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Impington International College vice principal: ‘How IB cushions the sixth-form landing’

Jo Sale, vice principal of Impington International College, writes for the Cambridge Independent about the changes students face as they adapt to Key Stage 5 and her experience of the IB.

Jo Sale, vice principal, Impington International College
Jo Sale, vice principal, Impington International College

For the past 18 months, students across the UK have been subjected to a tremendous amount of disruption, both personally and academically, and many are now also facing the daunting prospect of further changes as they make the leap from secondary education to sixth form.

The challenges of transitioning from Key Stage 4 to Key Stage 5 are well-recognised and cause considerable anxiety in many young people, but there are a number of ways to mitigate these and allay students’ fears. Choosing the ‘right’ curriculum is a major part of the battle and will help student adapt to the demands of their new sixth form and settle in quickly.

Misinformation, a lack of understanding and implicit learning can all contribute to the anxiety students can feel as they leave GCSEs behind, so it is important that teachers take the time to explicitly explain the differences between secondary school and sixth form, answer questions and reassure them.

At sixth form, students generally study less subjects, have more ‘free’ time, and are expected to demonstrate more adult behaviour and decision making. As an International Baccalaureate (IB) educator, I have seen first-hand how the ethos and the structure of the IB diploma programme (DP) and career-related programme (CP) - flexible frameworks, robust timetables and focus on the holistic development of each student - help new sixth formers acclimatise to, and thrive, in this more grown-up environment.

The new sixth-form building at Impington International College
The new sixth-form building at Impington International College

Timetable and contact hours

One of the greatest privileges of sixth-form life is greater flexibility for independent learning but, for many young people, the sudden exposure to new freedoms can be derailing. Marshalling their own time can be incredibly difficult and this is where the IB programmes offer a huge advantage over other curricula, including A-levels. Unlike A-levels, where students specialise in just three subjects, the IB requires students to study six subjects, including a language and mathematics, as well as the IB core. This means that IB students have a fuller timetable and considerably more teacher contact time and, it is for precisely this reason, that the IB successfully bridges the gap between Key Stage 4 and Key Stage 5, scaffolding students through the challenge of taking ownership of their studies by easing them into their new timetable.

Not all new Sixth Form students will have had the same Key Stage 4 education journey and, from our experience of welcoming a diverse cohort of UK and international students, we are well practised at gauging gaps in knowledge and can immediately offer comprehensive intervention programmes, including additional tuition, to help students tackle any worries they may have about their ability to keep up with the academic demands of sixth form.

Flexible framework

Many students will feel fatigued by particular subjects following their GCSEs – they have studied them for many years and will be looking forward to the fresh start that Sixth Form offers. So, the breadth and depth of subjects offered in the IB curriculum is really exciting – students can choose from 35 different subjects here at Impington International College – and a refreshing opportunity for young people to explore news interests, discover new passions and engage with what they love. In fact, the IB’s approach to learning puts students at the front and centre of their learning and, through interdisciplinary study and critical thinking, students create a framework of learning that suits them and their individual interests, which also goes a long way to helping them adapt to a new timetable and learning programme.

Life skills

At the core of the IB is the holistic development of each student, which goes beyond academic success and equips them with the skills they need to thrive in adult life. The IB learner profile – 10 personal characteristics – is embedded into the IB curricula and, when combined with meaningful pastoral care, benefits students by focussing on developing key life skills, such as reflection and communication, that enable them to embrace being outside of their comfort zone.

Pastoral care

While new sixth formers are battling with the challenges of such major changes, they are also experiencing the turmoil of emotions that teenage years bring so, providing excellent pastoral care is crucial in helping them successfully navigate into post-16 education. Small teaching groups – our average teacher student ratio is one to 10 – mean that students benefit from concentrated support and form strong relationships with their peers and tutor and, in turn, create a solid support network that they can lean on throughout their sixth-form journey.

Throughout a student’s academic career, I can guarantee that they will face numerous changes and challenges, notwithstanding the leap in learning between secondary school and sixth form. It is our responsibility, as parents and educators, to equip them with the tools they need to tackle the challenges they will face, and during my 20 years of teaching the IB, I have been privileged to witness the many ways that the IB curricula helps students to develop the life skills they need to flourish and thrive during periods of uncertainty. It is for this reason that I remain confident that the IB should be the number one choice for students who are considering their sixth-form options.

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