Sixth form can be an absolutely transformative time in a young person’s life. They’re settling into the person they’re going to be, working towards the toughest exams they’ve faced to date, and at the same time they are making vitally important decisions about their future that will affect the rest of their lives.
Being in a supportive school with ambitious peers, encouraging teachers and access to wise career counseling can make all the difference.
You may be thinking of boarding schools for the final two years of your teenager’s education for a number of reasons. Perhaps you’ve been living overseas and you want them back in the UK before they start university. Maybe you’re keen to give them opportunities you had when you were younger, too. Or maybe they are the ones clamoring to board.
Whatever your reasons, here are our top tips for navigating entrance at 16+.
Keep an eye on the clock
Year 11 is a stressful time in every student’s life, with the first public examinations looming large. Luckily, you can sort out entrance exams to new schools well before the summer term rolls in so that your child won’t have a number of different types of exams to cope with at once.
By the time they are sitting their GCSEs, they will already know which schools have offered them a place. This means that the deadlines for application to sixth form are often very early.
Dates to watch out for:
- Open Days for prospective sixth form applicants usually take place in September and October.
- Deadlines for applications are usually October and November.
- Shortlisted applicants get invited to interview (if necessary) around November.
- Offers are usually made around December time.
- Overseas applications will need to make sure the results of their UKiset assessment tests arrive in time, too.
Spot the Difference
So many boarding schools in the UK boast about state-of-the-art facilities, a dazzling array of extra-curricular activities, and extremely impressive academic results. So how do you choose between then? Keep an eye for these key distinguishing factors:
- Is it a ‘full’ boarding house? Or do lots of the students go home at the weekend, leaving only the overseas students to fend for themselves?
- Some schools have a distinctive flavour: they may turn out an exceptional number of swimmers, or be near a velodrome, or have near-professional theatre performances.
- It’s an obvious one, but do check out the fees and the payment structure – these can differ wildly from school to school.
- What’s the atmosphere like, and how do the older students interact with their teachers? Some schools encourage students to be on first-name basis with their teachers, others have a more formal atmosphere.
- Is the emphasis firmly on outstanding academic achievement and university places, or are students who have broader interests and non-HE career aspirations also catered for?
Most UK schools require students who have not been living in the UK to sit the UKiset test. The good news is that the test is done remotely, so international families don’t have to be booking flights just yet.
With this one test, students can apply for multiple schools – saving you all time, money and stress.
Of course, your time is limited and there are only so many days you can devote to ‘school shopping’, especially during precious time back in the UK. They are time consuming and inconvenient for families living abroad, but open days do really help you get a sense of the atmosphere of the school.
School websites can often look identical – how many times is ‘state-of-the-art facilities’ used? – but no two schools feel the same when you go and visit.
A recent client visited Eton, Charterhouse and Sevenoaks on three consecutive days – she could not believe how different the schools were from each other, and how her son reacted differently to each. Check out our article on getting the most out of open days. You’ll probably only have time to visit a couple of schools so do your research beforehand.