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  • Writer's pictureClaire Green

Preparing Year 13 for ‘the final push’

We are reaching ‘crunch time’ for examination cohorts and Year 13 students will be feeling the pressure ramping up. What can we do to best support our Year 13 students in the final weeks of their school experience?

1. Acknowledge how they are feeling

As the eldest students in the school, we must recognise that we are dealing with young adults going through a highly pressurised period in their lives. These 17-19 year olds are weeks away from completing their time at school and we shouldn’t underestimate what a huge transition this represents. This is even before we consider the added stress and anxiety that exam season brings. We should also ensure we do not ‘create a narrative’ for our students, and therefore listening to them is the best approach.

We must show our students that we recognise this and we should seek out their views, so we can ensure the support we are providing is bespoke to their needs. Often, the fact that we are asking for their input at all provides a sense of reassurance. There are several ways of doing this (I’d suggest a combination of a couple that will work best in your context):

  • Small focus groups of students: gather students from across the curriculum spectrum and seek out their views. This can be a win-win for sixth form leaders as it is an opportunity to complete some monitoring and evaluation across the curriculum as well as providing useful intelligence about what our students need to feel best prepared for success. Do they have the resources they need for effective revision? Are there departments that are doing brilliant things whose practice could be shared across the curriculum? Are there any revision apps or resources that they would recommend that could be shared with all students? What more can we do to get them ready?

  • Corridor chats: take the time to have conversations with as many different groups of Year 13s in passing as possible – wander around their social spaces at lunch, when they are relaxed and will be honest about how they are feeling. Whilst not ‘scientific’, this feedback is sometimes the most useful in gauging student voice across the piece.

  • Surveys: you could send out a form to gather student voice, which may help in terms of anonymising responses. The downside of this approach might be a lack of uptake, as we know Year 13 are not always great with accessing their emails efficiently!

  • Tutor time: perhaps give tutors some key questions for the year group and ask them to lead a group discussion, noting down key points on a shared document for you to follow up on key strands.

2. Provide emotional support

Once you have their feedback, or even before (if you have strong wellbeing provision in your school), try to put some supportive mechanisms in place. Again, this will show students that you have listened to them, which will be positive in and of itself, but the support you put in place could make a real difference to those who need it most.

Not only are these last weeks of schooling marking a huge milestone, but they also precede what might be an equally exciting and terrifying prospect – leaving home, starting university, beginning an apprenticeship/job or travelling the world; it’s all life-changing stuff that our young people are about to experience! Letting them know that it’s normal to feel unsettled by this is no bad thing.

I have written about strategies for supporting student wellbeing previously, and all of these will be useful during this half term. It is also wise to prompt tutors to be vigilant for students who may be displaying signs of stress so that they can be signposted to appropriate support. If we act at the first signs of an issue, we are much more likely to have a positive impact ahead of the exam period.

3. Target intervention strategically

By now, schools will have likely completed their last ‘data drop’ for Year 13. This is the last opportunity to use that data strategically to ensure academic support is targeted optimally. Use your data management systems to identify students who are underperforming across subjects; not just in one area. These are the students who may need more support than that provided by individual departments in the final weeks before the exams. Meet with these students individually and find out how they are feeling, how their revision is going and what their plans are for the remaining weeks in order to reach their goals (if your team does not have the capacity for this, ask SLT to support the meetings and keep a shared document so you can follow up centrally if needed). Include their post-18 aspirations within the conversation, as it is often the pressure of securing their ‘firm choice’ university or apprenticeship entry criteria that is upmost in their minds. Use your professional judgement and involve parents in these conversations if you feel this would be beneficial (this is not always the case).

Remember the key performance measures for 16-18 and consider how your Year 13 cohort is looking in relation to each of the key headline measures. Do you need to alert staff to the fact that disadvantaged students are underperforming compared to their peers, for example? Or is your data looking healthier for A-Levels compared with Applied General qualifications? Whilst subject staff can access this information for themselves, you will save them much-needed time and reiterating key headlines so this is in the forefront of teachers’ minds cannot be a bad thing at this stage in the year.

Beyond the overall figures, ensure you have a mechanism for gathering what subjects are doing to support key students who might be underperforming in their area. I use a Google form for this – I send out a PowerPoint presentation after each data drop, with a slide for each of the key headline measures and some comments of what is going well and areas for development. This is shared with all sixth form teachers and Heads of Subject are then asked to complete a Google form as a follow up, so I have an overview of subjects’ actions, as well as a record of any support they may need from the sixth form team. It is not too late to make a difference, even at this point in Year 13!

Look at your UCAS Advisor Hub and compare students’ current performance with what offers they have received. Ensure you provide guidance to anyone without any offers or those who might no longer be able to secure the offers they have been made (if you offer Applied Generals you may be able to calculate the maximum possible grade students can achieve at this point) – both groups of students should be directed to UCAS Extra. Likewise, meet with any students who do not have a firm plan in place for September, and ensure they have a careers meeting and/or are supported to apply for apprenticeships, employment or gap years.

4. Maintain clear and regular communication

All of the above only works if your communication is clear and regular. Global messaging to students should be positive to maintain momentum for the final weeks. Ensure you communicate the start date of study leave (if you offer this) to both students and staff so they know what they are working towards. It is often helpful to students if this is shared early this half term (if not before) and can have a positive impact on attendance as they know the end is in sight! Consider the messages students are receiving in assemblies and tutor times: try to keep all of this positive and supportive for messaging aimed at all students (clearly, there will be some students who might require a different message, but this should be communicated individually with the student(s)/parent(s)!).

Parents and carers should also be kept ‘in the loop’ about key dates and information that might help them to support the school’s approach at home. If all parties work together, we are more likely to achieve what we all want – for the young people in our care to achieve their ‘personal bests'.

Use social media posts to reiterate the key messages to all stakeholders and maintain the positive momentum going into the exam season. Students will check Instagram more than their school emails so use this method of communication to ensure you promote your ethos and approach to the final exams.

5. Create lasting memories

This final point should not be overlooked. With all the focus on exam grades and university/apprenticeship offers, we cannot forget that our Year 13 students are about to finish fourteen years of formal schooling. This deserves to be marked and, regardless of exams, our young people deserve to be congratulated for making it through to the end, especially given the turbulence they have faced with two of their five Key Stages having been affected by Covid! They are remarkably resilient and ought to be reminded of this. Traditional events such as proms or yearbooks are important in marking the end of their school journeys. Leavers' assemblies are also a perfect opportunity for celebration; our student leadership team leads ours each year and it is always a really lovely afternoon, followed by ice creams outside on our quad and a last whole year group photo.

I recognise that the above ‘top tips’ are far from revolutionary, and may serve merely as a (hopefully useful) reminder for some, but for anyone new to a sixth form leadership role, I hope they provide you with a steer for these final important weeks with our Year 13 students.

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