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Sixth form problems - Help please?

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Hello, we have just had our first parents evening at our son's sixth form. He moved to a different school because his previous one didn't have a sixth form. He is really struggling to settle in, and it is affecting his work. He is quite shy and is finding it hard to mix with the other kids. He is an able student who shouldn't have as much trouble with the subjects as he is doing. Time is already running out as the first of the exams are coming up at the end of the year. He is really sad and hates going to school, even though school is trying there best to help. Has anybody else been in a similar position? What did you do? Any advise please would be great as my wife and I have no idea of what to do next, except to give plenty of encouragement and support.:confused:

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Going from a settled environment into a strange place and being expected to do well in your education at an advanced level can be very difficult for a lot of people at any age.

Try not to push him too hard. Don't forget that A levels are not compulsory so it's important that he finds his own level which may not be the same as your ambition for him.

Learning these days is very much a life long process and people come into it and drop out of it at different times in their lives. What's important is that your son is happy with the choices that he's made and that he's aware of the opportunities/consequences of his decisions and that they are his alone with you supporting him and advising him in a non judgemental way.

It's also important to realise that if he makes the 'wrong' choice that there are always opportunities to re-evaluate his situation and possibly change direction.

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I went to sixth form not so long ago so got to see the problems some people faced when joining a new college/school. It was fine for me as I'd always been at All Saints and all my friends stayed so it worked out but when it coms to the new students settling in a lot can also depend on the students already there making them feel welcome.

Maybe the people there just don't have the same interests as him or the people who are like him are maybe also too shy to approach him.

I got to the stage where I didn't enjoy going to sixth form like rugs has said maybe it's just not the thing for him. I found out while I was there that sixth form wasn't for me at the time, I'd done all them years at school at did well at my gcse's but didn't fulfill my potential at A-level because looking back I went because all my friends were going, my siter went and I just thought it was the done thing.

You may have already discussed what he really wants to do in the future if he knows you could have a look at the different for for getting the required grades. Maybe it might do him good to get out of education for a year or two, go into a job and gain some confidence. He could then go back into studying much more confident and being able to get on with even people he hasn't got the slightest thing in common with.

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Thank you for your constructive reply Rugs, I really appreciate it. Everything you say makes perfect sense. Unfortunately as a parent, sometimes sense seems to go out of the window, because you just want the best for your child, and you need to be brought back down to earth a bit. I do worry that, my-self in particular, may sometimes expect too much from him and usually have to bite my tongue. This may be due to the fact that I left school with nothing and had a long struggle to get as far as I have got, whereas he has got a chance to do so much better than me. My wife and I are so worried about his happiness at this new school, and I am concerned this may lead to a more long term problem. The school and the subject choices were all his own, as I believe that the choices should be his, with the support of us. As well as his shyness I now believe that his confidence is low too which seems to be affecting everything. I am sorry for rambling, but we are near rock bottom now.

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I went to sixth form at a different place to secondary school and it can be a bit daunting.

 

However, with you saying he's an able student, it made me wonder if its other things affecting his work. At GCSE level I managed to get all top grades without putting too much work in so by the time I got to A level I didn't really know what was required of me and struggled a bit because I had got into the habit of thinking I didnt have to pay attention and do homework.

 

I'm not saying tht is the case but if it is, maybe seeing someone about learning techniques might help :)

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It's quite a big leap from GCSE to A Level, so although he is obviously an intelligent lad, he may just not be coping well with the way things are taught in sixth form.

 

It's hard to tell whether it's an academicor social problem with your son (maybe a bit of both)... Maybe if you reassure him that he doesn't have to be at sixth form if he really doesn't want to be it may ease the pressure and help he see what he really wants. A more vocational route might suit him more - my brother left the school sixth form and did some college diplomas instead and now he's at Uni. It probably prepared him more for Uni than school did for me!

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You say that 'he has a chance to do so much better than you' as 'you struggled to get where you are today'.

I don't wish to offend you but this does sound more about your own insecurities than his. Could this be part of the problem?

Don't forget that we live in a much different society than even 15/20 years ago where there are much more opportunities in all walks of life. As for struggling, we all have different problems in life to overcome no matter what our lifestyle or income is and it's how we cope with these problems that mould the person we become.

From my own point of view I found that when I left school I had too many opportunities presented to me which left me continually wondering if I'd made the right decision in my career choice. In other words,'is the grass greener on the other side'. This is why it's important that your son is happy doing the subjects he's chosen and that the option is given to him that, if need be, he can still make a different choice.

I know it's difficult but don't forget he is not your little boy anymore. He is a young man who needs to be encouraged to make his own decisions with you there as support if, and inevitably when, things go wrong. Try to lighten the atmosphere at home and if you are helping him with his homework try making it as fun as possible. What subjects is he studying by the way?

Finally, try not to worry as he is probably sub-consciously picking up on these signals which may put him under even greater stress.

I hope this is helpful.

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From your story, your son probably went to Meadowhead and like most of the achieving children would not have wanted Norton college or would have been recommended a school. (My daughter was at Meadowhead and started at Tapton this year) It's a tragedy that Meadowhead does not have a sixth form - I really worried because I thought she would not fit in but 25 from MH went to Tapton - more than the other schools. Apparently its harder for boys, and I have the same worry with my son as we are now doing the rounds. I would try to make an appointment to talk to the school, most of the sixth forms have pupil mentors and there is the connexions service in town and you could go together and see what options you have. It may be worth his while to try and cope until the exams, see how he does he might be surprised. I feel that schools try to scare pupils into knuckling down and evaluating their choices in the first term so maybe its not so bad as he thinks. Alternatively does he know anybody from Y11 who went to a sixth form, can he talk to any of them or you their parents?

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I went to a different sixth form than secondary school, too. One of the things that I found helped with the social aspect was getting involved with the drama side of things - is your son interested in anything extra-curricular?

I noticed in your OP you said that 'time is already running out.' Again, like rugs, I don't want to offend, but there is definitely a pressure implication there - it's not even the end of his first term! I know it's probably worrying if his marks aren't up to his GCSE standard, but it's really not surprising if he hates going to school.

One possible motivator, (but only if it's something that he's already considering!), would be to tell him that regardless of how dismal the social side of life is at school now, he'll have a much better time at university.

I'm really sorry that he's having such a hard time - but he's lucky to have supportive parents. I know it's a bit trite, but try and remember it's a transitional phase - he's only been there three months. There's plenty of time for things to change.

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My daughter was in a similar situation. In the end she changed from sixth form to the College which has more support. She said she wished she had changed earlier. Maybe your son is in the wrong school. Talk to him. Ask him if it is the school or the work that is troubling him. Make sure he gets enough exercise as lack of fresh air won't help. You can only concentrate for about 20 mins at a time so studying for hours won't help, you need to take plenty breaks. And if he doesn't get the grades it isn't the end of the world. I left school with 2 o levels. I now have a MA. Mental Health is more important than grades.

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Thank you all for your responses they are all great and constructive.

 

ReginaldD – He doesn’t really know which direction he wants to go in after education. We had a chat with the careers advice lady at parents evening and thought that if he and her got together then maybe they could find some kind of an area to aim for, to give him something to focus on and take his mind off what is bothering him (nothing set in stone though). The idea of having a break from education is not something the three of us have thought about, but if things don’t get any better then it is a possibility.

 

Helly – Your story sounds identical to our son’s. He seemed to cope quite easily, but with doing as little as possible at GCSE level though. The learning technique idea sounds good.

 

Funkymiss – I think he does indeed find the way that things are taught at sixth for very different and I am sure that it will take much more time to come to terms with it all.

 

Rugs – I feel that you already know me! You are quite correct, and you have not offended me. I do have one or two insecurities, but that is a separate issue. All I want is for my son to be happy, everything else will then hopefully fall into place. It is just very hard to see him so unhappy. He is taking – English Language, Further Maths and Art. He has dropped Physics.

 

Dizzyblonde – He did go to Meadowhead, and he liked it there. As parents we also thought that it was a very good school. It is such a shame that they could not have provided for a sixth form there within there new build. The school he has gone to has only 2 ex Meadowhead pupils (and he doesn’t know the other one).

 

Jessica23 – I do realise that it is still early, but the teachers at parents evening pointed out that exams are coming up towards the end of the calendar year. He is quite a way behind on his homework and coursework already. As with Rugs, you are not offending me, I am just glad of all your constructive responses. I am aware of the problems of parental pressure so I am conciesly trying to remove any. Thank you for you words of encouragement, but I don’t think we are any more supportive than any sensible parents, that just want the best for there child.

 

duckweed – He has now mentioned collage and that he wished that he had gone there instead of sixth form school. However school say that it is now too late to change. I totally agree with you about exercise and fresh air. We try and get out as often as possible as a family, but a 16 year old boy would rather stay in bed than go out with a grumpy old dad and his not so grumpy mother!

 

Once again, thank you all for your responses. You have given us some hope and plenty of ideas to work on.

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I don't suppose this will help much but...

 

One of my kids was very bright indeed - too much so for his own good. He cruised through GCSEs on native wit and almost no studying and got very good grades. Then he started A levels, he didn't have any real habit of working hard, and struggled through AS with mediocre grades. That really dented his confidence and commitment. By the time he took his A2s, he'd given up the ghost and managed to fail dramatically.

 

He found a job in a pub and worked like crazy. At the start of the summer the following year, he said that he wanted to go back and re-do his A levels. He started again from scratch and had two years at Sheffield College, got really good grades and is now studying for a maths based degree at a top university.

 

It's a cruel thing to say, but he needed to fail to realise that academic success is worth working hard for. Life is tough for kids today - they have five years of almost non-stop exams: SATs in Y9, GCSE coursework in Y10, GCSEs in Y11, AS and coursework in Y12 and A2s in Y13. If they can't see the value of what they are doing, it all becomes just pointless slogging away. Some serious attention to study skills might help, but if he's lost the will to do well, it's jolly hard to revive it.

 

But as someone above said, lifelong learning means that a student who gives up A levels at 17 or so always has the option of picking up again after a bit of a break if he or decides later that is what he/she wants. Students with more maturity who have actively chosen to study often do much better than kids who drift into post 16 education because that's what is expected.

 

One way forward might be to have a serious adult heart-to-heart and ask him what he'd really like to do now. If he's really not hacking it, taking some time out of education altogether and re-starting at college in Sept 08 might be better than heading for inevitable failure. A few months' break, a job that puts some money into his pocket and a fresh start might make all the difference - think of it as an early "year out". If he wants to push on but would like more study skills help, the school will be able to help and if you, he and they all work constructively together, this could still work out well. Or maybe he really would prefer to start in a job or training now and work his way up in more practical ways - maybe he's now realising that for him, A levels were a mistake. Everyone is allowed to make mistakes - it's how well they recover from them that matters. If you give him choices and assure him that you love him and will support him whatever decision he takes, he'll turn out OK :-)

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