The points below are intended as a start point for parents when considering a change of school at sixth form. They should hopefully raise some important questions that can be asked when meeting with the potential new school to discuss opportunities for admission.
Settling into a new school environment with new teachers and teaching styles, at a time when your teenager only has two years to achieve the top grades they will need for entry to university, presents quite a challenge. Moving school at sixth form is therefore a huge decision and it is vital that it is being made for the right educational reasons and not just for a change of scene or for socialising!
Most schools carry out their testing process for sixth form during the autumn term with exams usually in October or November. Exams are usually taken in the subjects that your teenager wishes to take at sixth form level. If you are considering this as an option, you really need to be making initial enquiries to schools in September of Year 11, to ensure you keep you options open and do not miss any application deadlines.
Reason – Single Sex to Co-Ed (For the most part, all-girls to Co-Ed)
A larger school may expand access to a wider range of subject choices at A level.
A mixed environment might be deemed as a more realistic preparation for university.
Access to new teachers with differing teaching styles may refresh your teenager’s enthusiasm for education.
There may be a more diverse programme of extra-curricular activities and larger schools often mean more facilities.
There may be more opportunities to take on positions of responsibility such as prefect or head of school.
If your teenager has acquired a ‘label’ which leads to certain expectations of their abilities and performance, moving school for a fresh start could be to their advantage.
There may be more distractions from their studies if your teenager has a tendency to lose focus or finds it hard to plan their time effectively
Friendships, particularly amongst girls in an all-girls school, tend to be very strong so leaving the support of these behind may be a challenge.
Access to the same sporting opportunities in which your daughter has excelled, for example lacrosse or riding, may be more limited.
School ethos. Make sure that the educational programme and pastoral care has been tailor-made for co-education, with careful thought to the needs of both boys and girls. Their needs are different and should be treated as such.
Reason – Sixth form examinations offered
A levels, IB or Pre-U all have merits as sixth form programmes of study. Each one has benefits as an option and it is important to consider which route is the best for your teenager. Some schools offer just IB, some just A levels, or some offer both. The Pre-U is usually offered in a small range of subjects as a compliment to one of the other programmes of study. (For further information on these examinations see our Education Tips piece on sixth form examinations.) .
The course programme for IB and A levels are completely different and consequently command different teacher expertise. Offering both programmes, particularly within a smaller school, may mean you are not getting the best teacher expertise in the subject or exam type of your choice. Once you have decided which qualification is the best route, ensure the school you chose has the relevant and proven teaching expertise.
Reason – Moving from independent into state education
There are some schools of thought which argue that this may improve your teenager’s access to university due to government social engineering, although this is, as yet, unproven.
No school fees! However some independent schools will offer scholarships to internal candidates to encourage them to stay on into the sixth form. It is always worth asking.
The state school opportunities for extra-curricular involvement will be less, instead focus being placed much more heavily on academic attainment.
Class sizes will be significantly larger meaning less individual support.
Careers advice, university applications and assistance with arranging work experience, so vital now in applying to university, may be less accessible
School days will be shorter and there will be less access to after school assistance with coursework and homework. support and consequently the potential need for more support from parents or a tutor at home.
Acceptance within a peer group may potentially be a challenge depending on school attitudes to pupils from independent schools.
Reason – Moving from state education into independent education
Smaller class sizes giving greater access to individual support
Timetable flexibility often makes wider combinations of A level subject choices available.
Broader educational opportunities through the extra-curricular programme.
School fees, however it may be an option to apply for a sixth form scholarship or bursary
Reason – Peer groups
If your teenager has struggled to make friends at their current school, changing school offers new opportunities to make new friends and find new interests.
Good friends, made after 5 years at school together, will be hard to replace.
Make sure the new school has a large intake of new students at sixth form as breaking into existing long-term friendship groups, particularly where girls are concerned, can be a challenge.
Reason – Day to Boarding
Moving from day to boarding will encourage responsibility and independence and is consequently an excellent stepping stone towards university life as a student.
Institutional living presents less parental challenges with supervision of access to smoking, drugs and alcohol.
Your teenager may have close friends near home and a busy social life outside school, which may lead them to feel isolated and/or struggle with institutional living when away at boarding school.
Reason – Boarding to Day
You may prefer the opportunity to monitor more closely your teenager’s efforts towards their studies
Boarding encourages independence. Living back at home full-time may lead to challenges for the whole family.
Unless your teenager has a car, the parent taxi service demands will increase!