The move from high school to sixth form can be a stressful time for students. The new environment combined with different expectations and rules can be a difficult transition. This is even worse if you are moving away from friends. One of the main questions students often have about sixth form is whether it involves different school hours, and how many years you will be there. It can be hard to find information about this online. However, this article will provide a clear and accurate guide to sixth form. This will help you to know what to expect when taking this exciting step in your academic career.
In the UK, students typically attend sixth form for 2 years. However, in exceptional circumstances, such as being ill for a significant portion of the course, students may be required to repeat a year. Most students spend up to 25 hours a week at sixth form. However, this can vary at different schools, and may be less for colleges. Students usually attend lessons during the day, as well as have free periods to complete homework and coursework, form time and other school commitments, similar to in secondary school.
While this paragraph has a short answer to your question, there are many more details included below, so please read on for the full details of sixth form in the UK.
How long does sixth form last?
In the UK, sixth form is the stage of education undertaken after GCSEs (or equivalent exams) are finished in Year 11. It includes Years 12 and 13 and is usually started by pupils aged 16 until they are 18 years old.
Therefore, sixth form usually takes 2 years. This is because the courses which students typically undertake in sixth form are intended to be taught over two years. Also, most exams are taken at the end of Year 13 (second year). For more information on A-Level course lengths, check out this Think Student guide.
However, in some cases, students may take 3, or even 4 years to complete sixth form. There are many reasons for this, including failing a year or having to switch A-Levels halfway through your course. Also, students with SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) may take longer complete required elements, or follow a longer course designed with their needs in mind. For information about what SEND means, check out this governmental guide.
Another typical reason for doing extra years is to fulfil the entry requirements to your course, such as by retaking some GCSE exams. This is sometimes known as a foundation course or foundation year, and is more common in universities, but can also be taken in colleges and sixth forms. If you want to go to Sixth Form, but need to re-do GCSEs, you may take your A-Levels as a staggered course, doing one year with your GCSE resits, then doing the rest the next year.
It is important to note that there is no shame in needing longer to complete sixth form, and if this is what is best for you, then take as much time as you need.
If you feel you need to do extra years at sixth form, ask your school or college about their arrangements for this. Some schools may not offer this option or may require you to pay for the extra year. However, there are many different rules and arrangements. Asking your school is the best way to get information that can help you.
How many hours a week is sixth form college?
Sixth form college is typically full time due to the rigorous nature of the qualifications studied at this level. In total, a single A-Level course is about 360 hours over the two years of classroom study. For more information about this, check out this guide by Bright Knowledge. The academic year in the UK is 39 weeks, click on this guide from Anglo Info to learn more. This averages to just under 5 hours per subject per week. If taking 3 A-Levels, this will be about 15 hours per week of being directly taught.
Some students may spend less time in college on certain days or have a day off once a week. This depends on your course, and what qualifications you are studying for, so check your timetable if you are unsure about your requirements. Alternatively, you may be required to spend all school hours in school, even if you have a free period.
This time is spent in school, although unlike at GCSE there may be different ways that you are required to spend the time. Typically, sixth form students are expected to be more self-sufficient. They will do more independent study and coursework than they may have been required to complete at GCSE.
How much contact time do you have at sixth form?
As stated above, the amount of time you spend in sixth form varies between schools and courses. However, it is typical to have around 15-18 hours of teaching per week. Most people find this significantly less than they had at GCSE.
Students can find it disorienting and difficult to have many less lessons than they used to. They can even feel overwhelmed by the amount of work they are suddenly expected to complete alone. However, with good time management and effective hard work, there is no reason that A-Levels or other sixth form courses should be more stressful than GCSEs.
The lack of contact time is balanced by the increase in independent work that higher level courses require. Most qualifications at this level require some coursework, as well as regular homework and assessments in class that you must revise for.
If you feel you are struggling with A-Levels and feel like you may be failing, this Think Student guide has helpful tips and reassurance to help you get back to a better place.
Do you have a strict timetable at sixth form?
At sixth form, similar to GCSE, it is most common to have a strict timetable. Typically, this has lessons, as well as other extras which students may be required to attend. A typical day for a sixth former may include 2-7 lessons. As well as free periods when you do not have a lesson, form time, and potentially clubs and subject clinics after school.
Some sixth forms also require life skills classes, or PSHE, which may include budgeting, university preparation, and many other important skills being taught. They may also require PE lessons, similar to GCSE. However, this may be more free than lower in school, allowing you to do whatever sport or exercise you enjoy.
If you are unsure what course you would like to take at Sixth Form, check out this Think Student article to help you understand the different qualifications available.
Do you have free periods at sixth form?
Most sixth formers have free periods throughout their week. These will be at different times each day, and some days you may have more than others. People taking more subjects will have less free periods as they require more timetabled lessons, but they may also have more work to do, so time management is key.
If you struggle with free periods, there are a few things that can make the lack of structure easier. Some students find it easier to immediately work on the closest due piece of homework in their frees, to ensure they get things done on time. However, another good method can be dedicating days to specific subjects, then only working on that subject for the day, can help you revise as you go.
Breaking your tasks into small, specific chunks is also very helpful. If you have an essay, task chunks could be writing a plan, writing paragraph one, writing an introduction, proofreading. This helps to make big tasks more manageable by fitting them in to smaller amounts of time throughout the day. Working at break, on the bus, or even when you complete another task in a lesson can really add up to help you manage your work overall.
If you are struggling with concentration in general, this Think Student article provides helpful tips and tricks to help you focus better in every situation.
How to manage your time at sixth form
If you are struggling with the lack of teaching time you have at sixth form, there are a couple of strategies you can try. First, you can consider the following questions:
- What are you finding hard about the lack of teaching time?
- Does it feel like you don’t know what to do with your time?
- Do you feel that you don’t understand the material you’re being taught?
- Do you feel distracted by your free periods and unable to get work done?
If you don’t know how to manage your time or feel distracted, see the section below about free periods for strategies that may help you. If you do not understand the material, ask your teachers for some extra help. They will have had many students ask before, and if you do not understand, it is likely others in your class don’t either, so you will not be alone.
Asking in class if you have a question or do not understand can be stressful, but it is important to get to know your teachers, as well as to pass your course. If you find it too intimidating to ask in front of everyone, stay behind after class to immediately clarify homework instructions or content that you are confused on, or attend a subject clinic.
Subject clinics are clubs held by many schools where teachers have an open classroom for students to come and revise, clarify their understanding, and work with their teachers on things they may struggle with. They are usually not mandatory, which helps if you are feeling overwhelmed by class sizes and the lack of personal teacher contact.