David Hallen, Head of Sixth
Last academic year, the Sixth Form structure at Godolphin School underwent a significant and visionary change, converting a boarding house in to a newly refurbished study centre, complete with flexible individual and shared study spaces, mirroring many university models. This investment in provision at Sixth Form level, often the most challenging and important time in a child’s educational career, reflects the emphasis the school places on not only the value of a successful Sixth Form, but also on the importance of supporting students when transitioning from the Senior School into Sixth Form life.
This comes at a time when the national picture for continuing Sixth Form study in the independent sector is increasingly polarised. Whilst independent schools are rightly proud of increasing academic successes, smaller class sizes and dedicated, outstanding teaching, parents are feeling the financial pressure, after several years of fee-paying, to look at lower cost or free alternatives. This is compounded by the increasing demand on family finances in the university years, and by the perception that at the moment, university admission is a buyer’s market (and consequently that staying in independent education for Sixth Form is not as important as it once was). It is certainly the case that the 2018 university admissions figures published by UCAS show a 5% decrease in undergraduate applicants since 2016, but figures from the Higher Education Funding Council predict a 6% rise overall in admissions by 2019, and over the next couple of years, the university entrance process is likely to become increasingly competitive. Staying at school for Sixth Form and building on those all-important relationships established over the years has never been more essential than it is today.
From September 2018, Godolphin Sixth Form moves into a new phase of development, marking a significant change of attitude and ethos. Whilst maintaining our outstanding academic results and pastoral care, some new innovations, many of which have come about in consultation with parents, staff and students, are already having a tangible effect in terms of retention. Building on the foundations of the Senior School gives us a tremendous opportunity in terms of “through line of care” – we can successfully track our students from KS3 through to their time in the Sixth Form, ensuring that they have the best possible guidance and opportunities for discovery, academically and personally, which are tailored specifically to their ambitions. Our ‘Into The Sixth Form’ programme, which runs from Year 9 through to Year 11, ensures that every single student is supported fully throughout her educational career in terms of option choices at GCSE and beyond, and there is a real sense of commitment to every child’s development at Godolphin. However, once our students reach the Sixth Form, there needs to be a sense that it is different from ‘school’, so from this academic year, our Sixth Form students have the opportunity for more freedom to go off-site during the school day and to manage their own time more independently as well as the advantage of a thriving social programme which includes an on-site music festival, barn-dances, charity dinners, a winter and summer ball, a host of trips out, family hog roasts and live music evenings throughout the year. Our Sixth Form is more than school, with all the advantages that years of educative collaboration bring.
Students who stay at Godolphin will continue to thrive academically, taking advantage of some outstanding teaching and facilities, and securing some enviable results in A-level, BTEC and Pre-U qualifications. Last year 90% of our leavers gained a place at their first choice university, with 70% going to Russell Group institutions. Students stay with us to benefit from the consistency of small class teaching, mirroring the Oxbridge tutorial model, and the effective academic and pastoral monitoring that goes alongside it. But staying on for Sixth Form offers so much more than this evident life-long academic benefit. We are very proud of the Higher Education guidance our students receive in the Sixth Form, and students and parents chose to stay with us as a result of the detailed and consistent Higher Education support available. Speakers from different universities, the Good Schools Guide and Foresight Careers all participate in our ‘Moving Into Higher Education’ evening in early October, and our students benefit from dedicated UCAS and careers support through our Bright Futures Programme, run by our highly experienced careers advisor. Add to this the ‘Beyond The Sixth Form Day’ in which our Lower Sixth students visit a university campus and experience taster lectures, discussions with undergraduates and receive advice on choosing degree courses, and it is easy to see why staying put is so often the right choice.
Our students also stay for Sixth Form to take advantage of our visionary Elizabeth Godolphin Award, which gives every student the opportunity to attend weekly lectures and workshops in addition to their academic studies. These events are diverse in content and style but have a shared goal, which is to best prepare students for successfully navigating life beyond the Sixth Form. A small selection of sessions which students have had access to recently includes mock interviews with JP Morgan, speakers discussing degree and work-place apprenticeships, CV building, gap years and international study, opportunities for work shadowing, Inspiring People lectures, LGBTQ+ developments in education, and developing mental health. These are balanced against sessions where students learn practical skills such as basic car maintenance, budget cookery and first aid. Beyond the Elizabeth Godolphin Award, our Sixth Form are offered a tremendous array of leadership opportunities, which stretch and challenge the development of both character and resilience. Students can opt to lead the Combined Cadet Force, to be Competitive House Captains or Boarding House Ambassadors, Prefects, Subject Leaders or to participate in the Mental Health England Peer Mentoring Programme. Students participating in this outstanding initiative receive professional training before working on a weekly basis mentoring younger students. The benefit to all involved is significant, with our Sixth Form students gaining a higher level of confidence and regularly applying their training to their own lives and relationships. Students in the Sixth Form at Godolphin also benefit from the award winning GO Forward programme. GO Forward is a network of Godolphin alumnae who connect through four channels – GO Uni, GO Gap, GO Work and GO Connect. The GO Forward network operates in conjunction with Bright Futures and offers advice and support on all aspects of “life after school”. Each year GO Forward host a major event for alumnae and current sixth formers, and recent events have focused on STEM and careers in Fashion and Design.
Our students also take advantage of the Inspiring Bright Minds lecture series, attending weekly events designed to stretch their understanding of the word and to prompt their curiosity to discover more beyond the classroom. Indeed, many of our students also volunteer regularly with local charities such as the Trussell Trust, the Health Care South Sudan Charity, Exeter House and Oxfam, and are responsible each year for planning and participating in the annual Macmillan Takeover Day in Salisbury, raising valuable funds and awareness for this important charity. Our Sixth Form students also remain with us to take advantage of a range of overseas opportunities provided by the school, from yearly educational visits to a number of European countries including France, Italy, Iceland and the Czech Republic to regular charity adventures to Nepal, Kenya and India, our Sixth Form students have every opportunity not only to travel the world, but to help make it a better place.
Our Sixth Form students really do receive ‘an education for life’.