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Choosing A 6th Form College Or School

This is the time of year when every parent of a 15- or 16-year-old frets not only about exams, but also about sixth form places. As January draws to a close many of us will be applying to sixth forms. During the course of Year 11 students are free to apply to any sixth form, whether that’s a dedicated sixth form college, a further education college or a school sixth form. In a previous article we looked at whether you should leave private education for sixth form; today we’ll be looking at how to decide which sixth form to go for.

What Subjects Does Your Child Want To Study?

It can be tempting to step in at this point and try to push your child towards a subject that will help them to get a job in the longer term - but really it is important to allow them to make their own decision on this. For the next two years they will largely be responsible for their own study, so it’s important they choose subjects they enjoy. If they are struggling to decide between Fine Art and Law, you might want to suggest they choose based on future career prospects and what they want to do for a career - but realistically, if they feel they’ve been pushed into something they didn’t want to do, they will harbour resentment whenever homework time rolls around and you’ll find yourself constantly trying to coax them to study.

It may be that your child wants to study a subject they’ve not had any experience in at school, for example a new language or something that wasn’t offered at GCSE level at their current school. The fact they don’t have a GCSE in the subject shouldn’t necessarily put them off applying to study it at A Level, but they should go into this with their eyes open. If your child is keen on taking an A Level in something they’ve no experience in, a trip to the library may be a good idea. Encourage them to spend some time reading some of the subject matter and see if their enthusiasm remains. It might be that they’ve been lured in by something they’ve seen on TV or social media, but they weren’t aware of what the actual studying would entail.

Go To As Many Open Days As Possible

When it comes to choosing a sixth form, it’s always best to have a good look around and speak to staff as well as current students. See what the facilities are like, what the social side of things is like, and what sort of travel arrangements would need to be made. Spend a good amount of time looking around, investigating what wifi or computing facilities there are, speaking to people and generally being nosey. If you’re there while lessons are taking place your child may find it beneficial to peek into a few and see how the teaching style differs from the lessons they experience in school. It’s also important to look at pastoral care, as many teenagers will find that they need additional support during their time in sixth form.

Find What Courses And Combinations Are Available

You may well find that your child favours a sixth form facility that only does one or two of the subjects they were hoping to study, which will mean they have to make a choice: do they change their subjects, or change their sixth form choice? Neither is necessarily a bad move, but it’s an important decision.

While it’s important not to compromise on a subject that’s really important to your child, they may find that a sixth form they like the look of actually does a course that’s slightly different and ticks many of the same boxes.

It is also worth looking not just at the subject but also the course syllabus. For example, A Level History in one facility might mean studying the Russian Revolution; in another facility it might mean studying the French Revolution. It’s important to bear in mind that the same subject can be taught at different institutions, using an entirely different syllabus.

Find Out About Entry Requirements And The Application Process

Most sixth forms will have entry requirements centred around GCSE grades. It’s important to know your child’s predicted grades for this reason, but also to speak to the college if you believe there are special circumstances. For example, if your child’s predicted Maths grade was low but you’ve hired a tutor and you’re confident it will improve, it’s worth speaking to the admissions department about this.

It’s really important to understand exactly what is required, so that when your child’s GCSE results come in they are not left stressed and wondering whether they have secured their place at college or not. Find out beforehand if there is any flexibility available if your child doesn’t quite get the grades required, so that you can be prepared on results day.

Choosing a sixth form can be stressful and daunting, and it can be tempting as parents to overrule a child’s decision with what you consider to be the best decision for their future. Ultimately though, at sixteen years of age your child will walk into their sixth form education being held responsible for their own study and treated as an adult. It’s important to work with them to make a joint decision so that their studies don’t suffer later on.

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