Head of Sixth Form, Stephanie Barnes, discusses why more than half of Westonbirt sixth formers chose to stay at school, and how they benefit from collegiate study and lessons in leadership of self.
Boarding school conjures images of chilly dormitories, late night feasting and tuck boxes. It is fair to say that boarding is a far cry from this today – and none more so than the life of a boarder in Sixth Form. For me the Sixth Form house is full of life and vibrancy. It is a place that allows our young people to develop huge confidence and to foster independence.
Life in Sixth Form demands an academic commitment beyond anything pupils have experienced before. While the number of subjects they study has decreased, the depth at which they explore these subjects strides into undergraduate level. Our boarders find that the biggest academic benefit of living at school is the ability to study with others in a collegiate environment. Pupils form supportive study groups – choosing to problem solve together, mentor each other or simply encourage one another to do one more exercise! When Sixth Form students embrace the metacognition needed for success at A level, they quickly realise that this is not a phase of education that they can undertake alone. The support of staff and peers will prove invaluable and access to this beyond the normal school day is a real draw for many.
Westonbirt, as a school, is focused on those characteristics fundamental to both personal and academic growth and Sixth Form is no exception. We work alongside all of our pupils to strengthen their resilience, deepen their engagement and bolster their sense of responsibility. These characteristics form the foundations of the leadership we nurture in Sixth Form pupils; leadership of others and leadership of self. Sixth Form boarders take an active role in the wider boarding community – they spend time in the different boarding houses, run activities in the evenings and at weekends, and they are very much present as role models to our younger pupils. We trust enormously in our Sixth Form boarders and they embrace the responsibility that comes with that trust.
For many in Sixth Form, their social life becomes a fundamental element in the enjoyment of this key stage – balls, parties and socials feature highly on the to-do list – yet all are enjoyed in a safe environment. The need for fun in one’s life can never be underestimated; and that is no more keenly felt than by our teenagers. A variety of socials are important to our Sixth Form boarders and they are given the freedom to curate their social calendars with the support of boarding staff.
At the heart of our Sixth Form House is its community. We are blessed to have an array of passports from across the world – Swedish, Mexican, German, Spanish, Saudi, Thai and more. Our diverse community offers UK and international students the opportunity to learn customs and traditions well beyond their own. We celebrate differences and embrace the distinctiveness created. Through this global boarding community, pupils begin to understand their responsibility in a broader world and comprehend the need to extend their vision beyond natural horizons. Many leave the Sixth Form house with friends dotted around the globe and contacts that will support an exciting future.
All of these facets are neatly wrapped up in comfortable accommodation for Sixth Form boarders. We make every effort to create a home-from-home; giving pupils a choice of common rooms, study spaces, access to the gardens and grounds, as well as their own kitchen. Beyond the average home they also have use of the superb spaces and facilities of Westonbirt School – the gym, swimming pool, golf course, music rehearsal spaces, art and photography studios and a number of state rooms. When I look at all that a Sixth Form boarder has the privilege of accessing, it is no surprise that over half of the Sixth Form choose to stay at school!
It is my belief that while Sixth Form is a transition period full of challenges and turbulence, it is perhaps also the best time to make the absolute most of all that boarding has to offer. And when the offer is as good as it is at Westonbirt, the benefits of boarding smooth the waters and allow students to excel beyond their expectations.