Welcome to the Sixth Form blog/news page. I will post on here at least every Monday and more often as the occasion demands. It’s not a formal site as such and will not replace official announcements and letters but its intention is to reflect on sixth form experiences and events, to keep abreast of good practice in Post 16 education and to alert students and parents to opportunities now and for the future.
I know students have plenty of work to do in their A level subjects but I have an impassioned view that it is what they do beyond that which can often make the real difference in personal development, employability and fulfilment. So you’ll hear plenty on here about those opportunities.
Just to kick off I’ll mention three of my favourites:
TED talks is an online video library of thousands of talks on a huge variety of subjects. Always interesting, usually challenging and often entertaining.
Future Learn offers free online courses from universities and specialist organisations. I’ve done two so far and several students have taken them up. Have a look – they’re brilliant
Reading books makes a difference.
Have a great 2017!
It’s been a while since my last blog (largely because I wasn’t sure if anybody read it) but so much has been happening in the sixth form recently that I thought I’d resurrect it but this time on a monthly basis.
So June brings the exam season and all the associated paraphernalia. Assessment has become a huge industry in itself and whilst I won’t rehearse the various arguments for and against the system here, we have to acknowledge that current students have been brought up in a school environment which has tested them more than any other generation. It's remarkable that most of them cope with such good humour and equanimity.
Year 13 had their leavers’ assembly just before half term and I’m indebted to parents who sent me some remarkably cute, if embarrassing, baby and toddler photos which I included in my presentation. There were some rather dubious awards given and I was profoundly touched to receive one myself though I won’t divulge what was on the certificate.Below is a photograph of the class of 2018; you will notice that it is a very small year group and it has been a privilege to be able to work with students very closely supporting their progress and planning for the next step. We wish them all the best for the exams and their next step whatever that might be.
The sixth form is now growing steadily – and will probably reach 200 in September - but we certainly intend to continue with this personalised approach which values every student as an individual with different qualities, needs and ambitions. It may well be that we are able to augment the sixth form team to support this growth in student numbers and we also need to start thinking about sixth form facilities; my imagination often runs beyond what budgets might allow but I’m thinking mezzanine study areas, learning pods and flat whites on tap. Watch this space.
Year 12 have internal exams starting next week and these will give us a good indication of where students are. Following these we will continue teaching as normal but also move on to looking at Higher education and careers research and planning. I’m putting together a programme with support from all sorts of providers and programmes and can promise that students will not be short of options. In no particular order we are working with UCAS and Universities UK by attending their conferences, have visits to Newman and Coventry Universities and are hosting the University of Birmingham here. We are also running a series of ‘soft skills’ workshops in conjunction with Coventry University College. We’ll also be looking at the composition of the new senior student leadership team and I’ll be challenging them to put their own stamp on the sixth form with some new ideas.
Our first year with the Deon Burton Football Academy has been a success. Both teams have performed creditably in their leagues and a number of year 13 students are continuing their education at University with others combing semi-professional football with work. One highlight of the season was a tour to La Nucia in Spain where the side was unbeaten against quality Spanish opposition. I was very impressed with the work ethic during a very structured training week which included gym work, beach training and hydrotherapy sessions – all very professional. Deon has been hard at work recruiting the next cohort and we see this side of the sixth form as going from strength to strength.
The summer term is always an interesting one in that it marks all sorts of transitions. Year 13 move on to their next phase in a career or education and year 12 become the senior students with all that that entails.
It’s also the time when students have their leavers’ events. I’ve refused to countenance calling our sixth form do a ‘prom’ mainly because I don’t want to ape another fashion from our cousins over the pond so I’ve tended to advertise it as a ball. This year, however, we’re doing something slightly different. We’ve hired a private dining space at a city centre restaurant and after the meal students will be able to do their own thing at their choice of establishment, leaving staff to catch the last trains home. Sounds like a good scheme to me and will buck the trend of expensive dresses, formal suits and eclectic transport. Well done to the sixth form team whom came up with the idea.
Oh, and has anybody caught La Casa de Papel (or in a bad English tramnslation 'Money Heist') on Netflix. Outstanding and a must for all A level students of Spanish.
Happy 2018 to the readers of this blog…all three of you at the last count.
Nevertheless I’m going to continue into the new year sharing a few bits and pieces from the sixth form which might just be of interest. And, as ever, I’ll drop in some links, some suggestions for reading and even some views on TV blockbusters (especially Peaky Blinders) and the state of the game of rugby union.
Yesterday students were treated to an extra day off as staff had a training day. I have non-teaching friends who are very sceptical about what we get up to on these days but I can guarantee that the majority of them would have enjoyed many aspects of our programme yesterday.
We’re part of the Arthur Terry Learning Partnership and it has always been an ambition of the leadership of the partnership to bring all of the staff of all of the schools together for a day which would have something for everyone. So, not just teachers but administrators, site staff, IT technicians, teaching assistants, lunchtime supervisors and so on and it’s a pretty tall order to organise a day which will have something for everyone. What they plumped for in the end was a series of well-known speakers who would be able to share some stories and ideas which would have relevance for everybody.
We started off with Tanni Grey-Thompson who most of the population will have seen in the Paralympics and she has a great personal story that is familiar to many. It’s clear that she has many brilliant qualities but what shone through on the day was her sense of humour and her level headedness when in difficult situations. I’m sure she’ll be a force for good in the House of Lords.
Next up was Ashley John Baptiste who also had a remarkable story of his route to success. He made a documentary called ‘Care Home Kids: Looking for Love’ which detailed his time spent in over 35 different foster and care homes and told us of how he overcame these challenges to win a place at Cambridge University, reach the finals of the X Factor and get a job at the BBC as a journalist on the Victoria Derbyshire show. He had some significant teachers and adults in his life who made a difference when it mattered by supporting him.
Professor Mick Waters drew the short straw by following these two after lunch but he made light of it. Despite having held some very heavy duty posts and responsibilities – including the design of the National Curriculum – he told stories about children which made you realise why you work with them in the first place. Without being remotely didactic he managed to outline a philosophy of teaching which anyone would buy into.
So the term began with staff being inspired and we hope to carry this through 2018 and beyond. As ever it’s a busy term and we start off with some mock exams. University applications are almost all done and other students are looking at the apprenticeship and job market. Year 12 should now be fully fledged sixth formers and will be beginning to form ideas themselves about what their next steps might be in the HE or job market. We’ve got some great enrichment activities lined up and some more speakers of international renown; it’s going to be another great term.
Best book I read at Christmas was: David Bowie: A Life by Dylan Jones
This week I want to reflect a little bit about higher education and the way our students look at it these days. I speak from years of experience of advising and supporting students (my best guess is that I’ve supported c. 2,500 students through their applications) and from the perspective of a parent – my youngest of three is in her first year of Uni, the other two having graduated some years ago.
First of all I’ll share some good news with you. This week we have two of our year 13 students travelling to Oxford and Cambridge respectively, having been invited for an interview. Well done to them and good luck!
Lots of students feel it’s not for them because there are notions of a world inhabited by the upper echelons of a public school elite who have ways and rules that they couldn’t comprehend. In fact over 50% of admissions to Oxford and Cambridge in recent years have been from state schools so why not from The Coleshill School? My view is that bright students should have a look, spend some time there (colleges will always put you up), work out whether you have the right aptitude for intensive study and weigh up the pros and cons. If it tips towards you then go for it! in any case it’s only one choice out of five. I reckon we’ll have a few more having a crack next year.
There’s also a lot of nonsense talked about Oxford and Cambridge and their selection procedures. For example, we are told that they ask obscure questions that only public school educated students would know the answer to (though why eclectic knowledge should be their particular sphere of expertise I’m not sure – it comes from reading and talking doesn’t it?).
Take, for example, a question asked to a potential engineering student in recent years. It went something like this…
‘Imagine if you were able to drill all the way through the earth to the other side. What would happen if you jumped into the hole?’
I think this is a great question. It doesn’t assume particular prior knowledge which a student could cram for, nor is it directly from a science syllabus. It’s asking a student to speculate, to use their imagination and to show their capacity for lateral thinking and this is how I help prepare students for interviews. These top universities are looking for potential not for the finished article and a student who answered this question by starting off with ‘blimey…let’s see’ and continued by speculating, maybe with some false starts and even dead ends might be making very good impression as long as they were thinking for themselves.
Both Universities go out of their way to encourage and support students applying from comprehensives like The Coleshill School and have some fantastic outreach services. Clare College Cambridge are particularly good with this and we’ve had great hospitality from them in the past.
Elsewhere our students are getting great offers from a plethora of other institutions. One student has an unconditional (meaning that he doesn’t have to get specific grades to get in) offer from Birmingham which he’s mightily chuffed with and others are holding offers from all five of their choices.
It’s still an exciting time to be young!