At the end of the year, as our graduates were celebrating their achievements and university offers, we asked our outgoing Head of Sixth Form, Mr Alex Mew, to share with us his impressions of leading our Sixth Form cohort.
What was your favourite moment with our Sixth Formers this year?
Favourite moments with Sixth Formers for me have always been around the individuals I've been involved with. Being a small Sixth Form means that there is a lot of scope for developing positive relationships and looking into the needs of each student. My proudest moments have been those where I've helped someone make a decision about university or career pathways, especially where we've been able to support parents as well in those discussions.
Can you tell us of some initiatives that our Sixth Formers were involved in this year, which make you feel proud of being our Sixth Form Leader?
There are so many that I wouldn’t be able to fit them all here, from the International Day of the Girl to our trip to Geneva, which made me feel incredibly proud to be a part of a school that enables students to take a tour of some of the most important institutions in the world. Another highlight for me was to be able to welcome a visiting lecturer from Bristol University and seeing the students thrive under the seminar-style learning. The dramatic production of Les Misérables also gave me goosebumps this year - I've been really impressed by the dedication and professionalism of how the Sixth Form led the production and set the standard for the school, and the fact that more than 500 people attended the production was a great testimony to its quality and success.
I also loved seeing our Sixth Formers being involved with tea time concerts for residents of a local old-people's home; I think this is a really great thing that we do, and it is always led by the students; it gives them an opportunity to meet new people, and perform an act of kindness which is always truly appreciated. Moreover, our Drive IQ initiative is something I'm always proud to be a part of; we dedicate time in Year 12 to all of our students completing the online Drive IQ qualification, and visit a number of driving-safety talks and exhibitions, helping our students go out to be safe and sensible on the roads. It was also great to have many visiting speakers to talk to Sixth Form, from those with experience in the fashion-publishing world to service professionals to charity or NGO workers, or experts in various fields, such as climate change. I am always astounded by the grace, charm and courtesy our students display when speaking to our visitors, genuinely enjoying their company and making them feel wonderfully at home.
What improvements have you introduced in the Sixth Form during your term as our Head of Sixth Form?
Something colleagues say to me about how I approached the role is about the level of emotional involvement and energy I brought to it. This seemed entirely natural at a place like Westonbirt. I've encouraged students to follow their passions and develop resilience in how they follow them and prepare themselves for the education and training they will need.
I have put a focus on the academic side of things in terms of encouraging students to pursue their studies with independence, running sessions on how to read around subjects, how to stand out from the crowd when writing applications, and how to hone subject knowledge.
During my time as Head of Sixth Form, we have seen an increase in curriculum time available to each subject, and the introduction of BTEC qualifications. We are now able to cater to the needs and strengths of a variety of students with opportunities for more project-based assessments or exam-based qualifications depending on the needs of individual students. We have also seen improvements in rooming facilities, with a refurbished Sixth Form Study Centre, and many refurbished dormitories. Next year, we will see more opportunities for Sixth Form leadership of whole-school events, and I think that our students will really benefit from these.
What makes our Sixth Form unique, and why would you recommend it to a friend?
Westonbirt Sixth Form is a place to develop as a whole individual. The academic side is taken very seriously, and there is excellent availability of teachers for individual help and support if needed, and an environment that is very conducive to learning. The relationships that are built with staff and the number of external speakers and organisations we have visited the school mean that students can consider a range of life-options. We pride ourselves on not putting our students into a set mould, but in helping them find their own way.
The word I like to use in this is 'individuation', and I've been incredibly proud and honoured to deal with a number of students with parents with very set views which weren't right for their children, and students with difficulties in their mental health, and I've been able to help those students find their own way, and carve out their own path. It's been the most rewarding - and challenging - thing I've done in more than 10 year of teaching; helping young people find themselves and their path, and setting them on their way.
The pastoral support we offer is second to none. The social development is also excellent; being small means that social skills are important. It also means that everyone has an opportunity to step up and take the lead.