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!
Parents’ evening was very much as I described last week; a mainly positive experience for all involved with the focus on collaboration. With the Easter break coming up at the end of this week it’s important to be clear about what needs priority in terms of consolidation and revision. It’s something of a different experience for our year 12 students with the new examination system, as the AS exams have largely gone to be replaced by a two year linear course. There will still be rigorous internal exams and these are important in two ways. First of all they will require the students to learn subject matter and approaches to examinations and this will have the knock on of embedding learning for next year. Secondly they need to be passed to progress on to year 13!
The approach of Easter always makes me reminisce about my grandparents’ in their small village of Cymau in North East Wales. It was an annual Easter break to go and stay with them and I’ll be revisiting some of the flavour of these in assemblies this week. In many ways it’s a slice of social and cultural history which literally belongs to another era – my grandfather (or Taid in Welsh) was born in Victoria’s reign and spent 51 years in coal mining. He was one of fourteen children and didn’t have a phone or a television until he was in his 60’s. We’ll see what the students make of it.
Three of our students took part in the Cambridge University Sixth Form Law Conference last week and had a great time. They stayed in Cambridge colleges for three nights and had a varied programme which included lectures by leading academics, workshops with practising lawyers and a debate in the world famous Cambridge Union. At least one of the students who attended has decided that a career in law is now a top priority.
‘Line of Duty’ is as compelling as ever and Jason Watkins didn't last long did he? How can Roz Huntley keep the investigators at bay for four more episodes? And the epic interrogation scenes have started; the one last night was ten minutes long and it's good that TV drama is still prepared to risk that sort of language and nuance rich drama.
The blog will now take a break for a couple of weeks. Happy Easter to students, parents, teachers and anyone else who stumbles across the site.
The clocks have gone forward and the sixth form is remarkably quiet this morning; the students are here but their body clocks have not quite adjusted and the volume has been turned down. Quite nice really.
We’ve got parents' evening this week and I like to think that they are more constructive affairs than of old. Students and their parents seem more open to advice and guidance and we think a lot more carefully about how individuals can be supported and encouraged. Of course I won’t pretend that some students simply need to take study more seriously and work harder; for a period of time during my A levels I was one of these. I can still remember the sinking feeling at parents’ evening with my dad making notes in stony silence and the one after my A level mocks was particularly painful, leading to an enforced period of house arrest. It turned out ok in the end but I did need the harsh realities pointing out to me. I often remind students that we are all (students, parents and teachers) heading for the same goal which can broadly be described as success and happiness but I know that this partnership can sometimes suffer amidst the ‘sturm and drang’ of adolescence. We tend to get there in the end.
My visit to Pinewood Technologies was another eye – opener. They provide car dealerships with computer systems which will manage pretty much every aspect of their operations and I heard some great stories about the progression school leavers have made in the company. People tend to think that it’s just about software and code but they have openings in sales and marketing, account management, customer liaison, business development and so on. Their employee benefits look particularly good too and it’s great to see a company working with its workforce to enable a work life balance. I’ll certainly be encouraging our students to have a look.
We also had our old friends from Clare College, Cambridge over last week. As ever they were supportive of our students and managed to dispel some of the myths about applying to the best universities in the UK. As I’ve suggested before universities work very hard to get the brightest and best young minds regardless of background and that there should be no barriers to those who wish to access the very best universities. We will always do all we can to promote and support this at The Coleshill School.
Just a couple of reminders about events coming up. The remarkable Outward Bound offer (5 days of activity in glorious Snowdonia for sixty quid all in) closes this week. We are asking for expressions of interest to begin with and will narrow down applicants by looking at their school record across all areas.
Next week sees the visit to The University of Birmingham for all of year 12. I posted about this a fortnight ago but it bears repeating:
The week before the Easter break I have booked all our students in year 12 onto the ‘Make Your Move’ event at The University of Birmingham. This event consists of a wide range of presentations, exhibitions and seminars all based on the world of higher education, apprenticeships and employment. We’re treating it as an open day so students will be making their own way there and deciding which parts of the event to sign up for. For those who don’t already know, there is a station at the University of Birmingham.
Now the Six Nations is over I can move on to one of the few things I watch on television apart from sport. ‘Line of Duty’ resumed last night and I think it’s as sharp as ever. The twists in the last few minutes were superb. Midlands’ actor Jason Watkins stole the show for me; can’t wait to see how this cliffhanger resolves itself. That’s Sunday evening sorted for a few weeks.
There’s always a time in March when all of a sudden the promise of spring seems to gather momentum and become a promise rather than a distant hope. That time was last week for me and, although today's rains were rather persistent, we are definitely into the lighter nights and Mark Twain’s words ‘It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want — oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!’ have a particular resonance.
More prosaically, the forthcoming Easter holidays always have a whiff of the impending exam season. It’s the time for revision timetables and counting the days down to the first exam. We’re looking at revision in tutor time this week and next to try to share tips that actually work, but the bottom line is that without the initial and underlying graft, revision won’t be much good! I am forever sharing the old maxim ‘the harder I work, the luckier I get’ which has been variously ascribed to Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Goldwyn and Gary Player. Whoever said it first, there is an obvious slice of truth in the saying. There are lots of good sites which support revision but a good deal is just common sense. Do the work your teachers ask you to and, if you want to excel, do a little bit more. This site:
offers pretty sound basic advice. We also looked at the age old problem of procrastination and there’s no simple answer to this beyond ‘just do it!’
We’re also looking at elements of mindfulness. This has caused some controversy recently. Sir Anthony Seldon, the education guru, has called for ‘stillness sessions’ in schools and more than one secondary school has compulsory mindfulness sessions on the curriculum. The US Marines have mindfulness sessions before combat and Cambridge University is researching into how mindfulness can combat stress. However, Professor Frank Furedi has described it as a fad in an infantilising culture, suggesting that on the one hand we want students to be resilient and accepting of setback and on the other we mollycoddle them the minute we fear they are under pressure.
Whatever the reality we are trying it on a small scale if only to remind students that there can be a world without the clutter and buzz of mobile phone communication and social media. The ping of the notification is now the soundtrack to a lot of family, school and office life. So we continue to have our silent reading sessions and we will be exploring a few more mindfulness techniques. If you’re interested, have a look at this TED talk.
I’ve made contact with another local company and I’m visiting Pinewood UK at their Birmingham Business Park to find out more about their software business and the potential opportunities for Coleshill Students. I find it really refreshing that businesses are reaching out to schools, doing their best to match student talents to their particular needs.
My Six Nations phrase last week was ‘wounded Irish pride’ and they certainly seemed to have the greater will and bite in Dublin on Saturday. The less said about Wales v France the better. Thanks for indulging my rugby comments and I will return to the theme during the Lions’ tour.