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Six Steps to Sixth Form Success

Age 16+ is arguably the most popular time for students to begin or switch to a private day or boarding school. A surge in demand on both domestic and international fronts means that many schools (some of which already have a substantial cohort from 11+ or 13+ entry) are extra selective on enrolments.

It’s a huge investment for parents. It’s a huge opportunity for students to develop their independence and prepare for university or working life. There are a huge range of options and an equally expansive list of considerations when choosing the right school or college.

6th form can be the most challenging, but also exciting, time of a student’s life. It is important you get this right.

Here, we outline 6 simple steps to getting an offer from the best-fitting 6th form options.

6 steps to 6th form success:

1. Know what you need and what you want

Forget the big names. Forget the shiny prospectuses. Forget what you have heard about any particular school.

Your child is unique in their academic ability, interests, and personality. Choosing the right 6th form is very much a matter of horses for courses. A bit of introspection at this point can save a lot of wasted time and energy further down the line.

Some key questions to consider include:

  • What curriculum is the best fit? A-levels, the IB Diploma and BTECs are all very different, and you need to pick whichever option will give you the best chance of success, whilst not ruling out any progression options.
  • Do you have a specific career pathway in mind? If so, which schools or colleges will provide the right specialist programmes of support, for example, in Medicine, Engineering, or Art? At 6th form, schools and colleges may well be more focussed on particular subject specialisations.
  • What kind of environment would best suit? Are you looking for a 6th form of a more traditional private school, or would the student get along better in a modern, 6th form college atmosphere?

When advising students and families, we discuss the full range of considerations you need to make, including the much finer details that are often overlooked. Once you know your detailed requirements, you can start to weigh up options.

2. Know your options

If you have planned enough in advance, it is well worth attending open days. Please read our tips on how to make the most of open days.

If you cannot attend in person, a school’s website and prospectus can offer valuable insight into how well each school or college matches what you are looking for. You can request prospectuses by searching for a school name on our best-schools website.

Ideally, you should focus your research efforts on your primary needs as outlined above. Sometimes, information is hard to come by - particularly if you are looking deeply into numbers of boarders, international mix, results in specific academic areas, clubs and enrichment opportunities, ethos of the school and so on.

This is arguably the longest and most difficult step, and a wrong turn or missed opportunity can come back to bite later on down the line. It is therefore well worth the investment of considerable time and thought. You must have full information on all available options to be confident that you are applying to the right schools.

For our clients, we recommend schools based on the comprehensive school data we hold, anecdotal experiences of our past clients, and insider knowledge gleaned from our regular visits to as many schools as possible.

3. Submit strategic registrations

You first need to be honest with yourself. Schools will be looking at the past 2 years of your child’s school reports, with a particular focus on Year 10 reports.

The top-ranked schools will be looking for A* and A grades across most subjects, especially those subjects relevant to your 6th form choices. For students not following the traditional British GCSE or IGCSE curriculum there is nothing to say you cannot go on to study A Levels as schools will look at each student and the curriculum they are following.

The key to remember is that some schools are more academically selective than others. This often means the registration deadlines are a lot stricter and often fall earlier than the majority of schools – it is important if you are targeting these top schools to be well aware of the key application dates.

Applying to the right “academic level” of school is one of the most challenging aspects for the uninitiated. We are happy to look at school reports and advise whether you are along the right lines.

We always advise our clients to register tactically. It is fine to apply for 1 or 2 aspirational schools, but it is equally important to register for 1 or 2 schools which may be more achievable. Of course, there is no such thing as a “guaranteed” option, but all steps should be taken to avoid ending up with no offers.

4. First impressions matter

This advice is two-fold really. Primarily, the student needs to make a good first impression. Parents just need to not make a bad impression!

Irrespective of the year group applied for, we always instruct our students to prepare a personal statement. This can really help them stand out as a serious, high quality candidate from the outset. On top of entry tests, a student’s character and extra-curricular interests can play a huge part in swaying a school’s decision.

Parents also need to keep in mind that schools are run by humans. Imagine there are two equally-matched candidates, both vying for the same space. “Student A” has been supported through the process without incident, whilst “Student B” comes with an overly anxious parent who has been regularly haranguing the admissions team for half a year. All other things equal, who is more likely to be offered the place?

5. Be exam ready

All schools will require students to sit entry tests, usually in October or November of Year 11. Some students may not yet have honed their exam technique, deciding that they need to save their “A-game” for GCSE exams.

Unfortunately, competition for places is so high that students need to be ready for entry tests. In most cases, students are tested on the subjects they wish to take at A-level, though some schools may also insist on extra reasoning or language tests, or even on-site interactive group assessments.

At the very least, your child needs to practise some past papers. Samples can be found online and we provide our clients with practice papers most appropriate for their level of applications.

6. Be positive

Whether it be in person or online, schools will request to interview students. The style of interview can vary from school to school, with some being quite formal and challenging, and others being a more relaxed, friendly character-check.

Different schools look for different characteristics and attributes, but most will be looking for quietly confident students who are willing to give their all and contribute to the school community. A good knowledge of the school and sincere reasons for wanting to join will stand anyone in good stead. Enthusiasm should be genuine and palpable.

If you have followed the previous 5 steps, then a student should enter the interview stage confident in the school’s suitability for them, and their suitability for the school.

Finally,  we would encourage you to approach all previous five steps with positivity. The process can seem daunting and overwhelming but, in most of the cases we deal with, it is actually a journey of opportunity and discovery. It is an exciting time of life, and the right 6th form move can provide students with the perfect launch-pad into adult life.

To discuss your child’s requirements, please do call us on +44 1622 813870, or email info@educationadvisers.co.uk