Enrolling your child in a new school for the final two years of their secondary education can be a big change, at a critical time in their pathway toward university. It can also be an enormous opportunity as well, if your child gains a place at a school that is a better fit for their needs and goals. In this article, Keystone Tutors highlight the essential information you will need to navigate the application process for Sixth Form entry, and to find the perfect school for the culmination of your child’s secondary education.
What is Sixth Form entry?
Sixth Form is the name given to the last two years of secondary school in the UK, during which students study for advanced school-level qualifications, such as A Levels or the International Baccalaureate Diploma (IB). On completion of GCSEs in Year 11, students enter the sixth form for two years (Years 12 and 13) and sit examinations at the end of Year 13. Entry into Sixth Form, otherwise known as 16+ entry, is arguably the most competitive entry point into independent senior schools.
What is the benefit of changing school at Sixth Form?
Changing school for Sixth Form is very much a personal decision that usually revolves around the needs and goals of the student in question. It will give your child a new challenge, both personal and academic, that will help to enrich their educational experience. Sometimes students will move to a larger school which will give access to a wider choice of academic subjects, or a more diverse programme of extra-curricular activities. Sixth Form is an important stepping-stone between school and university where students are given a lot more independence – and this can make parents and their child re-evaluate what they are looking for in a school. It also gives students who were previously at single-sex schools an opportunity to enter a co-educational schooling environment if they want to do so.
How does Sixth Form entry (16 plus) work?
Almost every UK independent school sets their own 16+ entrance examinations, and in addition schools will request previous school reports, a personal statement, a school reference, and predicted GCSE grades. Students are usually offered a conditional place, subject to achieving the school’s minimum GCSE requirements. Schools will prioritize academic performance in the entrance tests when making a decision, but they will also look at the student’s overall profile and their potential contribution to wider school life.
Some of the key milestones to be aware of in any application process are as follows:
- Registration deadline: September of Year 11 (check the exact date on school website). Also be aware that overseas applications sometimes have an earlier deadline, and students may also need to take the UKiset test in advance of registering.
- Exams and interview: October/November of Year 11
- Results: December of Year 11
How do schools select between candidates at 16 plus?
Depending on the school (and also sometimes depending on the sixth form curriculum - e.g. A level vs IB), prospective students will be asked to either:
a) sit exam papers in their chosen Sixth Form subjects.
b) sit exam papers in English and Maths and one or two chosen additional subjects.
c) sit a CAT4 test
The papers are usually written in-house by the prospective school and are normally based on the GCSE syllabus. Occasionally, and particularly for the more academic schools, the exams may include a small number of harder questions requiring students to apply their GCSE knowledge in new and more challenging contexts. Again, you need to double-check the specific requirements on the relevant school's website.
Preparing for 16+ exams can be overwhelming because Year 11 students are also trying to concentrate on their GCSEs. We recommend having a look at:
- Past papers (if your chosen school does not provide past papers, have a look at other schools that you know are of similar academic standing)
- Your GCSE syllabus (and prospective A Level syllabus)
- Essay writing and exam technique tips
- Preparing a strong personal statement
- Interview: prospective pupils will also be interviewed in person or online
As part of the application, you will also need to provide:
- School Reports: Schools will want to see two years’ school reports
- Confidential Reference from the current school
- Provide predicted GCSE grades
How do I prepare effectively for a 16 plus exam?
A good set of general guidelines for effective preparation are as follows:
- Start early
- Include both independent work and ‘guided’ work (i.e. with parent/guardian, teacher or tutor)
- Begin 16+ practice papers in the summer holidays of Year 10
- Ensure plenty of diagnostic work to assess gaps in GCSE knowledge for chosen A level / IB subjects (via external assessment)
- Read around your chosen A level / IB subjects
When should you start preparing for the 16 plus exam?
Preparation for the 16 plus exams should begin when the student is in February/March of Year 10 around 18 months before the start of the Year 12 academic year. At this stage, the student should know which A level / IB subjects they wish to choose and an idea of what level of school they would like to target.
Where can I find 16 plus past papers?
Some schools do provide past papers on their websites, here are a few examples:
- Tonbridge School 16 plus past papers
- Rugby School 16 plus past papers
- Shrewsbury School 16 plus past papers
- Haileybury 16 plus past papers
16 plus personal statements
At 16+ some schools require prospective students to write a personal statement as part of the application. The personal statement usually covers the following topics:
- Academic interests and chosen subjects for HL in the IB or A Levels and why,
- Extra-curricular interests and experiences, e.g. sport, reading etc.,
- Any long-term aspirations, i.e. university or careers, and
- Why it is you’d like to attend the school you’re applying for.
Typically, personal statements range from 250 words to 1 page in length and are written in a formal tone. Our 16 plus tutors can provide guidance on how to write a strong personal statement.
How to prepare for the 16 plus interview
Schools will be looking for students who can speak fluently about their interests and favourite subjects. Think about the sort of questions you might be asked and how you might respond; think about why you want to go to this school and what you would like to achieve in the two years you might have at the school. The interviewer may also ask about your potential chosen degree at university and what career you might be interested in.
Keystone has built up extensive knowledge of the interview requirements 16 plus entry. Our team has delivered practice interviews to a large number of students in London, Hong Kong and Singapore; we have also provided effective interview preparation support online for those based outside of these regions. Please contact us to find out more.
What will I be asked in the 16 plus interview?
Here are some example 16+ interview questions:
- Why do you want to go to (insert school)?
- Which subjects are you hoping to study in the Sixth Form?
- What contribution do you think you could make to the school outside academics?
- What event or experience in your life has impacted you most?
- What activities do you enjoy? (sport/drama/music/ art/etc)
- How do you cope with living with people you find different from yourself?
- What recent news has interested you the most?
- What do you think is the greatest issue facing mankind and how we can solve this problem?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses as a learner?
- How do you want to make a difference in the world?
- What do you hope to do after school - university? Which subject areas? Any career ideas?
- Give me 3 words that you think your friends would use to describe you
- Give me 3 words you think your teachers would use to describe you
How competitive is entry at 16 plus and what is the pass mark?
Most schools do not have a very big sixth-form intake and places are limited, with a high application to place ratio. Pass marks, therefore, vary from year to year and, depending on the school, entry can be extremely competitive.
16 plus entry for a UK independent school
Most London day schools only have a small number of sixth-form places available and the application to place rate is extremely high. Listed below are a few schools with a higher intake but note that the number of applicants is also likely to be higher.
- City of London School for Boys (12-15 boys places)
- City of London School for Girls (15-20 girls places)
- Westminster (70-80 girls places)
- King’s Wimbledon (50 girls places)
- St Paul’s Boys (20 boys places)
Most single-sex schools are fixed near maximum capacity and therefore, excepting those listed below this paragraph, only seek new sixth-form students to replace vacating students.
- Harrow (up to 20 places)
- Tonbridge (20 places)
- Cheltenham Ladies College (40 places)
It is not uncommon for girls to move from single-sex schools to co-educational schools for sixth form so often entry to an all-girls sixth-form is an easier route than to a co-ed school. It is always worth checking school websites and contacting the school to determine the situation, which changes year by year.
Several co-educational boarding schools have a larger set number of places available for sixth-form applicants and some are listed below. Please note that sixth-form places at these schools are still highly coveted and can be extremely competitive.
- Charterhouse (75 girls and 30 boys)
- King’s Canterbury (50 places)
- Sevenoaks (75-80 places)
- Wellington (40-50 places)
- Cheltenham (30 places)
To give a sense of some of the schools with a very low number of places available at some schools:
- Eton (4 places)
- Radley (8 places)
- St. Mary’s Ascot (5 or 6 places)
- Downe House (8 or 10)
- Benenden (8 to 10)
How can Keystone Tutors help with 16 plus preparation?
- 16 Plus tuition
- GCSE tuition
- Interview practice
- Personal statement writing guidance
- Schools Consultancy and Selection
If particular areas require focus, or if you are considering 16 plus applications but are not sure where to start, please do not hesitate to contact Keystone.