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EDUCATION


SIXTH SENSE


Tony Kane asks which option is better - the traditional school sixth form or a sixth form centre?


This is the time of year when we often assess our future; new fitness, new hobbies, new clubs - and new education opportunities. This applies critically to students in their GCSE year 11 when the future looms and the way appears to be opening to the adult world. The choice of school or college for the next two years is possibly the greatest decision that faces a young person and it can affect the rest of their lives. The question that parents ask is: ‘Will my son or daughter benefit from a change in formal education?’ In other words, should he or she stay at school for the next two years or would a change to a sixth form college be beneficial?


Schools offering a sixth form have always been popular with families, partly because parents often choose a secondary school that offers continuous education from year 7 to year 13. Recently Merton has established sixth forms in all schools due to popular demand and they are doing very well. Parents sometimes base the decision on historical reasons - ‘I did well in my sixth form so I think this will suit my teenage offspring.’ Head teachers will explain that educational continuity is an advantage to most students. The school will be aware of the pupil’s strengths and weakness and they will be far less likely to flounder under the protective care of teachers who know them.


In the past secondary school sixth forms have suffered from a drop in numbers, which affected the range of subjects that they were able to offer. This has improved


and there is now a far greater choice of subjects available. Most schools form partnerships with other sixth forms to increase the range of subject choice at this level. At a comprehensive or private school the students can develop their leadership by becoming a prefect or house captain. Added to this is the ability to keep many of the friends they have grown up with over the years, which gives a level of stability at a time when there is a need for emotional and academic confidence.


So, what are the options available if students express a desire to get away from the known and trusted school that has nurtured them for the last five years? Some families choose a sixth form at a nearby school where the academic choices are suitable and they have a better record of university success. Is it helpful to make a change almost for the sake of change? A friend of mine, who became a successful scriptwriter explained that the change of culture benefited him. Under a new regime he blossomed and his creative talents were recognised. He was delighted to leave behind the baggage that he had accumulated over the years at his old school and make a fresh start with new teachers and new friends.


There is no doubt that sixth form centres generally offer a wider range of subjects and exam boards than even the largest school sixth forms struggle to maintain. Most colleges offer not just A-level tuition, but also one and two year GNVQ courses,


timeandleisure.co.uk . January 2015 . 65


GCSE re-sit courses, English IELTS courses and Baccalaureate and Foundation Programmes. It is worth exploring the wide range of vocational courses that the colleges offer which can lead to a variety of careers. In addition many colleges offer a variety of sporting activities that are the envy of schools and clubs. There is also an argument for students making new relationships, both friends and teachers, and mixing in a wider academic world.


The big question that parents ask is: ‘Will my daughter or son cope with a new regime - which often means they need to be more independent - or will they crumble under the strain and lack of supervision and fail study deadlines?’


Only you or your teenager know the answer to this question. As a parent, are you able to let go a little and let your son or daughter take more responsibility for their own life - or would you prefer the tried and tested route to university entrance? t&l


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