A Warm Welcome: Tips for a Successful Sixth Form Induction Day
Many school sixth forms across the country have held their annual induction day(s) in the last couple of weeks. Given that induction days haven’t happened ‘in person’ for the last two years due to the pandemic, this year provided an opportunity to reflect on what an effective induction day might look like.
Some schools run their induction process over several days or even a couple of weeks, but for many medium to large-sized sixth forms, this is simply not practical (see my previous post on sixth form recruitment and retention for more on this). Most schools therefore opt for a one-day introduction to their sixth form, as is the case with my sixth form.
Having provided information online for the last two years in place of induction day(s), planning an on-site day seemed weirdly out-of-the-ordinary. Last year, our online induction offer was much more comprehensive than the few information videos we put out in 2020 when we were all new to online delivery! We ran a ‘live’ online induction day, with an introductory presentation delivered by our Head of Year 12 and I via Teams, followed by a timetable of live subject taster lessons (meticulously planned by our mathematician Head of Year), for which students added their name to the chat so we had ‘registers’ of attendance. Given the situation, we were pleased with how comprehensive the day was, and felt that our prospective students were at least able to become informed about our general ethos, key aspects of our provision, and, importantly, receive detailed information about each course we offered.
This year provided a welcome change though; a chance to think again about what induction should and could be, if we really want to show our future students how fantastic our provision is. This is a tall order in just one day (we actually ran two days due to the number of applicants we received this year, with half invited on each day), so a lot of thought went into the components that we felt were absolute ‘must-haves’. I have tried to cover the key aspects of our thought process here.
Communicating our ethos
A key component of our approach to recruitment in the sixth form is promoting our belief that sixth form students should be seen, and see themselves, as role models. We promote this at every opportunity, as I have written about in previous blog posts. Clearly, our induction day is a prime opportunity to communicate this message to prospective students (and parents). We sought to do this in a number of ways:
An introductory session for all students at the start of the day, with the #RoleModels slide forming the first part of the presentation. The presentation also included the key aspects of our sixth form provision, as well as our expectations of students who join us, including behaviour and attendance.
Our logo and #RoleModels was included in all communications sent prior to, during and after the day(s). We use an electronic admissions package and emails to all applicants (copying in their parents) contain our logo and reinforce the #RoleModels message at each stage of the process. Our social media accounts also promoted our induction days:
An individual folder for each student (put together by our wonderful sixth form administrator/superhero), containing a personalised timetable, a map of the school, pen (with logo and #RoleModels), bespoke Cornell note taking sheets for each subject taster lesson (to embed the message that effective study skills are important from the outset), and a thank you card with QR codes linking to key pages on our website about admissions, the 16-19 bursary fund and our summer transition work.
Holding the induction days whilst Year 12 are in school. Many schools conduct their induction days whilst Year 12 are out on work experience, or engaged in other activities, to create more space and more flexibility in staffing subject taster lessons. We made the deliberate decision to hold our days when Year 12 were in school. This allowed us to show the #RoleModels ethos in action (see below for more details on this), with many of our Year 12 students involved in the process, and gave prospective students more of a realistic ‘feel’ for what being in our sixth form will really be like in September, when they are sharing the space with their older peers.
Introducing our broad curriculum offer
Finding out more details about subject choices is a key aspect of any sixth form induction. We decided to allocate a lesson in each of the three subjects chosen on students’ original application, along with a session for their chosen reserve subject on individual timetables. Our fantastic Head of Year 12 then carefully constructed the subject taster lesson timetables for the days, based on what our timetable option blocks will be in September. This allowed us to identify any students with clashes and offer an alternative that might work with their other chosen subjects, and also meant that we knew we would have staffing available and minimal cover (as the timetable blocks for next year’s year 12 are broadly similar to our current Year 13 who have now finished). The timetabling process was thus time-consuming, but meant that, once complete, we were able to share class lists with all staff electronically so that accurate registers could be taken, and it meant that no one session became too full. This also meant students received their own, named, personal timetable for their day, which hopefully demonstrates to the students our attention to detail from the off.
The frustrating aspect of sixth form induction (indeed, of sixth form admissions in general) is that you never know until the day itself how many will actually attend. Having said this, having the timetable so well organised means that staff know in advance what the maximum group size is they might expect and therefore can plan and resource effectively. We asked all subjects to plan a 45 minute taster lesson which both gave a broad outline of the course and some interactive sample activities, so students would be able to make a fully informed choice when it comes to enrolment. As taster lessons were timetabled using our option blocks, subjects attracting larger numbers were allocated more sessions (but only asked to plan one, which might be taught to multiple groups), so the session allocation was appropriate to students’ interests.
Showcasing our sixth form beyond the taught curriculum
Alongside their four taster lessons, all students were timetabled an ‘enrichment’ slot. In this time, students were invited to visit our ‘freshers fair’ which was based in our sixth form study centre, and displayed stands with information about a range of enrichment and support, as well as post-18 guidance offered. We had stands for Duke of Edinburgh, Young Enterprise, EPQ, Core Maths, Music Technology and Sports Leadership courses, alongside details of our wellbeing support, super-curricular clubs/societies and bespoke programmes for those considering Oxbridge and Medicine, Dentistry or Veterinary Science.
In the final lesson of the day, all students returned to the theatre to learn more about some of these programmes from the staff who lead on them, before I explained the process of online enrolment on results day. Students then departed 15 minutes before the rest of the school, so they could freely chat to friends as they leisurely made their way home before the rush.
Showcasing student leadership
A vital component of our #RoleModels approach is student leadership. We felt it would have been remiss not to feature this aspect of our provision on the induction day(s). Given the fact that we had Year 12 students in school, we were able to promote examples of student leadership and role modelling throughout the day:
Members of our student leadership team and other Year 12 volunteers were there on arrival in our theatre foyer, handing out the personalised folders to each student (we had desks, with folders laid out alphabetically and a student at each letter to hand out the folders and pens).
Student leaders and Year 12 volunteers were on hand at all lesson change-overs to direct external students to their next lesson.
Year 12 students collated the display boards and ‘manned’ the stands in our ‘freshers fair’.
The ‘enrichment’ slot on students’ timetables also included a session in our theatre, where I talked through the student leadership structure at the school and the many opportunities for leadership, even beyond our central student leadership team (I wrote about these here). The student leadership presentation ended with a 12 minute video, created by our student leadership team, which gave an introduction to each student leader and their roles, as well as a fun, filmed tour of the school site and the opportunities available to our sixth form students. I was amazed by the quality of what they produced and I think the students really appreciated the effort that the team had clearly put into making the video and it meant that all new students will recognise some faces on day one in September.
Year 12 students volunteered to set up and clear away our lunchtime live music event, and even played in the band!
Creating a sense of community
We felt that, whilst our online induction offer was strong last year, what it lacked was interaction and an opportunity to demonstrate the warmth and sense of belonging that we are so proud of in our school community. We therefore decided to create an event at lunchtime that would bring our applicants and current Year 12 students together. We created a separate sixth form-only entrance to our school field, sectioned off an area with gazebos and bunting, and laid out picnic rugs and garden games whilst our amazing student and staff Jazz band, Tie Rack (featuring several sixth form students), played songs throughout the lunch break. Staff joined in and younger students were watching from nearby, clapping along to the music. Our applicants enjoyed the music and got to know students from other schools as they played Giant Jenga, Connect Four and Swingball; it really was a lovely atmosphere, with Year 12 students dancing and cheering on their friends in the band. Lots of them were saying that they wished they had been able to experience such an induction in 2021!
At all stages in our planning, we were mindful of the fact that our induction had to serve both our current students and those considering joining us from other schools. We therefore were keen to ensure we had things like the school map in folders and covered the tour of the school again in the student video (even though external applicants had already been invited to site tours earlier in the year). Lunch is another example: we ended our fourth lesson ten minutes early to allow for those who need to purchase lunch before the event on the field and two of our student leaders operated card machines for external students who are not on our cashless catering system. We also opened a separate sixth form-only entrance to the field next to the sixth form building and staffed the gates to ensure our safeguarding systems were as secure as usual. In addition, all communications sent were identical, regardless of whether students already knew the school. As a follow up to the day(s), we also emailed a thank you message, along with pdf versions of each of the generic sessions delivered throughout the day – the general introduction from the first session, the student leadership presentation and the final session of the day on enrichment, support and enrolment.
What was clear throughout the planning and delivery of our induction days was the commitment of our staff team, who absolutely responded to our ‘wish list’ above, providing great quality taster lessons, support with events on the day and resources to ensure our applicants were fully informed. Overall, we were pleased with how our induction days went this year and felt our students had a great experience, but will only fully know their ‘success’ when we see enrolment numbers in September!