Sixth form colleges

Ever feel like a parent who’s out of touch?

Daughter doing very well in comprehensive secondary school, and I’d assumed she’d stay on there in sixth form.

Out of the blue to us as parents many of her peers are applying for sixth form colleges and we have a sudden huge stressful rush to see what’s available/feasible for a 2023 A level intake.

I can’t believe the world has changed so much since I was a lad - perhaps it was always the same and I got lucky with a comprehensive background.

GCSE stresses are more than enough for kids without trying to make these choices at such a young age.

I went to Richmond College back in the ‘80’s. It was great! Far better then school :grinning::grinning::grinning:

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My Son went to a Secondary School which didn’t have a 6th Form. So he ‘swapped’ to the local former Grammar School to do his ‘A’ Levels.

It worked well…! He is now studying Medicine at Bristol… :grin:

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Congratulations to your son, it’s a phenomenal opportunity.

My daughter is pluripotential STEM wise and medicine is one of her preferred options.

She excels at mathematics, computing, physics and chemistry but doesn’t quite ‘get’ biology currently.

I’ve tried to instill some biochemistry basics to marry subjects together but I’m an old fogey!

I’ve been distracted by so many things in recent years but now I feel I should have been researching earlier.

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My sons secondary school didnt have a 6th form so he switched to one that did, he received so much help with extra tutoring for Alevels and STEP and ended up getting a Maths degree at Cambridge. Doing well for himself 4 years after Uni, In San Francisco at present at a conference for work


I skipped a bit of detail - which may help you…

When my Son went to the Grammar School, he started doing 4 A Levels - Biology, Geography, Maths (or was it Physics…?) - and Chemistry. He found the ‘jump’ from the Secondary School to the Grammar School was quite big - and doing 4 A Levels was a struggle…

So… as he found Chemistry the most difficult, he dropped it in Year 1. This was a mistake… At this point, he wasn’t thinking of Medicine, so it didn’t seem like a problem. He carried on & got 3 good A Levels in his remaining subjects - Grades A & B.

At this point, he decided he really wanted to do Medicine… So, he then did Chemistry A level, in 1 year, at a 6th Form college. He also retook Geography to try to get a higher grade.

Fast Forward - it worked… And he got into Bristol, to do Medicine. He has now completed Year 3.

Wanting to do Medicine gave my son (IMO) the focus & motivation to do Chemistry A Level, so he could do that.

The Message - Work out WHERE you want to get to - then plan your route…!!

Applies to many things - even HiFi…


They are still quite prone to peer pressure at that age, so it’s not surprising that as soon as a few start talking about looking elsewhere for sixth form others start to think about jumping ship. Whether such thoughts become reality is a different matter - the grass isn’t always greener etc.

Sixth Form Colleges can be very good - often a wider variety of courses than most schools can offer and fewer rules (uniform being a very obvious one), both of which can make them very attractive to 15/16-year olds who are bored with school (which is most of them!).

By contrast, pushing through to sixth form in the same school means you’re already a known quantity to your teachers (assuming that’s a good thing!), opportunities for leadership/mentoring of younger pupils, plus a school that does mostly/exclusively A-levels won’t have its staff’s efforts spread over numerous different syllabuses.

Go and have a look around some of the other options with your daughter and see how they feel. There isn’t an absolute right and wrong choice - she should investigate options, consider them carefully but also trust her instincts if one place obviously feels better than the others.



I think you might be over worrying a little

The teachers at your daughter’s school will know the best colleges in the locality. Kids are competitive, they’ll know the best colleges and want to get in there.

Our kids told us what college they’d be going to, we didn’t give it a second thought.

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Ideally yes, but they still have a sixth form at the school so I’d imagine they’d be trying to retain pupils rather than advising them to go elsewhere.


My daughter announced, at around GCSE time, that she wanted to do her A levels at the local FE college instead of staying at school. A lot of her friends were going there because they were not academic types, and for them it was the right decision to go and do a vocational course. My daughter, who was considering science A levels and med. school, was taken in by the college prospectus with its promise of support, turorials, and a raft of other facilities, and thought she might prefer it to school.
It just happens that my wife is a lecturer at this college, and was able to point out that the promise of all this support was nothing short of a pack of lies, with many staff on terrible contracts which encouraged them to run for the door when the bell rang even faster than the kids did.
I am absolutely sure that if she had gone there she would never have made it to med school. Staying on at school to do her A levels was absolutely the right decision for her.

The flip side of this is that schools get paid for bums on seats, and in our area they routinely talk kids into staying on to do A levels when it is very clearly not in their best interests, when those kids are more suited to vocational training after GCSEs.


Great advice from @Ebor that matches my experience, both as a school leader and a parent. There are great school 6Fs and great 6F Colleges, the hard part is finding which is which!
I know there are problems with the methodology, but the ‘value added score’ for the subjects the young person wants to follow can be a really good guide - read up and ask about the ALPs score.

In the end you want somewhere that they can be happy and while the issue of peer pressure / herd instinct can be exceptionally powerful, knowledge is king. The young person will make their own choices. I suggest you need to focus on helping them make a good decision for themselves.


It’s easier now to find out the performance of colleges and sixth form. Go to the open days and they will boast about it if it’s any good.

Sixth form seem to focus more on conventional A level subjects. College for more vocational BTECs. But that doesn’t necessarily mean one is better. Depends what they want to do after.

Our first two did A Levels at sixth form. Youngest is doing BTEC at college

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Working in adolescent mental health as a practitioner and manager, I had contact with colleges and 6th forms and think that depending on the what student wants or needs either can be the best choice. That most young people now have a choice is a massive benefit I think, from both a personal and professional perspective. I remember when I was at school, we had no choice and I had to stay at a school I hated to do my A levels and hated every moment of it, some friends loved it though. Unsurprisingly I didn’t get good results and didn’t go on to uni as expected (I did get there eventually as a mature student).


I’ve just been to an Open Day - let’s just say sobering for several reasons, and in many ways not what I expected either.

Equally I would never have imagined that somewhere within walking distance was so highly ranked.

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The town I grew up in had a couple of FE colleges as an alternative to the Sixth Form and they had existed since at least the 70s. So not sure it’s changed so much. It may just be that it is new to your area.

However, as recently as 20 years ago, Universities were still looking for candidates with A-Levels from a Sixth Form attached to a school. So I expect playing the long games is advisable. That means possibly thinking about where she wants to be post A-Levels and which place will help with that most.

I have a very smart friend that missed out on Uni’ because he went and studied things he was interested in at an FE college instead of the more conservative staple of subjects at the Sixth Form. And I do sense regret there.

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Never having been a parent and not being academic I have never had these stresses.
I certainly do not envy parents and modern day students.
I did an apprenticeship and day release to college and later night school to get off the tools and into the “office”. Took me longer but got there without A levels and a degree.
Nowadays students seem pressured into A levels and degrees.

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Universities are now very happy to accept BTECs instead of A Levels. This year a friend’s daughter who only has BTECs has just started her course of choice at her uni of choice and had a few other offers as well which shows universities are more open to people taking different pathways to study at degree level. Not sure if this would have been the case 10 or so years ago.

In the area I live there is a choice of 6th Form colleges, 6th Forms attached to schools and FE colleges, most seem to now offer a mix of A level and other qualifications. From other people’s comments, I do wonder if my area has a greater choice than many other areas.

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