Page 16 - Solihull Living Nov/Dec 2019
P. 16

So your child is going to do A levels. For most, this will mean staying on at their current school, either because they want to, you want them to, or it just feels the safest option. But some youngsters opt for, or have no alternative but to make, a fresh start with new people in a new place. If your child fits into this second group, it’s essential to take time out to consider the options and make the right choice.
The Good Schools Guide knows from visiting hundreds of schools and colleges ever year that some students wind up compromising on subject choices. Sixth-forms vary, with many guaranteeing literally any subject mix and others restricting certain combinations because of insoluble timetable clashes. Your child may not know exactly which subjects they want to study but its worth making sure that they are broadly on the same page as any prospective sixth form. The full breakdown of past exam results (not just the simple summary!) and previous students’ university destinations should tell you if the place is aligned with your child’s own aspirations. Find out how many A levels a pupil is expected to take. And can you drop one if it all gets too much?
Sixth form, for many, is when thoughts turn to higher education, some schools and colleges offer mock interview practice, guaranteed work experience, special Oxbridge classes and meticulous help with personal statements, among other things. But university isn’t the be-all and end-all. We’re always impressed when schools embrace alternative routes, such as degree apprenticeships. How does the school or college get students thinking about different careers and industries, for example through careers fairs, outside speakers and getting students out into the business world?
Track down a current pupil to find out what the teaching and class sizes are like. The search for small teaching groups is often a key pull for parents and students at sixth form. The culture matters too.
Are pupils trusted to manage their own time and is there proper support for when the stress levels start to creep up. It would be easy to bypass pastoral care for these nearly-adults but, with all the exams and life-planning, this is a time when support can be critical. Many schools now employ on-site counsellors or see that teachers receive appropriate training to help pupils with well-being issues.
Don’t underestimate how important location and facilities will be to your child. A quiet library and a friendly common room can be crucial in settling in and finding a work rhythm. We have seen for ourselves that you can have the swankiest working spaces yet still offer a much poorer overall experience for sixth-formers than a 1970s-built comprehensive in dire need of a lick of paint.
Read inspection reports. Everywhere will have one, but check the date and don’t treat it as gospel if more than a year or two old. The Good Schools Guide reviews many good sixth forms so see what we have to say too. But what should really swing it for you, once you’ve worked your way through the suggestions here, is your child’s gut feeling. Take advantage of open days, soak up the atmosphere, continue to visit and ask questions of local colleges and schools and ultimately make sure your child feels happy with their choice.
Kate Hilpern
 The Good Schools Guide 22nd
hardback edition
“It is highly opinionated: the only guide that offers parents a genuine flavour of what a school is like.”
The Daily Telegraph
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