Looking for something to help your child think about their options? BBC bitesize have done a nice video summary…
We’ll be going into more detail and practical advice about these things during the year via your weekly email, but for those of you who are super-keen…
Guide to 6th form education
‘A guide to 6th form? . . But they’re only just starting Yr 11!’
There are so many reasons why it is important that you understand the impact of GCSEs on the choices that your child will have in the 6th form as soon as possible. All schools, colleges, and academies will have their own set of entrance criteria, but there is a general rule that you can follow. This guide this will cover all of the bases in terms of what you need to know at this stage.
There are some who would say that thinking about Yr 12 when students are beginning year 11 is not necessary and piles more pressure on. Knowledge is power and the more you and your child know about 6th form now, the less shocks and potential stress there will be further down the line. Education is much like a juggernaut in that it rarely stops and it’s always best to be in control!
A-Levels and ‘facilitating subjects’
In a distant galaxy, far, far away, and before Micheal Gove messed around with the system . .
It used to be that 5 B’s at GCSE would give you access to ‘academic’ courses and 5 C’s would allow you onto what are tagged as ‘vocational’ courses. Since the move to the number based grading, the lines are more blurred, but five grade 5’s should secure you the opportunity to study the academic subjects, and four grade 4’s will secure a place to study ‘BTEC’ courses. That said, don’t under-estimate the financial power of ‘bums on seats’. They’re vital to 6th form providers as each student brings approximately £4000 of funding with them.
It is important to know that many of the more prestigious universities don’t consider BTECs to be the educational equivalent of the ‘traditional subjects’. This is where the phrase ‘facilitating subjects’ comes in. These were usually thought of as maths, English literature, classical and modern languages, history, geography and the three sciences. There’s now a website created by the Russell Group that gives excellent advice for the best selection of subjects depending on the choice of degree.
What is ‘The Russell Group’?
This is a group of universities that got its name from the first ever meeting of the group at the Russell Hotel in Russell Square in London in 1994. Put more simply, in an ideal world you’ll probably want your child to go to one of these universities. They are considered to be the blue chip universities and the group includes Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, University College London (UCL), and Birmingham to name a few. If your child wants to go to one of these universities, then they will need excellent A-level grades. More A than B grades will need to be the order of the day.
BTECs (and CTECs)
There’s nothing wrong with a BTEC! The fact that the average 17 yr old (aka, mine) might describe my beloved Coventry City FC as a ‘BTEC football club’, might suggest that there is a belief they are not valued as highly as traditional A-levels subjects. They are usually described as vocational subjects because they focus on the more practical stuff. Popular BTEC qualifications include IT, business studies, finance, PE, and science. These qualifications include a mix of exams and coursework. The exams can usually be taken twice and your best score counts. This is a really big draw for those who panic in exam situations. A good example of the structure of a typical course would be a CTEC in business studies. You need to complete five units of work. Two of these must be external exams, two will be coursework and the 5th module is up to the teacher and can either be exam or coursework. BTEC/CTECs are absolutely the best option for many students, but it is important to know that some universities look for specific ‘traditional’ subjects. You should always consider this when choosing subjects to study at 6th form.
The tables below show how many points each grade is worth when it comes to university application. This shows that a Distinction* on a BTEC subject is worth exactly the same number of points as an A* at A-level. Some universities will offer courses that require a certain number of points, some will state grades required, for example 128 pts or ABB. A good endorsement of this type of course is that in 2018, one in four students beginning university studied at least 1 BTEC subject during their time in 6th form.
UCAS points – BTEC/CTEC subjects
UCAS points – Traditional A level subjects
These tables should be used as a guideline. The actual UCAS points tariff document is a whopping 177 pages long and is NOT an interesting read, but can be accessed here if you fancy a challenge. Or need to get to sleep quickly.
At my last school, there was never a shortage of students turning up to year 12 in September with a bunch of grade 4’s and a parent in tow demanding that they be allowed to take (for example) maths, English language and history as their 3 A-level subjects.
The jump from GCSE to A-level is huge and (almost certainly) if the student was allowed to take this combination, they would either fail all three or scrape a grade E or two. The entry criteria for each 6th form centre and for each subject will vary, but typically but here are a few of the accepted ‘norms’ from some of the more popular subjects.
|A-level Subject||GCSE grades required|
|Biology||6 in biology, 6 in maths|
|Chemistry||6 in chemistry, 6 in maths|
|Computer science||5 in maths|
|Economics||6 in maths|
|English language||6 in English language|
|French||7 in French or German|
|Geography||5 in geography|
|History||5 in history, 5 in English|
|Maths||7 in maths|
|Physics||At least a 6 in physics|
|Psychology||6 in maths and one science|
|Sociology||6 in English and one science|
*For specifics, always refer to the prospectus of the 6th form being considered*
Teachers don’t generally turn your child down for a course for any reason other than that they know they won’t cope with it. Promise. If your child is desperate to do a particular subject in 6th form, they are going to need to pull out all the stops at GCSE for that subject, or it’ll be too late.
At 6th form, GCSEs are behind you. Or are they? Rules introduced a few years ago mean that students must continue to study maths and English at GCSE until they achieve a grade 4 or until the end of the academic year of their 18th birthday, whichever is sooner. I’ve yet to meet a 6th form student having to resit maths and English who doesn’t regret not working hard enough on these two core subjects in year 11. The way many school timetables work is that these ‘remedial’ classes are timetabled in the same space as enrichment opportunities which the re-sitters have to miss out on.
It’s not rocket science to say that these two subjects are the bread and butter of most things that follow; it’s a fact that the best chance students have of scoring a grade 4 or higher comes in year 11 as all the support is focussed on this. In post-16 education, maths and English retakes are usually not seen as a priority as they no longer count for league tables.
The Extended Project Qualification is offered by many 6th form centres now. It’s essentially an independent project on a subject of the students choice. The only limitation is that the topic can’t overlap with any of the subjects they are studying in the 6th form.
Universities love it and often make lower grade offers as long as students achieve a good EPQ grade. That lower grade offer can be the difference between the student being offered a place or not. It comes highly recommended!
It is not just a good qualification to have, it also will teach them a LOT about being an independent learner and should greatly benefit their other subjects. As an additional bonus, should they go on to university, then this qualification sets them up nicely for how a project should be presented and submitted.
In my opinion the best combination at 6th form is 3 A-level subjects (or 3 BTECs or a combination of the two) and study for an EPQ. This will give any student the best chance of getting the grades required for the next stage in their education or career, whilst allowing them around 8 study periods during the school week. (More on these study periods later!)
This seems like a weird thing to have to consider, but there is little secret that (despite what the government spins) there are fewer teachers in the profession now, and year on year there are more students. As a result, schools and 6th form colleges increasingly struggle to attract specialist teachers in subject areas such as maths and the sciences.
As a parent, I think it is important to be sure that 6th form classes will be taught by a subject specialist. Attending open days if they are offered is also a good idea, but always be aware that these are pre-planned so all the bells and whistles are brought out; if there’s not an amazing pianist playing in reception as you walk in, I’d be surprised! Having a tour of the school during normal lessons is the best way to get a realistic feel for the place and for the teaching.
If your child has always attended the local school and their path from primary through to the end of secondary education has been pretty obvious, then 6th form opens up a variety of possibilities.
More often than not, students will choose to stay at the same school because it is what they know best, it’s where their friends are going, etc. However, there will be choices open that should be explored.
Finding the right blend of subjects may mean that you have to look elsewhere. As mentioned before, attracting / retaining teachers in the profession is becoming increasingly difficult. A good example of this is that in one city with 10 secondary school 6th forms, only one school offers A-level German or French. If you live in this city and have a budding linguist in your household, then it’s likely that a school move will be required for 6th form study.
In my experience, a lot of students are happy to slate their current school and sign up to a 6th form that is a 30 minute expensive bus ride away. They usually come back a week or two later with their tails between their legs. Sometimes, the grass is not always greener. Get them to think really hard about the prospect of getting up early to stand at a bus stop in the freezing winter months.
6th form provision is usually mentioned specifically in Ofsted reports, so when looking at new options, search out the 6th-form-specific paragraphs.
This is a vital part of any 6th form. Not only does it enrich the lives of the students, but more often than not it helps to hone many of the skills they will need in the work-place, or at university.
The extra-curricular experience that a student builds up really helps to strengthen the personal statement that forms part of the university admission process. (I’ll come to this in more detail in a bit). Really good examples include voluntary work during ‘non contact’ or study periods. This could be in lessons within the same school assisting younger students.
Volunteering to participate in community action projects, working (for free!) at a charity shop, assisting with running sports clubs are all positive uses of precious free time.
The National Citizenship Service (NCS) scheme has an active programme of 6th form visits to promote wider participation. This is also a winner as it means that for 4 weeks in the summer holidays of year 11 or year 12, your child is doing something incredibly positive (and independent!).
The Duke of Edinburgh scheme is another hit with future employers and university admissions tutors. It demonstrates a level of organisation and perseverance that makes candidates attractive. It is worth asking whether the 6th form you are considering run this particular scheme.
For both future employers or university admissions, it is not enough to simply turn up to school and be a great student and go home again to be tucked up in bed at 9pm having done the washing up, ironing, and mowed the lawn. Wider participation in the society around students now has a lot of kudos attached to it.
This is not about getting a paid job. It forms part of the ‘what do students do above and beyond their studies’ question.
Many 6th form centres have an active programme of promoting work experience placements. The placement should always, where possible, be centred around plans for the future. For example, if a student wants to be a nurse, then getting experience at the local hospital is priceless; getting experience working for their parent at the local garage is pointless.
Most 6th form centres allocate a slot in the academic year (usually toward the end of year 12) to arrange and complete a work experience placement. The best advice to be incredibly proactive in organising it. If this is put on the ‘I’ll organise it a week before I have to do it’ pile, then all the best placements will have gone. To emphasise the proactive point, most work experience placements happen at the same time in the academic calendar. One city with 15 sixth form centres will see businesses within that city inundated with up to 2000 requests for work experience during the same week of the year. All the good placements go quickly, so acting fast is my absolutely top tip on this one.
Visiting students on their work experience who are not enjoying it because it was organised via lastminute.com is all too common, but nonetheless heart-breaking to see.
If the 6th form doesn’t have a work experience programme, the student shouldn’t leave it until a visit to a university at the beginning of year 13 for the course tutor to ask them ‘what work experience have you built up that will support your application?’ If your child is wavering between university or straight into the world of work, then work experience is still vital and will help to fill a CV better. Businesses are still happy to take on work experience students who have arranged it outside of the school term time, but will require parents to complete a form regarding safeguarding, emergency contact numbers etc.
Gone are the days of students being molly-coddled through their exams by teachers and tutors; the step from GCSE to A-level is huge and will force students to be more independent learners. Younger students will often complain that they wanted to be treated more like adults, and A-level study delivers on that promise.
The expectation is that for every subject studied, 5 hours of reading/homework is required outside of the classroom. If you take 3 subjects, that’s 15 hours a week of homework. Of course, this isn’t necessarily enforced, but if these guidelines are not stuck to, the good grades won’t follow. It’s a great reason to help them build independent study skills in Y11! The next heading down is also key to getting this homework done.
Use ‘study time’ wisely
Referring back to the previous paragraph, the 15 hours of ‘homework’ sounds more or less impossible (particularly around the time when the latest version of Fortnite is released, or when Love Island starts). However, it’s possible to make it entirely manageable.
As a rule there are 25 hours of lesson time available per week. Each subject takes 5 of those hours up. Essentially if you study 3 subjects, that’s 15 hours of the 25 taken up. What they do with the remaining 10 hours is up to them. They are called ‘study periods’ and not ‘frees’ for a very good reason. That said, there is never any shortage of students who use this time to play cards, flirt (is that still a word?!), have an extended ‘working lunch’ at KFC, book a driving lesson or two. . . or any other vaguely worthwhile procrastinatory task.
Students need to relax from the stresses of life, develop their friendship groups, recover from the frazzled brain caused by a double lesson learning the finer points of wave particle duality (for example), but striking a balance between study time and free time is vital.
It’s a cast iron fact that students who don’t manage this are the ones who struggle on the post-16 education journey. Wasting the 10 hours of study commits them to 15 hours of homework per week, which they then won’t get finished to a good standard.
UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service).
With university education more popular than ever, the application process is a fundamental part of 6th form study. You need to check on how much support the 6th form centre gives this process. Some manage the application process in tandem with the student, some leave them to do it independently, which is not easy. The hardest part is the dreaded, but vital, personal statement.
Writing a personal statement doesn’t sound hard, but as it’s the first contact a university admissions tutor has with your child, it’s a vital document that many schools offer help and support with. It is not a guarantee though, and therefore it is well worth asking the question. The personal statement will contain between 3-5 paragraphs and needs to be no more than 4000 characters (with spaces) or 47 lines. To you and me, that is a side and a bit of A4 paper at 12 pt font size. I’ve seen lots of advice over the years as to what to include into a killer personal statement, and this video is a great place to start. This is 4 minutes of brilliant advice straight from the horse’s mouth – she’s an admissions tutor!
Questions for open evenings
Post-16 open evenings are often in November, but can vary by area. Here (just in case yours are sooner) are some tips for getting the most information out of them!
– Speak to actual students. They’ll usually be there as guides. They’ll give you the most honest answers about what courses are actually like, what the school environment is like etc.
– Ask the staff about what the course structure is like, and what would be expected on a daily basis.
– Ask about the homework workload.
– Go and visit lessons one day if you can, with your child.
– How do they support the UCAS application process?
– What do they do in terms of careers advice / apprenticeships?
– Does the school help organise work experience (vital for UCAS applications)?
– What are the study facilities like for study periods? (Particularly IT access…)
– What opportunities are there for social activities or clubs?
– What sort of pastoral support is provided? Will they have a form tutor? Will it be a 6th form only tutor group, or mixed year?
– How many students in a class generally?
– Do they have specialist teachers for the subject(s) your child wants to study?
– Do they do EPQ? (Extended Project Qualification – great for UCAS)
Personal Statements for post 16 study.
Applications for 6th form study are often made through the UCAS website, particularly if the student is moving from where they studied their GCSEs. Some students will apply for a specific course (examples being a BTEC in Media studies or veterinary nursing, or one of the thousands of other courses), whereas some will apply to study a selection of A-levels.
Before writing any application, it might be worth re-reading the guide to post-16 that we sent out earlier in the year with particular reference to the ‘be realistic’ section. Is your teen likely to get the grades to study a particular topic as an A-level?
In the last week or so, we’ve received a number of questions relating to what should go in a personal statement. There’s a whole load of conflicting advice out there on the internet about personal statements which I think makes it all the more confusing.
To try and save you trawling through it, I thought it might help to talk about the best applications that I have seen.
They are split into 5 distinct paragraphs.
Explain what interests you about the course or subjects that
you’ll be applying to study. As important is why you want to attend that 6th
form. How does this link to your plan for your future plans for
What makes you a good fit for the course? What have you done over the last 5 years that makes this the course that you want to do? If there is some work experience you can draw on, then this is the place to put it.
Many schools do work experience in year 10 and there should be something from that placement that you can relate to your choice of 6th form course / subjects.
What is it about your GCSE work that shows that you have the drive and determination to succeed on the course you have selected?
This is the skills section. Have you participated in the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme , participated in the Combined Cadet Force (CCF)?
It could be that you have already secured a place on the National Citizenship service this summer. Even though this is in the future, what skills / attributes will this help to develop?
Have you had any positions of responsibility during your time at school from year 7-11? Be warned though, using references to primary school is not relevant as it’s too long ago!
Examples could include mentoring other students, being a form/tutor group representative, helping at parents’ evenings, appearing in school productions/plays, representing the school in sporting teams, or participation in academic societies (debate club, chess club, or a subject specific club).
This is where you can write about things that you do outside
of school. What are your hobbies and interests? 6th form centres are looking for students who
will contribute to the wider school community as well as in lessons. Discuss
your sporting endeavours, voluntary or charity work.
What sort of student will the school or college get? You can
- Your drive and determination to succeed.
- Your focus on the goals you have set.
- Looking forward to the challenges of focussing
on the subjects you enjoy most.
- Learning more about a specific element of the
course/subject being applied for.
- Looking forward to the more independent nature
of 6th form study.
When the statement is finished, ensure that it is proof-read
over and over. Several sets of eyes are better than one. Once you are happy
with it, then copy the text and put it into a repetition checker; this is my
favourite here. It
highlights the words that you’ve used too often. I’m constantly amazed by how
students will use the same key word 3 or 4 times in a paragraph. There is
always a word that it can be replaced by to make it ‘read better’.