Choosing a Sixth Form - all the rules I thought I knew are gone!

(91 Posts)
TheOriginalSteamingNit Fri 09-Nov-12 14:46:49

So we are currently looking at sixth forms for dd, 15.

Suddenly everything is different - no catchment areas, if you've got the grades, you get a place! With all the focus on places at 11, and debates about selection, no-one ever seems to mention that after all that, most schools actually can and do select by ability at 16! That is, if you haven't got the grades you can still have a place, but not necessarily do subjects you didn't do well in at GCSE.

We have looked at one so far, the other three are next week. Dd's school has a sixth form attached, but it is relatively new, and increasing in size and scope year by year. I want her to stay where she is: I think school have done well by her, and I think we should support their work in the sixth form and not bail out. But she wants to do French, which they don't yet do on site - they organize language students transport to a partner school, which I also know quite well, and where the language teaching seems to be very good. I think this could be the best of all worlds, but she is dubious.

On Tuesday, we visited what I have to describe as a pretty middle class school. About half from her year six class went there, depending which side of primary school they lived. It's highly regarded in the city, and does well nationally - there's traditionally been a flurry in year 5 of parents moving to its catchment. It also has a bit of a reputation for being a bit complacent at open evenings - 'we don't have to try to impress' - and that was the impression I got, too. I also think it seems to have a higher proportion of Ambercrombie and Fitchiness about it, and a bit of a 'mean girls' culture, but that's just impressionistic I guess.

However dp and dd really liked it - in a brief 15 min presentation, they bandied around all the right words about Russell Group and facilitating subjects, and got 7 year 13s into Oxford and Cambridge last year. Then again - that's their catchment, in part.

It's a bit like looking at houses when you're looking to move - each one seems like The One, and you have to wait and see, I suppose.... but this is all very new and strange to me!

Anyone else in similar position, or have any gems to share?

TheOriginalSteamingNit Thu 15-Nov-12 10:46:17

Yeah, I do know it has to be her decision - it just worries me that it doesn't seem to be based on much!

Guides and signs not so important in themselves, but they did seem to me to indicate a certain can't-be-arsedness. You find your own way: we'll be in the rooms where we are all day anyway, sort of mentality.

mummytime Thu 15-Nov-12 11:13:50

The problem is your DD has already been to one school, she knows what it is really like, so won't be impressed by "spin". For example: "We have an excellent Music technology Suite" when this is the first she has heard of it, and knows they don't have a Music Technology teacher. Or we had ten pupils get A* at Physics last year, and she knows they all had Mr Smith, and Mr Smith has now retired; those who had the teachers who are still there didn't do as well.

So apply to both. The same rules really don't apply as for secondary school, you can hold multiple offers. At my DCs school if it is at all doubtful you will get the grades for sixth form they advise you to apply somewhere else as well.

Your daughter only has these next two years once, so she needs to go the best place for her and her future, misplaced loyalty only gets you so far.

TheOriginalSteamingNit Thu 15-Nov-12 11:15:49

You're right mummy - the flipside being, of course, that we don't know which bits of the other school's speeches were horseshit!

gelo Thu 15-Nov-12 11:17:47

It is hard, especially if they do choose wrongly. Of all the things you have mentioned, the commute would be what put me off most. Leave things for now, but nearer the real decision time get her to make some for and against lists and maybe try out the journey. Even if she does ultimately choose the other school, her old school will probably have her back too if she changed her mind in the early days.

TheOriginalSteamingNit Thu 15-Nov-12 11:24:27

Yes, cycling home in the dark through the winter really worries me actually.

One more to see tonight anyway - who knows, maybe that'll open another can of worms!

mummytime Thu 15-Nov-12 11:24:28

It is really hard. I have worked in schools, and the two with the best open evenings, well one is very good, the other less so. I would look at results. Talk to past and present students (especially of the subjects of interest). But also some of it is just luck.
My DS is lucky to have Mr T not Mr Q for one of his subjects, as he is a better teacher and as my son says "sets more homework" (maturity is seeing that less homework is not necessarily a good thing).
A friend got an inheritance and sent her very bright daughter to a private school the daughter really wanted to go to. The daughter dropped out after 6 weeks, and for one subject it was very hard to go back to her old school sixth form. Some students thrive at the local sixth form college, others sink, some of whom try to get back to their old school sixth forms. Some students went to a local schools new shiny sixth form, only to be very disappointed as it didn't live up to promises. I stayed at my school sixth form, but would probably have done better if I had seriously considered moving to another school with a better record.

gelo Thu 15-Nov-12 11:36:13

Oh yes, dd had to cycle in yr 10. All started fine and the the clocks changed. It's very tough from October - March imo.

gelo Thu 15-Nov-12 11:38:52

That's probably November, not Oct. After half term anyway. DD ended up begging lifts and using the bus mostly in the end (having fallen off her bike in the ditch on the unlit roads a couple of times).

TheOriginalSteamingNit Thu 15-Nov-12 11:45:19

Yes, it would probably be half term until well into spring, wouldn't it?

I can't give her lifts most days, and am frankly not keen to do so - and I don't think there's a bus for 6th formers.

Bloody hell, hadn't even started thinking about ditches and unlit roads... bloody stupid school! hmm

gelo Thu 15-Nov-12 12:19:51

The difficult times are second half of autumn term and spring term. The summer term and first half of autumn term is fine, so half the year is a problem (we found). Like you I couldn't do lifts due to work. Dh was able to drop her in the mornings most days and she found a tame teacher and some friends who gave her a lift home most days, so she ended up not cycling that much at all in the winter. The bus was a walk and a wait and sometimes didn't stop either. There's a lot of paraphernalia needed for cycling (especially in the winter) and you need to be prepared for the arguments about wearing flashing fluorescent strips too.

fraktion Thu 15-Nov-12 12:31:43

It may be that the sixth form culture is very different. I should have moved from my (excellent) school and I wanted to but school and parents persuaded me to stay put. It was totally the wrong decision and marred both my memories of the school and, I think, my university applications process which I'm still dealing with the fallout from a good few years on. I should have moved, I should have got myself out of the pigeonhole of the subjects they thought I should do and the courses they were pushing me towards.

Your DD may want a chance to go out in a high and privé herself A&E somewhere even if you and the school want her to stay.

fraktion Thu 15-Nov-12 12:32:24

Prove herself anew even!

seeker Thu 15-Nov-12 13:16:14

Could you compromise by getting her to apply for both? Then actually make the decision as late as possible?

Dd went to an all girl's school, and was very definite that she wanted to stay there for 6th form. For all sorts of reasons, including the fact that she found change very difficult I agreed with her. Then, during the long, post GCSE summer, she did lots of new things and grew up a lot. By the time she started 6th form it was so the wrong place for her. She lasted a week, then moved, and is now truly flourishing in a different school. Which she had rejected on the "milk round" because it felt too full on and pressured for the person she was then. Some of her friends applied to both schools and decided more or less on the day which they were going to go to. Not advocating that, obviously, but applying to two might take the heat out of the situation for you and dd?

TheOriginalSteamingNit Thu 15-Nov-12 14:45:57

Yes, I think we should apply to both seeker (or possibly more) - although I need to check you actually can - everything seems to be done differently now from at 11!

Fraktion as long as she doesn't end up in A&E, eh..... wink

TheOriginalSteamingNit Thu 15-Nov-12 14:46:55

Oh and I cannot see her agreeing to helmets and fluorescent strips, either... hmm... and there is of course the issue of her not currently even owning a bike....

hattifattner Thu 15-Nov-12 15:00:15

oh a timely thread.......

DD is Y11, and we are doing the rounds of 6th forms.

DDs main criteria seem to be the social life hmm.

Option 1: Stay where she is. Have some of the same teachers who adore her and will be fighting to keep her. Have sexy foreign exchange programme, so lots of attractive latin students. grin Easy to get to, as siblings also there. Pretty much automatic acceptance. But I cant stand the head of 6th form (just an instant dislike of the woman). Nor can she. DD has been told categorically that she cannot do 5 A levels. SHe is an A* student.

Option 2: Very academic flash school, one of the top in the country. But really nice, easy to get to by bus. Lots of choices of subject, and many classes run, so timetable clashes could be managed. DO not do the 5th subject that DD wants to do (new AQA creative writing)

Option 3: Already applied and accepted. Also a very good school. But will require some commitment to get her there - ie. me driving her to the station, then 2 trains, then a long walk up the hill.

OOOh what to do, what to do. DD doesnt even know what she wants to be when she grows up. This is too hard!

TheOriginalSteamingNit Thu 15-Nov-12 15:05:45

Option 2 sounds quite compelling! Also, might Creative Writing not be something best done in a degree, later? If she's an A* student, maybe she'd be better doing more facilitating subjects?

That said, five A levels is a lot anyway, if none of them is general studies!

seeker Thu 15-Nov-12 15:11:41

I would be very wary of doing 5 A levels. Dd's 6th form has a lot of super bright kids, and the ones doing 5 ( apart from q couple of maths wizzes qnd someon doing Spqnish because it's her mother tongue) have no life at all.

mummytime Thu 15-Nov-12 16:00:00

The only pupils I know who do 5 A'levels (lots of local schools including selective privates) are all doing Further Maths as the fifth (and thats only because if you are good enough to do Further Maths you can do Pure and Further in about the time to do 1 1/2 A'levels).
With A'level you are expected to do at least 1 to 1 1/2 hours work for each hour of "lessons". Rather than doing an extra A'level you should really be doing "enrichment" which at my DCs school includes things like General Studies, community service, D of E, Extended Essays and OU modules, skills (including learning to drive) and so on.

Creative writing is best taught later, she should still be reading widely at sixth form age.

TheOriginalSteamingNit Thu 15-Nov-12 16:10:21

So dd has come home with a plan: she makes a chart and we rate the following things out of 4 and whichever wins, she goes grin

However, she has skewed the results slightly in advance I feel by listing:

Proximity
Oxbridge rates
etc

But also
Amount Of Waffle In Speech
and
Gut Feeling.

seeker Thu 15-Nov-12 16:18:30

I would add flexi time, what enrichment opportunities there are, and what her friends are doing. But I would also remind her that a levels are a BIG step up- any sort of hassle-y journey would be a definite negative- she needs all the time she can get.

Themumsnot Thu 15-Nov-12 16:18:58

I like your DD's plan TOSN. I will suggest my DD does something similar and see what she comes up with.
Incidentally, has anyone else noticed that it is all mothers of girls dithering on this thread. Have the boys all made up their minds in one swift decisive moment?

Themumsnot Thu 15-Nov-12 16:22:33

Another issue for us - both the FE colleges we are looking at have average points scores considerably below the national average but the local one is the worse of the two and has been consistently so over time. Would that affect people's thinking? It is hard for me to judge as up to now she has done very well in a well-below-average comp, but does it make more difference at sixth form level?

TheOriginalSteamingNit Thu 15-Nov-12 16:26:45

There are other things on the list but I can't remember them. She did them on her phone in bed this morning, and there's also 'res' but she can't think what that was meant to mean!

I quite agree about the journey, and it could scarcely be less convenient, really.

themums - I don't know, it might if I thought there was a generally low effort feel about the place - but if they're doing alright by the bright ones, just get fewer of them, maybe not so much?

mummytime Thu 15-Nov-12 16:36:36

Our choice last year was easy! I advised DS not to go to the Sixth form college as from my experience he was the wrong type to cope. He didn't want to apply anyway. his options were the only subjects he wanted to do that his school sixth form offered; nope, sorry, he wondered about doing A'level Engineering rather than Product Design, we took his teacher's advice on that one. He would have chosen Computing if it had been on offer, but it wasn't and ICT is very different.

I have Options this year with my DD, and she wants/would be interested in so many, it will be tricky. A'level is going to be harder. But she then wants to go to the US, ideally a very selective Liberal Arts college, if she can get funding.

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