Sixth form

The lower and upper sixth forms (Years 12 and 13 in England and Wales) are usually described simply as the sixth form. Pupils take a two-year course in the sixth form, which will qualify them for university entrance. This involves the study of four to six subjects, though good schools have always run stimulating sixth-form programmes alongside. Now the new sixth-form diplomas (baccalaureates, including the IB, the Pre-U diploma) require more than in-depth study of a handful of subjects; for example global perspectives in the Pre-U, extended project for the AQA baccalaureate, creativity and community service in the IB. Many schools now provide ‘enrichment programmes’ for the sixth form, even when they are not formally entering them for a diploma that requires it. These may include, for instance, philosophy, ethics, environment or car maintenance, general studies or critical thinking, Duke of Edinburgh’s Award or community service, expeditions or visiting lectures.

Traditionally, most sixth formers take 4–5 AS-levels in the lower sixth, continuing some of those subjects to A-level in the upper sixth. However, many independent schools have despaired of the A-level curriculum and are offering the IB Diploma (sometimes entirely, sometimes as an alternative to AS and A-levels). The Cambridge Pre-U is frequently offered in particular subjects instead of AS and A-levels. Extended projects may be added, so pupils qualify for, eg the AQA or Welsh Baccalaureate. That list is not exhaustive − and in Scotland the range is extended to include Scottish Highers and Advanced Highers. No independent schools appear to be considering the new government Diplomas.

When deciding on a school, it is worth looking into the different curricula (see the Exams section) and seeing which is likely to suit your child best. For instance, vocational A-levels are offered at some schools, which will suit some children; the IB Diploma requires a pupil to continue with maths and a language, which will suit others.