Decisions at 16: switching for sixth form
When your child first starts out at secondary school, sixth form seems light years away. Yet GCSEs soon come round and by Year 11 it’s time to think about what they might study next and where they will continue their education.
Open days at colleges take place from October right through to February. You can find out about them through your Local Education Authority (LEA). Check the admissions criteria too. Even if your child is not sure about whether to change school at this stage, they can still apply as a precaution. If their application is successful they are likely to be made a conditional offer.
Because these are conditional offers, dependent on GCSE results, and there is no common application form, students can apply to several colleges without having to state any preference, and ultimately hold several offers at once. They do, of course, need to state which courses they wish to take and this may vary from one college to another, depending on what is on offer.
There are several things to keep in mind when deciding what courses to take at this stage. First off, if your child knows what they want to study then that will help guide them as to which courses to take next. If they are not so sure, then opting for subjects that interest them and do not narrow their choices too much may be the way forward.
To find out more about the range of options, including qualifications such as BTECs or NVQs, check out the Directgov site. They also have an excellent section on careers, which is worth taking a look at.
If your son or daughter is at a small school, the range of subjects might be quite limited so this may push them to look at larger colleges, including specialist or further education colleges. This was the case for my son who wanted to take psychology at A-level but in fact, at his school they only offered it by a video link from another school, so he opted to study elsewhere.
If they are at a single sex school, they may wish to move to a mixed sixth form. My daughter found that being in an all girl environment got a bit intense at times, so was happy to move.
In February this year, some of the leading UK universities warned against studying ‘soft subjects’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-12365050 at A-level such as media studies, favouring ‘facilitating subjects’ such as maths, English or biology. They have been behind the publication of a booklet entitled ‘Informed Choices’ to advise young people on post-16 choices.
The deadline for handing in the application forms will vary, so it’s worth checking with the college so as not to be caught out. They are likely to want a student’s predicted grades which they may well need in writing from their current school too.
The student will finally have to decide which sixth form they wish to go to at the end of August, just after their GCSE results come through. At this point it’s all systems go, the phone lines to the school offices become really busy and emails fly. They will then have to go to the sixth form of their choice to enrol on a specific day, prior to the start of term and finalise which courses they are opting for.
I have also known students who, having changed for sixth form, after a week or so decided that the new sixth form was not for them and then decided to return to their old school. Provided there’s space on the courses they’ve chosen, a student might be accepted back there.
The process of checking out alternative local colleges and sixth forms may just serve to convince them that the sixth form at their existing school is as good as any, so perhaps staying on there might be the best option after all. However, if they’re after a specialised or vocational course then switching might give them a better choice.
Fiona Holmer is a regular contributor to the BBC Parents Blog.