X Close

Discover UCL


UCL Access and Widening Participation


Supporting your child as they move from year 11 into sixth form

By Lauren Sandhu, on 7 August 2020

This series for parents and carers is written by Karen Roberts our Senior Access Officer for pupil engagement. Karen is a former teacher and has lots of experience working with young people. We will be posting on a regular basis so please check back for more tips and ideas.

Unfortunately, young people in Year 11 have been among the most disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic as schools were forced to close and GCSE exams were cancelled.  The government has said that young people will be expected to return to education in September so we can only hope that Year 12 will be more stable for your son or daughter.  Here, we provide some tips for parents on how you can help your child to transition to sixth form over the summer and into the next academic year.

First, familiarise yourself with your child’s post-16 options so that you can better support them in deciding what to do after year 11

The main options your child has are:

  • To remain in full time education in school or college
  • To choose an apprenticeship or Traineeship
  • To study or train part time – but this must be in addition to employment, self-employment or volunteering for a minimum of 20 hours a week.

If your child wants to remain in full time education to study A-levels or vocational qualifications, then talk to them about whether they are best suited to staying in a school environment or moving to a sixth form college.  There are pros and cons to each.  In general, a school environment will suit a student who likes more structure, while a sixth form college will suit someone who is a more independent learner.  Staying in school will provide your child with a familiar environment (and with the same teachers if they stay in the same school they attended in Year 11).  Colleges tend to be larger and they tend to offer a broader range of A-level and vocational subjects than schools so your child may have the opportunity to study subjects that are new to them, such as Accounting, Film Studies or Politics.

As an alternative, your child could choose to become an apprentice where they would become a paid employee who studies as part of their job.  At the end, they would gain a nationally recognised qualification, which can be up to degree level.  Apprenticeships help young people develop the skills they need to work in a particular industry.  For further information, click here for the Parent’s Guide to Apprenticeships.

Traineeships, on the other hand, are aimed at young people who are not yet ready to start an apprenticeship because they lack the required skills or experience.  Traineeships are designed to help young people become ‘work ready’.  Find out more on the Government’s website.

Remember that all young people must be in some form of education or training until they are 18.

If your child is disappointed with any of their GCSE grades, don’t be afraid to appeal and/or consider resits

As you know, GCSE grades this year will be based on teacher assessments so your child will receive calculated grades rather than grades based on exam performance.  If your child feels their grade is unfair, then don’t be afraid to speak to their school to see if you can appeal and/or to discuss whether your child will be able to resit their exam(s) in the next school year (likely to be in the autumn of 2020 or summer of 2021).  Many other young people are likely to be in the same position so don’t worry that the teachers will think you’re making a fuss.  These are exceptional circumstances and your child’s school will do their best to help.

Similarly, talk to the sixth form or college your child wants to go to if they have missed the required entry grades

If you child hasn’t quite achieved the required entry grades for the sixth form they want to go to, then it’s worth a conversation with them as they may still be able to offer your child a place.  If the course your child wanted to do is not available, then the college might be able to offer a transfer to a different course or subject or they could recommend other colleges or sixth forms which might suit them.

Support your child to choose A-levels based on what they want to do in the future

If your child has some idea of what they might want to do as a career, then they can use this as a starting point for their A-level choices.  Based on their preferences, you can gather some prospectuses or go onto university websites to check degree requirements; for example, if your child wants to become a Chemical Engineer, then they can look up the A-level subjects needed to get onto a Chemical Engineering degree course at various universities.  You will find that some degrees don’t ask for any specific A-levels (for example, Law) and in that case, see if the university provides a list of preferred A-level subjects as UCL does.  A list like this can also help if your child has no idea what career they might want to go into in the future as it will help them choose subjects that are applicable to a wide range of occupations, such as Maths, English, Business or a Modern Foreign Language.

Be aware that there are jobs which will be in demand when your child graduates that we may not even know about yet!

It is understandable that you might favour the traditional professions such as Law, Medicine and Engineering as these have been seen as the higher paid, higher status careers for generations.  However, the world is changing and we would encourage you not to be dismissive of your child’s career choices if they are more unusual.  For example, there may be new types of health and science jobs emerging to deal with climate change or global public health in light of the current pandemic.  There will undoubtedly be technology-related jobs which we do not know about yet since technology is always evolving.  Just look at what has happened recently with so many people working from home.  This would have been unthinkable even twenty years ago. So, try to be open to your child’s “dream” job even if you have never heard of it before.

Your child has now reached a major milestone in their education.  Having studied a wide range of subjects in school up until now, this is the point where they will start to specialise by focusing on perhaps 3-4 subjects which most interest them.  They may find this challenging, but hopefully they will also find it exciting.  We have prepared some resources to help your son or daughter choose their A-levels.  We also run a number of online events for both young people and parents to help you prepare for university. Once your young person is in Year 12 and potentially thinking about their university options they may find our free UCL Study Prep online module helpful in their preparations.  Please check the Access and Widening Participation section of the UCL website for further details and keep checking this blog for new posts.


Leave a Reply