Head of the soon-to-open Eaton Square Sixth Form, John Wilson belives we need a fresh and innovative approach to the post-16 learning environment 

The post-16, sixth form landscape has changed more rapidly in the past decade than at any other point in time. A sixth form offering the opportunity to achieve good academic results alone is likely not to provide enough to allow aspirant undergraduates to achieve their ambitions. Students now expect to leave university with large debts and having invested at least three years in making themselves more attractive in a competitive employment market. 

Few can afford to make a mistake in picking the wrong course or wrong university. Unlike those of us attending university a generation ago, it is even a gamble to begin university without at least some idea of what you want to do when you leave. The increased number of ‘unconditional’ offers being offered to sixth formers suggests that universities have gone beyond looking for than academic strength alone and our young people need to develop a purpose for their futures as well as studying for their final exams.

Furthermore, 16 year olds are increasingly sophisticated and mature. These young people, quite rightly, have high expectations of the institutions that claim to be preparing them for the next steps in their lives. Many will be attending excellent schools that have served them well to GCSE and yet they are looking for something a little more bespoke, personal and self-reliant as they prepare for the next steps on their journey. This means sixth forms face a number of challenges. First, while we want our young people to be independent learners and to take responsibility for their own learning, they have often come from schools which have, with all the best intentions, spoon-fed their pupils toward GCSE success.

Eaton Square Sixth Form Pupils

Young people at 16 often have no idea how to study independently or how to plan an effective future for themselves. Secondly, it has become somewhat of a cliché to say that, as educators, we are preparing young people for careers that currently don’t exist. Yet the cliché may well be true and certainly today’s sixth formers are ambitious, determined and prepared to invest their own future earnings in ensuring they are as prepared as possible for whatever opportunity may come their way. Sixth forms have to respond to this expectation and can’t expect to pack students off to university or the world of work with nothing more than three academic qualifications in vaguely related subjects.

Two-years in a sixth form is not a huge amount of time in which to change habits, develop independence and prepare students for these challenges. Were I a student today considering my options post-16, I would want to know that the institution I chose would allow me to develop skills as well as knowledge, develop a strategy, as well access information. I would want the institution to prepare me for what is to come as well as support me with what is happening now. 

Eaton Square Sixth Form College (ES6) opens soon in Belgravia and will recognise its students’ expectations for independence and a more adult approach while also understanding that independent learning is a skill to be taught. Students at ES6 will experience a 9-5 day with independent study training, research skills and business-like personal strategy as part of their curriculum. They will have much of the freedom and independence they crave but within a rigorous and purposeful environment where working toward their aims will be a significant part of their day.

Sixth form education providers need to adapt to an ever-changing landscape and high demands of the students they hope to attract.


Further reading: The benefits of choosing an all-through school