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Back to School - Year 12 / 13 - Dreading it or Loving it?

When reading this post (mainly aimed at teachers but worth reading if you in a particularly reflective mood) written by a Head of English from another school, it quickly turned my thoughts to the experience of moving from Year 11 to 12 (or 12 to 13).

Sadly by about December / January, I begin to hear the rumbles of 'I hate 6th Form', 'What's the point?', 'I should have gone to college', which I really find quite sad. The general complaints I hear are:

1) There's too much work and your expected to do it on your own in your own time.
2) There are rules.
3) I'm failing so why bother trying?
4) It's not like Skins.
5) The subjects aren't what we expected them to be / needed them to be / glamorous enough.

These are from students who enjoyed the experience at GCSE enough to them want to explore more into the subject. So what went wrong and what advice would I give you to ensure you enjoy 6th Form.

 Point 1, 3 and 5 are all quite similar complaints and there is a reason that these complaints happen around December / January and that is because of exams.

You have to retain a huge amount of information to successfully tackle your AS or A2 examinations and you have to have deft skills to use that information. In English Literature alone you have two novels and two large collections of poems that you have to cover and then add on the rigours of your other subjects.

That is a lot of work.

It will impinge on your Twitter time, Facebook time, Breaking Bad time, your part-time job time and worst of all your party time. If you leave everything until the last minute, you'll miss all of this at once.

The key is to be organised. You will be getting an English Literature handbook and I am sure other departments will do the same. Do Not Bin These. These are vital to your survival; the English one has all your deadlines, your essay titles, the assessment objectives, the set texts, the requirements for laying out your essay. If you come to me with a question that is in the handbook, you'll be referred to it and I'll get quite grumpy if you do it over and over again.

When  you are given your handbook, sit down with it for half an hour, write your deadlines in your diary (you are given these as well) and start to map out when you are going to block in time to hit the deadlines.

The key to success is to get into the correct habits:

1) Do the work when you get it or as soon as you can - putting it off will cause you more stress.
2) Use your free periods to seek out your teacher if you are struggling - you are expected to work independently but that doesn't mean you are expected to suddenly become brilliant at everything straight away.
3) If something you do is difficult, it is more worthwhile than doing something very easy. Difficulty isn't bad - you get a better feeling from succeeding at things that are difficult and you develop into a stronger, more resilient and intelligent person by conquering something difficult. Fun isn't easy: boredom is easy.

For the last two years of your education you have been consistently pushed to C and above. The most shocking part about the moving from Year 11 to 6th form can be moving from seeing As on your assessments to seeing Es.

This is not failure.

There are big jumps between grades and skills / knowledge often take time to show through in grades. Improvement is what you are looking for in each assessed piece you do - that may be numerical in marks rather than alphabetical in grades.

Point 5 of the complaints is more of a life lesson than a school lesson. There is always something in every subject / job that you will not like - the key is to focus on the positives and not the negatives.

When I did my degree, I didn't particularly like photography or the Music programme MAX/MSP. As a teacher, I'm not overly fond of paperwork (see my desk). As an English teacher, I'm not a big fan of Romantic Poets (thanks Mr Gove for making them compulsory from 2015, I'll recross the border by then).

However, there was / is something that sparks my interest in my subject / job / degree each week. It made getting through the bits I didn't enjoy all the more satisfying by knowing as soon as I got them done, I could focus on the bits I love.

1) There will be something somebody says in at least one of your lessons each week that will interest you (it might not even be related to the subject) but find out more about it because finding you sparks of interest is the best thing about your education.

Finally points 2 and 4.

Skins is a T.V. drama. The characters don't have to get grades, go to university or get jobs. They have a job and it is pretending to be a teenager who doesn't care.

To be honest some episodes of Skins have been brilliantly written and every teenager in the world wants to be the one that doesn't care, doesn't do anything yet still seems to have impeccable clothing, hair, make-up and enough money to blow it all in a haze of booze and trashed houses.

6th Form is not Skins in the same way that Chemistry teachers don't make amphetamine in their spare time (who isn't enjoying Breaking Bad though?).

You are coming back to College, there are younger students all around you.

You can't wear exactly what you want all the time; you can't say what you want all the time and you have to turn up when your timetable says you have lessons or tutor time.


I'd love to tell you differently.

All the things you can't do above pretty much apply for the rest of your life. These aren't just exclusive College rules, they are more or less life rules.



So this was meant to be an up-lifting post about the enjoyment of coming back to school but I may even have managed to depress myself.

6th Form  should be about finding something you are passionate about be that subject, sport or career. It should be about loving learning. It should be about using the extra freedoms you have to find out more about yourself. To test yourself. To see how strong you are. To see what you are really capable of.

So in the spirit of positivity here are my top tips to avoid being THAT student:

Top Tips for Enjoying 6th Form

  1. Focus on the things that blow your mind not the ones that numb them
  2. Use the next two weeks to organise yourself. Don't get behind as it will all pile up.
  3. Don't through away your subject guides.
  4. Find something interesting that has come up in one of your classes each week and go away and find out more about it.
  5. Try to improve each week whether that is measured in grades, marks or self confidence.
  6. If you are struggling, speak to your teacher.
  7. Use your free lessons - it's better than missing a party.
  8. Get involved in as many things as you can - peer mentor, paired reader, Children in Need, Jordan Team.
  9. Read - whether it is something subject related or seminal late teen texts (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, High Fidelity, Catcher in the Rye).
  10. Relax - if your life gets too full of school you will resent it. Take some time off too.
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