have an average sixth form, but subject blocks don't work for her. Shes pretty much set on her subjects now, so its looking like her choice will be a difficult journey with high travel costs or a lesser school than her own.

With regards to holding onto places, we have been told by current school to hold onto ad many options ad possible until results day. So we expect to be able to do this unless any (compulsory) induction days clash.

MsAverage - re your comment on "BELONGS". I'm sure what you say is true to some extent. But some schools also favour sport and//or musical children, and may even prefer A/B"s with loads of other stuff to offer than straight A*s but little else to offer.

A very competitive school we are seeing next week have no mention of grades on their website, but say they want the students that can offer most to the school. I can feel some interesting questions coming on there.

Themumsnot Wed 14-Nov-12 08:46:15

DD has now got her heart firmly set on the IB which means going to the college with the 90-min commute and (I found out yesterday), the travel card for the year is £500.
We are going to an open evening at the local college tonight. I need to quiz them hard about their results - the prospectus was a masterpiece of disinformation (100% of students 'pass' their A-levels - yes but at what grades?). Belonging is an interesting concept - DD is not feeling it from anywhere in particular right now, even the IB place. They all want her - bums on seats a huge issue around here.

TheOriginalSteamingNit Wed 14-Nov-12 08:48:40

We saw a very pro IB one on Monday: I am not convinced by it. They we saying 'oh but if you aren't so keen on science, you can do the more social options', but surely choosing the 'easy' bits of the IB is not going to impress admissions tutors everywhere? Seeing another tonight and tomorrow....

boschy Wed 14-Nov-12 09:06:25

gosh I envy those of you with a choice! We have: DD1's current school, open evening tonight. I would like her to stay there, and she is also quite keen. which is lucky, because option 2 is a dump school in the other direction, and option 3, the FE college, is closing.

So I am just hoping that she will get a place where she is, because otherwise we wont know what to do (and she is more a C-D student than an A* one).

Themumsnot Wed 14-Nov-12 09:08:27

TOSN - I agree re the IB. No point in doing it you don't like some of the subjects you are going to have to do. The 'easy' Maths and Science aren't going to impress as much as an A-level in a subject you like and will do well in.

Themumsnot Wed 14-Nov-12 09:10:01

Boschy - sounds like your options are even more limited than ours! And here I was getting jealous of those with loads of places to choose from.

TheOriginalSteamingNit Wed 14-Nov-12 09:11:39

Thanks, themums that is pretty much what I was thinking. I can see IB would be a good idea if you were essentially sciencey but didn't want entirely to lose some humanties or languages... But dd wants to do English lit, history, French and either German or maths, and is equally appalled at the idea of doing chemistry a bit more, or choosing art instead of it!

boschy it's odd really, because at 11 you don't really get to choose at all here, most people go where is nearest.... Then suddenly at 16 all bets are off: doesn't matter where you live, just if you have the grades!

TalkinPeace2 Wed 14-Nov-12 13:20:22

when we go through the process DD will have several choices
the one in Winchester (top top choice) (12 miles)
the one a bit nearer (8 miles)
the one in town (4 miles)
the one in the forest (20 miles)
buses to each go from near here

Themumsnot Wed 14-Nov-12 13:35:25

That sounds like a great range of options, Talk. The one in Winchester is Peter Symonds, isn't it? Is it hard to get into?

TalkinPeace2 Wed 14-Nov-12 13:39:52

decent GCSEs and you join the 1500 per year intake !
They even relaxed the rules a bit due to the Eng Lit exam fiasco.

Barton Peverill and Brockenhurst are both good enough that all three are on their toes
and of course Sparsholt for those heading into farming and outdoors

gelo Wed 14-Nov-12 14:09:53

1500 per year shock. I thought dd's 6th form was huge with a quarter that intake!

There are pros & cons to moving. It does give a feeling of progression and to go to a 6th form college is like a step towards university. You do have to get to know new teachers & friends which can be positive & negative - it gives you a wider view of the world, but if you are trying to keep up with old friends too it can make social life very hectic.

LittleFrieda Wed 14-Nov-12 14:18:10

DS2 swapped for sixth form from a boys' selective fee-paying school to a comp. He started in September and t's been an amazing move for him. We allowed him to choose. I think that's really important.

TheWave Wed 14-Nov-12 14:20:46

Interesting the first few open evenings round here.

One obv going for the higher level incomers (and targeting the parents in their talk) to boost the A level grades.

Another didn't seem too keen on the "incomers" at all, very much gearing the open evening towards existing Year 11s and choosing their options. Er where do we go? Any guides to take us around? No? Well we'll just traipse around vaguely then shall we?

gelo Wed 14-Nov-12 14:36:33

dd was interviewed by 3 schools for sixth form, each had the same school report with predicted grades etc. in advance. At each interview she was asked what she wanted to do longer term.

At the first she said she was thinking about medicine (because she was), at which there was a much tooth sucking and a 'well you'll need to get at least 8 A*s' response in a sceptical tone. After this, at the second, she toned down the reply to 'maybe something like pharmacy or physiotherapy' to which the response was: 'with your grades you should try for medicine'. At the third, she reverted again to the medicine answer and was asked why that appealed to her?

I found the different responses from the schools very interesting. One was a comprehensive, one an independent, and one a super-selective grammar.

webwiz Wed 14-Nov-12 18:07:38

That's interesting gelo at least you got a heads up about how aspirational each environment was.

We had a slightly strange experience with DD2 when we went to the local boys school which has a mixed sixth form. We were in the Maths department talking to one of the teachers and DD2 asked a question about further maths. Instead of answering the teacher spent the whole time saying "well maths on its own is fine" and being very down on the idea of her taking further maths (without having any idea what her ability level was). It really put us off. She's in her second year studying maths at university now so a good job she ignored him!

boschy Wed 14-Nov-12 22:16:37

our evening was good; she has more choices than she thought she has, and is having to narrow down - there were 3 she originally thought she would like to do, but another 3 or so choices are now also real options.

they also seem to be quite flexible about GCSE achievements, for example she wants to do photography at A level but doesnt have GCSE art or photog (she cant draw so didnt do art, and photog wasnt an option for her at GCSE).

basically as long as she gets her C in English she can do the subjects she wants, but will prob have to resit maths GCSE for about 100 years to get a C!! (luckily no interest in maths necessary courses)

I find the applications process confusing though, we have to do it via the county website and it sounds a bit of a nightmare.

TheOriginalSteamingNit Wed 14-Nov-12 22:33:26

Gay, dd says she 'can't see herself' at her school's sixth form and is v keen on the lacklustre unfriendly middle class good Oxbridge rate one we saw last week. I know I have to respect her decision to an extent, but I so disagree with it!

Themumsnot Wed 14-Nov-12 23:42:44

Nightmare! We've been to the local FE college this evening. DD really liked the history teacher who had made a big big effort, got some of his students to hang out in the classroom and chat to people - they were lovely - talked us through the syllabus and what it would involve and was full of enthusiasm and generally the sort of teacher you would want to have. The other departments were so-so and lacklustre. Now DD says she would love to do history there and the other subjects at the college 60 miles away so choosing is going to be far more of a dilemma than she thought.

circular Thu 15-Nov-12 07:27:22

Talkinpeace - Sometimes when you start looking properly at choices, they turn out nott to be choiices at all. We could have cheerfully listed over 20 state schools that are commutable. But once we have crossed off those with little movement in sixth form, those that dont do the subjects, and the fire FE colleges scoring <500 points per student it is cut by more than half. Then of those left there are option block clashes, some that are so competitive they don't even bother to have an open evening, and others that want 8 or mire A*s. I really hope this does not turn out to be the case for you.

Themumsnot - I think I posted on your IB thread. DD is also considering a school with a 90 minute commute. A bit of a change as he current school is 2 miles away. She always said she would be willing to travel if it were a great s hook for music- but this one is not. She just lived the feel of the place and warmed to all the teachers in her chosen subjects. They do the IB but she has definitely decided against it, although wanting a mix across subjects and does a lot if extra Ca and volumteering. Main reasons are - she can't bear the thought if 2 years more English, higher level maths more difficult than A level, knows what she wants to do at University (Music - which is time consuming ) so S levels sufficient to keep optios open, not an A* student.

TheOriginalSteamingNit Thu 15-Nov-12 08:48:39

that should have said 'gah' above, not 'gay'!

Someone please remind me or explain to me all the reasons it has to be her choice and exactly how I go about backing off and not trying to make her go where I want her to??

I really don't like the school she wants to go to - there was zero effort made at open evening, no signs, no guides, no refreshments. The staff who did speak to her were few, and didn't seem to know whether she was a current year 11 or not - if they don't know whether she's just spent five years there, how are they going to know how to write her helpful references and so on? It's a very inconvenient commute, too.

By contrast, her own current school was warm and friendly, staff knew her by name and smiled and talked - but she thinks they're 'trying too hard' and that she wants a change.

Unfriendly school does, however, get the results. Pupils she knows who are there now seem to like it. Then again, it should get the results, given its catchment and the fact that you can't do an A level in a subject you didn't get a B in at GCSE.

I find it really difficult to discuss this without getting annoyed, and all her reasons seem really vague: 'I just can't see myself at X but I can see myself at Y'; 'why's that?'; 'I DON'T KNOW I JUST DO' hmm


TheOriginalSteamingNit Thu 15-Nov-12 09:32:17

Oh and dp told me this morning that she'd said something in her school's presentation was was spinning things to sound better than she thinks they are, to which I responded that we could hardly blame them for making an effort and it didn't seem like a good enough reason to dismiss them. He said 'let's just forget I said anything' and there was Bad Feeling.

I'm struggling with this, because she is so defensive and yet so unwilling to communicate actually why she feels the way she does, and dp seems to think that given half a chance I'll be an arsehole about it. (ie: 'well, I guess the way we will sort it out is to have a constructive conversation about it'. Thanks pet.)

mummytime Thu 15-Nov-12 09:58:42

I think you have a problem as you really want to make this decision for her.

First apply to both (and any other places).

Second, in 2 years she will be going to University, where not only should you not be choosing, but you also can't control/influence how much work she is doing.

Third, she has been at her present school for 4/5 years. I would respect her judgement hugely if she thinks a lot of it was "spin". She will know far more than you what the school is really like.

The best thing you can do is back off. There is a long time until the real decision has to be made, lots and lots of young people near me hold offers from more than one sixth form. There is also a lot of re-shuffling that happens as late as the summer. I have known students not know in July where they were going to be in September.

My son in in year 12, his form teacher had never met him before this year. Yes some of his teacher's had taught him in the past, but others are totally new to him. However by now I would say that most teachers have him pretty well pegged. And for references Universities are not interested in what a student did in year 7, but in what they have shown over sixth form. Schools also ask students for information so if there is a significant achievement in the past, it can be included.

TheOriginalSteamingNit Thu 15-Nov-12 10:02:44

Thanks Mummytime - actually there isn't that much time: some of the schools need your forms by early December, or else they can't promise you the subject combinations you want.

The thing is with the 'spin' - yes, they did clearly want to sell themselves, and as such were trying quite hard, but I feel it's not fair to judge them on that more harshly than the other school who just didn't bother! As far as I've ever been aware, she's always liked her school, and she's certainly done well there, so I feel it's wrong to bugger off now, I suppose.

gelo Thu 15-Nov-12 10:37:27

TOSN what mummytime means by having lots of time is that you can apply to both and hold both offers until results day in August. So the actual decision doesn't have to me made until then.

The problem with imposing your will is that many (maybe most) teenagers will react against it and not do as well as they might because it's not what they wanted and they are resentful. They may also hold it against you for ever.

Dd moved school when I would have quite liked her to stay on but so far it's been a good thing (she's not putting enough work in, but I'm fairly sure this would have happened anywhere, but the new school has picked up on it and is taking action). Her new school had no guides/signs etc. at open evening either, I don't think this is necessarily a problem.

gelo Thu 15-Nov-12 10:43:01

oh and there was one school dd applied to that I really didn't think would be right for her, but we went along with the application and it wasn't until about March or April that she finally came to her senses and withdrew.

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