Blog: Supporting sixth formers in their education

Published: 2 Jul 2020

Author: Joanna Driscoll
Blog: Supporting sixth formers in their education

On 20 March 2020, education for young people across the UK completely changed. School sixth forms have been heavily affected during the pandemic, especially with the cancellation of exams. This has placed increased pressure on to educational institutions and has caused a huge amount of stress on teachers and senior leadership teams.

"A focal part of what I and the college are working towards is keeping our community working together, so that students still feel connected to one another and are prepared educationally and emotionally to return to full time education." - Joanna Driscoll, Fellow 

Teachers have worked relentlessly to adapt to remote learning, by using technology in their homes and managing their own personal circumstances to fulfill their responsibilities. The adaptability of teachers has been inspiring, and their determination to continue to deliver, assess and provide feedback remotely is remarkable. Despite these amazing efforts, concerns remain for this cohort of young people and anyone aged between 16 and 19 years old. Every young person will have a different narrative of their experience during the pandemic. Many have had their goals and future pathways put on hold, and their motivation and curiosity for education has been disrupted.

Many young people who weren't vulnerable before are now experiencing adversity. Families have broken up, caring responsibilities have increased, financial hardship has affected many and bereavements have occurred. Young people have also missed out on a pivotal part of their social, emotional and educational development. Therefore it is important to remember that every single young person counts and is vulnerable. They all need help to find their way, to re-engage with learning, motivate themselves to get up in the morning and to feel part of a community.

I am the Director of Mental Health and Wellbeing at Reigate College. A focal part of what I and the college are working towards is keeping our community working together, so that students still feel connected to one another and are prepared educationally and emotionally to return to full time education. The college is a large sixth form provider in Surrey, and teachers here have been adapting to delivering excellent remote learning practices that are already being reviewed and developed. This is coupled with delivering and developing pastoral care remotely.

The college is hosting ‘Wellbeing Wednesdays’ where students receive ideas and tips via email, and they can also book a wellbeing appointment where they can receive virtual support. This covers help in accessing learning resources, tips for developing a routine and advice on how to manage relationships at home. Alongside this, we are also in the process of organising an online live community event for all students and staff to raise money for the local NHS service. All of these activities are enabling students to remain very much part of the community. By doing this, we are hopeful that when the young people return, they will feel more resilient and want to continue to support the college community.

"Many young people who weren't vulnerable before are now experiencing adversity." - Joanna Driscoll, Fellow 

Whilst supporting our current students, we have also had to focus on our new cohort who will soon be joining us. At the college, we have a large intake of Year 11 students from a variety of different schools across different areas. Many of these students left education on 20 March without finishing their time at school, saying goodbye to friends, completing their exams or participating in a community environment. As a college, we have been concerned that this year group would be forgotten and were expected to start as normal in September, even though they had not been in mainstream education since March.

We were also concerned that the new cohort would have lost their curiosity for learning or become out of practice with education. As part of a team effort, we developed a support package to help these new students prepare for starting college in September. Over the past six weeks, they have been set tasks that encourage them to explore their subjects in more detail. We have also provided advice on how they can access support, maintain ambition and what they can do to aim high. These tasks have been welcomed by the young people and their parents, who have thanked us for keeping them motivated and having something to look forward too. Sometimes we have even been asked to set more work.

My 2020 Churchill Fellowship will explore approaches that support young people to return to education following a crisis. I hope to use my findings to develop a four-week intervention strategy that focuses on re-engaging students and supporting them back into full time education by providing them with a regular person of contact and monitoring their mental health. As a result of the current situation, I am now also looking to develop a post-pandemic intervention strategy that can be adapted and delivered to a much wider audience, and possibly across the college.

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