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!
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!
Last week we had our annual Sixth Form Open Evening where we began the process of recruiting next year’s year 12 students. We were again blown away by the interest from our own year 11 students and those from neighbouring schools; it seems that we’re garnering a bit of a reputation as the sixth form of choice within a ten mile radius of B46. We will potentially have doubled the size of the sixth form in two years and this gives us all sorts of opportunities to look at our curriculum offer and the wider experience that we offer our students. Of course, it also brings its challenges in terms of accommodation and so on but it’s a great challenge to have. Add in the Deon Burton Football Academy element of the sixth form and it’s clear we’re going places. I always talk to the students about ‘2020 vision’ and it’s one that we now have in mind in terms of how a great sixth form should look. We have the chance to do some special things.
For our current Year 13 ‘2020 vision’ means something else in terms of their future. We probably have a 70/30 split in terms of who’s applying to uni and who’s not and those who have got their applications in early already have some fantastic offers to aim for. We’re obviously encouraging the remaining students to get their applications in soon but there’s always a bit of an issue with students wanting to write the perfect personal statement when such a beast doesn’t really exist. You can show a personal statement to 5 critical friends and they will all suggest different edits so in the end you have to trust yourself (and me).
Our student leaders have been doing some great things recently. They were out in force at the Open Evening and head and deputy students all stood in front of 200 people and told their A level stories with poise and confidence. The previous week our students had been central to our own remembrance service and the one at Coleshill Parish Church, whilst their work with the student council goes largely unseen but is central to the success of student leadership across the school.
I haven’t recommended a book for a while but Margaret Atwood’s ‘Hagseed’ is a belter. It’s one of a series of commissioned works where eminent authors were asked to rework a Shakespeare play. Atwood sets this one in a Canadian prison and constantly surprises the reader with fresh insights into the original. Recommended.
I gave an assembly last week on the theme of general knowledge and cultural capital which also made reference to Peaky Blinders and 20th Century trade union history in Birmingham. A new character called Jessie Eden – who I suspect Tommy might take a shine to – was a real figure in Birmingham politics during the depression and was central to improving the workers’ lot at the Lucas factory. The tone set by last week’s episode suggest we’re in for a few surprises yet!
Anyway, general knowledge is a must, Hag-Seed is a cracker and Peaky Blinders is brilliant.