If I was starting sixth form

1st December 2020

Those hundreds of thousands of young people who proudly shared their GCSE results on Enrolment Day at their local college or their school sixth form will now be a few weeks into their studies. Perhaps now is a good time for some reflection upon the challenges those young people might face over the next few years. And perhaps it is also a good time to try and put ourselves in their shoes. 

There remain many questions about what the new normal might look like – including whether it will be either ‘new’ or ‘normal’ – but commentators all seem to agree that the 16-24 age group will be hardest hit by the falling employment levels resulting from Covid, and the economic challenges and (maybe) opportunities arising from Brexit. Those 16-year-olds with their GCSE results; the 18-year-olds starting university, further training or an apprenticeship; and those a few years older who have perhaps graduated in the past few years all face a crisis of opportunity of a scale not seen for many generations. 

What can we teachers, managers and leaders, do to help prepare our sixth form students for a successful career with all the benefits that this brings? And I do not just mean the financial benefits that stem from suitable and rewarding employment – we should not forget to include the social benefits, the benefits in terms of mental wellbeing and positive self-esteem, and the proven health benefits of job security and satisfaction.

Actually, we can play a big part.  

  • We can advise young people carefully about their future direction and work with them in the classroom, the laboratory and the workplace to help them maximise their potential 
  • We can help them to establish the habits and positive attitudes that will maximise their chances of success.  
  • We can be part an antidote to the disease of negativity and doom that if left unchecked has the potential to overwhelm. 

If we could turn back my biological clock/calendar/sundial many years, plonking me for the first time into the sixth form and into that vulnerable 16-24 age group, what would I expect from my school or my college? am certain that I would want:

  • The best grades I could possibly get, and teachers who would move the earth to help me get them. 
  • I would want to know that the subjects I was studying, my grades, and the experiences and skills I gained, would open doors for me and make me irresistible to employers. 
  • I would hope for effective pastoral care – teachers offering a love and support that would help me when things didn’t go to plan. 
  • And I would hope for a knowledgeable programme of careers advice and guidance from the day I enrolled in sixth form, to the day I leave. 

The challenges of this year will hopefully spark a period of deep reflection from school and college leaders and university administrators – about curriculum offer, course relevance, national employment priorities, training programmes, and the number of meaningful apprenticeships on offer. It would be nice if this debate was driven by student need, rather than the education funding crisis which will inevitably result from the crises of 2020. If I was in the sixth form again, I could not have possibly realised that this was my greatest need and the greatest need for millions of young people like me. 

Steve Pegg

Partnership Director – Alps


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