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DLD College London - photography lesson in 6th form

Whether you want to change from a single sex school to co-ed or from day to boarding, private to state, A levels to IB – or vice versa – there are plenty of reasons to move schools post-GCSEs. 

When to start looking 

We’d advise getting the ball rolling towards the end of their year 10 in time for sixth form open days and applications which generally take place the following autumn.  

Discussions about post-GCSE options will already be taking place at your child’s current school by then and looking at other sixth forms will widen your options. Maybe the broader based curriculum of the IB would suit them better than specialising at A level? Maybe they want to pursue a more practical, less exam based, route? Or perhaps your child simply feels ready for a fresh start and new faces. 

Choosing a new sixth form 

The decision needs to be a joint effort between parents and children, based as much on personal preference as objective research. Your child may have formed opinions about other schools via friends and social media but however popular a particular sixth form may be, it’s no good if it doesn’t offer the subjects they want to study.  

Guide your child to consider the areas of study they genuinely enjoy or find interesting. Also bear in mind that the demands of some A levels, such as maths, are a big jump from GCSE and most schools will set higher GCSE grade requirements for these.  

It may seem too early when your child hasn’t even finished their GCSE courses to start talking about university subjects and destinations, but if they are going to change school for sixth form it’s important to at least start thinking about the ultimate goal. For instance, if Oxbridge or medical school is the aim then A level choices need to be made accordingly and a potential school’s record of Oxbridge and medical school places taken into account. 

If university isn’t part of the plan then you’ll need to ask the school or college about provision for pupils who are interested in alternative post-18 options such as degree apprenticeships. 

You can find latest information on a school’s Oxbridge, medical school and non-university destinations in the ‘Exit’ section of The Good Schools Guide reviews.  

Day to boarding 

A move to boarding school for sixth form - see this article for more - is often said to be a good preparation for university. But manage your expectations – in our experience most sixth form boarding accommodation is more luxurious than the average university hall of residence!  

Most boarding schools have separate provision for sixth formers where they can live more independently and with fewer restrictions than younger pupils. If you are looking at full, as opposed to weekly, boarding then find out how many sixth formers are in school at weekends and what activities are on offer (our writers suggest looking at boarding house noticeboards to see sign-up sheets for weekend activities). 

While it’s usually possible, with permission, for boarding sixth formers to attend day pupils’ parties for instance, it’s unlikely that any school will allow the same freedom to socialise (particularly with regard to sexual relationships) as day school pupils. Discuss school rules and regulations frankly with your child - if they (or you) are horrified then maybe boarding isn’t the right choice.  

Independent to state  

A move from independent to state school is often determined by family finances, but we wonder whether it could also now be a strategic decision. 

State school sixth forms or sixth form colleges often have exam results that are comparable to independent schools and they may also offer a wider range of post-GCSE choices. 

And as the UK’s top universities strive to rebalance their admissions procedures to correct what was (rightly) criticised as an independent school bias, will this prompt more independent school parents to send their children to take A levels at state sixth forms? Time will tell.  

State to independent 

If you think your child would benefit from taking A levels at an independent school but are worried about affording the fees, it could be worth checking whether you can apply for a bursary. Some schools even offer bursaries specifically for pupils joining the sixth form from the local state sector. Read the following for more information about scholarships and bursaries.  

Entry requirements  

These differ considerably but five or six GCSEs including English and maths at grade 6 or above, with grade 7 or higher in subjects to be studied at A level (can be 8 or 9 for maths/further maths), is the minimum for most selective schools. Many schools set the sixth form entry bar much higher and in addition to a full set of GCSEs at grades 9-7, also expect candidates to sit papers in their prospective A level subjects. Schools will usually interview prospective sixth formers too. 

So what are the essentials to look out for?

  • Check how many new pupils join the sixth form - if the number is very low it may be harder for your child to integrate  

  • Look at trends in exam results rather than just the most recent ones (particularly important now that Covid has disrupted GCSEs and A levels)  

  • Some schools are single sex up to GCSEs with a co-ed sixth form – ask what the ratio of boys to girls is and try to find out whether the culture of the school is suitable for your son or daughter  

  • What are the opportunities for new pupils when it comes to things like positions of responsibility (prefects etc)? 

  • What expertise is there to support Oxbridge and international university applications, or alternative routes such as degree apprenticeships?  

  • A fresh start can be a great motivator, but it isn’t a panacea. If your child is struggling or unhappy at their current school find out why – changing schools may not be the answer 


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