STAHS Sixth Form: A Place Apart
Tony Oulton, new Director of Sixth Form, shares his thoughts.
At the start of the academic year I spoke with Year 12 and welcomed them to the top of the STAHS community. In that talk, I pointed out the task that lay ahead of them during the course of their Sixth Form career here. And it was only partly tongue-in-cheek that I pointed out they’d need to:
1. Get amazing A Levels
2. Sort out their plans for after they left us
3. Acquire any last-minute life skills they’d need for being successful and happy in beyond these walls, and
4. plan a future career.
They laughed when I then added “so no pressure then!” – a nervous laugh, with more than a hint of terror about it! Which is entirely understandable. Sixth Form is not Year 11 sans a school uniform and with the addition of a common room to hang out in. It’s an incredibly tough 18 months (we talk about it being two years but in reality of course it’s not that) during which students have to focus their gaze, Janus-like, on the here-and-now of A Levels as well as their futures beyond STAHS. It’s a potentially bewildering, stressful and busy time, which is why it must be balanced with downtime and huge dollops of fun. Our students are not snowflakes but there is a difference between being told that the step-up from GCSE to A Level is massive and experiencing that step-up for themselves.
As you may know, at STAHS we are in the process of finalising plans for a fantastically exciting and ambitious Sixth Form centre. It will be a place where the architecture and design reflects the teaching and learning that students in the Sixth Form here engage with: dynamic, versatile, unique. They’re qualities that we want the students themselves to leave with too and in that space students here will imbibe those values and leave life-ready for the world beyond.
I want to suggest that a Sixth Form is both a bridge and a place apart, and here’s what I mean:
It is a bridge in two senses. Firstly, it is fundamentally an integral part of the wider school community. Shaped by the values of scholarship, adventure and integrity, the Sixth Form is a bridge over which we hope many from Year 11 will travel, because the Sixth Form is a place where these values find their highest expression. It is a place where we want girls to discover and run with their academic passions, where they embrace a spirit of adventure and make the most of every opportunity that comes their way here and where they can be entirely and essentially the people they are.
But the Sixth Form is also a bridge in a different sense, in that it acts as a crossing point from school to the world beyond. From the outset, our Sixth Form students will be thinking about their life beyond STAHS and we are there to support them, to guide them and point them along the journey of their choosing, making it known to them through our outstanding Higher Education and Careers programme the wealth of routes open to them and equipping them with the skills they’ll need to journey into the destination of their choice.
So, the STAHS Sixth Form is a bridge, yes, but also a place apart. What we offer is absolutely not ‘more of the same’. There is a definitely distinctive feel to the way things are – tangible, if not always definable. Visit us and you’ll get a sense of this. Students in the STAHS Sixth Form are taking responsibility, being activists, owning their own learning and celebrating their diversity. And our task is usually to stand in awe at their tenacity and flair as they do so, and to chip in our help and support wherever and whenever it’s needed.
All in all, we treat our students in the Sixth Form like the young, fabulous women they are, and keep what can lower down the school seem like burdensome rules and regulations to a bare minimum. In this place apart we offer exceptional moral and practical support but we want them to directors of their own destiny, as ambitious for themselves as we are for them. We want them dreaming big and thinking large, because they are strong and powerful and creative and fun.
Four weeks in to this job I can tell you that High School Sixth Formers are steely, focused, and huge fun – students who work smart and play hard. And if they’ve learned to do that here in our Sixth Form, in our very own bridge and place apart, then we’ve done our job.
Director of Sixth Form and Assistant Head