Year 13-In-Waiting: Suggested Strategies to Prepare Year 12 for an Effective Start to Year 13
This post is an update of a post I wrote in 2021, but I thought it was worth revisiting since so much has happened in the interim and I now have more ideas and strategies to support this important time for Year 12 students.
With Year 13 exams over half way through, we must turn our attention to Year 12 to ensure that the foundations for a successful Year 13 are in place. Most school sixth forms will only have Year 12 present for the final half term, so there is a real window of opportunity to focus on them, both academically and pastorally. This is not to say, of course, that schools have ignored their year 12 students during exams – far from it – but the time taken in Year 13 revision sessions and timetable adaptations for Year 11 ‘Just In Time’ sessions that many schools run cannot be underestimated. There is only so much time in the day and staff have worked tirelessly to ensure that their students have the best possible chance of progression to their chosen post-18 destinations.
This particular Year 12 group are the first cohort in the last few years who joined us following completion of external GCSE examinations. We should therefore capitalise on this novel normalcy and ensure this final half term sets up our students for maximum success. In this post, I would like to suggest some strategies I think we should employ with Year 12 to allow their first year of sixth form to ‘end on a high’, thus setting up a successful and smooth transition into Year 13 study.
1. Communicate pride in their achievements to date
I am a big believer in the power of positivity and the impact our approach and words can have on young people. Year 12 students need to know that they have done an amazing job so far, showing incredible resilience, commitment, and compassion. We should take every opportunity to communicate this message and celebrate their successes – whether they be in the classroom or beyond. This can be done in many ways – in every email or letter sent, in assemblies, in lessons, in the displays around school, in the all-important corridor chats. If students are surrounded by this messaging, it has more chance of being absorbed.
Consider your reward system: does it allow all students to be celebrated? Every term we issue ‘#RoleModels of the term’ postcards – all staff are invited to nominate students for any reason (this could be for their studies or for things that have impressed staff beyond the taught curriculum, e.g. extra-curricular activity, volunteering, acts of kindness, etc). Nominated students then receive a hand-written post-card detailing the reason(s) for their nomination(s) (which they seems to really appreciate) and their names appear on screens around school to promote the #RoleModels ethos. When the new names go up, it is heart-warming to see students waiting for the slides to change on the screen to see who has been nominated across the cohort, with students congratulating each other if their names appear. They are then entered into a prize draw (selection boxes at Christmas, chocolate eggs at Easter and Amazon vouchers in the summer term). The summer term prizes are deliberately more expensive as we are only rewarding Year 12 (with Year 13 finished) at that point and want to emphasise their successes at this important time of transition to Year 13 study.
2. Reinforce high expectations
Alongside rewards, it is important that high expectations are communicated in this final term. Doubling down on attendance and punctuality concerns, for example, will get students into better habits before they begin Year 13. This can be reinforced with increased parental communications around expectations so that our Year 12 students realise that we are ‘in it together’ in terms of supporting effective habits for success.
Reminders about the importance of using private study time effectively will also pay off. For this reason, I am using some of our next extended leadership meeting to remind subject leaders and Heads of Faculty about the importance of teaching staff being explicit with their expectations around private study. We always suggest that students should be spending as much time on private study as they do in contact time for each subject; if specific homework tasks for the week do not equate to this amount of private study time, students should be consolidating notes, revising or extending their work through practice questions or wider reading. Whilst this seems obvious for most A-level teachers, many of our students will need explicit instructions for how to use this time effectively. This might be as simple as adding suggestions for private study to Google Classrooms, whilst some staff may prefer to set specific workbooks to be completed in private study time. Again, staff reinforcing the importance of study time and good study habits hopes to get our Year 12 students ready for the increased demands of Year 13. Tutors can reinforce this with reminders of some of the study skills work completed at the start of the year in our morning PSHE sessions (we use the VESPA model, which I would recommend, and having attended a fantastic recent workshop led by Martin Griffin, we have some ideas for how we might improve this work further).
In addition, we have scheduled a slightly earlier assessment in Year 13 which we hope will motivate our students to continue to work hard over the summer holidays and ensure their habits of study can be maintained.
3. Focus on post-18 applications support
Ensuring students know their ‘end goal’ can be really helpful motivation for success. For this reason, our morning PSHE this half term mainly continues to focus on ‘Future Pathways’ – our unit of work which supports post-18 applications (introduced during last half term). All Year 12 students have a form tutor and morning tutor time will continue throughout the final term, with sessions largely focusing on post-18 advice and the initial stages of the UCAS process/apprenticeship applications. In addition, students will be attending a UCAS Discovery exhibition, for which we received a grant to cover the travel costs to ensure the vast majority of the year group can attend. We also hold a ‘Future Pathways’ information evening for students and families prior to the half term break, where we invite our local university to present on the UCAS process and a local expert to deliver a session on applying for degree level apprenticeships, alongside sharing information about PSHE content on this unit and work experience expectations. The combination of these approaches works to communicate the reality that students really do not have long to go before UCAS predicted grades will be allocated, and once they start researching possible destinations, this is usually a powerful motivational tool.
For some students, though, this can all be a ‘red flag’ when it comes to wellbeing and mental health concerns. Wellbeing must therefore continue to be supported throughout this final half term. As the pressure of end of year exams mounts, and talk of post-18 dominates, some students can become overwhelmed with the task ahead of them. It is vital, therefore, that tutors keep a close eye on their tutees and any wellbeing support is communicated to our students. Throughout this half term, our wonderful Student Wellbeing Lead (see this post for some examples of our work in this area) continues to post each #WellbeingWednesday on our Wellbeing Google Classroom and we have some new volunteer student ambassadors for wellbeing to work alongside her and our Wellbeing Student Leader, so that we can share this message with younger students too. The team are also working on strategies for supporting wellbeing over the summer break.
4. Provide opportunities for student development
Alongside inevitable assessment for Year 12 in the summer term, it is important that students are given opportunities beyond the curriculum. This will, of course, help to bolster any post-18 applications, but also provides the opportunity to show students that we value them as people in their own right.
This might be in providing opportunities for student leadership, whether it’s setting up societies for the next academic year or planning ways to support younger students with their reading or extra-curricular clubs (please see this post for further ideas). New student leadership teams (see this post for how we recruit ours) will likely have been appointed in most schools, so they have time to introduce themselves to the school community, allocate specific roles and establish their plans for the coming academic year.
Work experience is another opportunity for development. This year, we have scheduled eight days of work experience with students returning to school on the Thursday of the final week of term (more on this later). With so much disruption due to Covid and the reduced number of in-person placements, we went for one week of work experience last year. We have upped this slightly to give additional opportunity for students to complete a longer placement or to add in a virtual placement in addition to a week’s in-person. This period will also allow us time to ensure their final assessments are marked and to conduct Year 11 into 12 induction in their absence.
In addition, we are continuing to invite former students to return to school to deliver ‘Alumni Lectures’. These lunchtime, 30-minute talks have been really popular and we are trying to ensure we run a diverse range of talks based on a variety of course/destination choices. This programme allows our Year 12 students to see our #RoleModels ethos in action: so many of our former students have volunteered their time (and prepared really useful presentations and accompanying videos) to inspire our current students, which is so powerful to watch. Our current students can see that their aspirations are realistic – our alumni are living proof of this. The talks, alongside lots of publicity of our 2022 destinations across the school site, have proven really useful in getting our students talking about post-18 earlier and with more knowledge.
5. Build a sense of community
Alongside development opportunities, it is important to build in some fun too! Our students need to realise that we are a community and we want to ensure they are able to build fond memories of their sixth form experience; some ‘lighter’ experiences can also help to support wellbeing. Ever-mindful of the current cost of living, we are looking at how we can ensure students have some of these experiences, but not in such a way as to exclude any students on the basis of cost. One of the reasons for our eight days of work experience is so that our Year 12 students will be in school for our Culture Day. Held for the first time last year (and whilst Year 12 were on work experience), it was a wonderful day celebrating the diversity of our school community with music, fashion, dance and cuisine. Last year, I felt sad that Year 12 missed out on this experience, especially as so many of our sixth form students work so hard to ensure the celebration of our diversity as a school is embedded. I’m excited that our Year 12 students will be involved on the day this year and get to experience such a joyful expression of our community.
Alongside this, we are planning a trip on the final day of term and carefully selecting this based upon price to ensure that as many students can attend as possible. We hope that these final two days of the academic year will mean the year ‘ends on a high’ and show our students that we want them to have a really positive experience of their time with us.
6. Celebrate the success of Year 13
The final approach to supporting Year 12 in their summer term is an indirect one. I believe it’s really important that our current Year 12 students witness the successes of their Year 13 peers. Year 12 students should know about leavers’ events and they should be inspired by them. When it comes to results day in August, we will celebrate our Year 13 students’ achievements and share their success in reaching their chosen post-18 destinations. This of course, should be done for the Year 13 students – they are their successes and they should be congratulated for their incredible achievements at the end of what has been a very challenging secondary school experience. Celebrating this success, though, has the wonderful bonus of inspiring Year 12 students in the process. There is something very powerful about seeing the success of students you have mixed with go on to achieve…#RoleModels!
We owe it to Year 12 this summer term to focus more sharply on them; there really is so much to be gained.