Trinity’s Sixth Form became co-educational in September 2011 and, earlier this year, I was delighted to attend a gala dinner with more than 80 former female students in celebration of our first 10 years of co-education.
Trinity has seen an increase in Sixth Form applications, with just under 200 applicants in some years for about 50 places. We now have more than 300 students in the Sixth Form, and close to a third of these are girls. Many are attracted by the co-educational offering. Certainly advocates of mixed schooling have long said that this model offers a real-world experience: the classroom is more diverse, and this is great preparation for university and real life. What’s more, our community celebrates diversity and comprises a great variety of backgrounds and cultures.
This is something we actively celebrate. Our students talk about feeling a new lease of life when joining the Sixth Form. There’s a sense of a new world opening up; of new opportunities and fresh perspectives.
The two years of Sixth Form are intense and pass in the blink of an eye, and it’s essential that new students feel that they are quickly settled and belong. To ensure smooth transition, we’ve put in place a large number of induction events – from meals out, and a quiz night with current students, to team-building days and a system of inter-form connections in addition to a girls’ welfare scheme, whereby Upper Sixth girls chat with Lower Sixth ‘buddies’. For students new to the schools, it’s all about getting to know each other. As soon as the work starts – and our students are encouraged to join in and be busy – an atmosphere of academic and co- curricular focus and achievement takes over.
Many come to Trinity having been attracted by our facilities, specialist support for university and co-curricular academic extension opportunities – as well as our reputation for excellent pastoral care and being a friendly, but exciting place. Co-education is undoubtedly an attraction for many – with the tide increasingly turning towards a more modern and diverse educational experience, mirroring attitudes in society.
When students reach 16 and are looking at academic specialisms, the classroom benefits particularly strongly from enquiry, investigation and debate. A variety of perspectives and views are vital. Having a balanced, inclusive, student body greatly enhances the perspectives and understanding our students gain in these debates and discussions.
Established pedagogy highlights the great benefits of peer-to-peer learning and this is an enhanced feature of A Level. At this stage, students are focused on independent study as well as extension and enrichment. While the teacher is of course vital – and we try out many different ways of teaching content – the students are already interested and they want a guide who can bring the subject to life and stretch them.
We have a lot of girls who join us for both our science and mathematics teaching, as well as for the humanities and creative arts. Breadth and equality of opportunity crosses genders and develops pupils through the widest range of options, both within and beyond the classroom.
Of course, there’s no doubt that, in society as a whole, there are structural inequalities as a result of gender, socio-economic and racial differences, which our students need to explore and understand but the mix of each of these found within our school is one of its greatest strengths. Our students have an amazing opportunity to learn from each other. The broader their experience of working across differences – whatever they may be – and the more they connect with the world outside school, the more ready they will be to create and enjoy communities when they leave us.
My key piece of advice to parents and students when choosing a Sixth Form would be to find a school that’s going to prepare your child for the next steps; to find an institution that recognises that the real world requires academic results but also a host of other softer skills, and to choose a school that prepares students for university or other pathways, while recognising the need to be developed beyond the traditional three A Level education. It’s important to look at relationships in particular. This is telling: how do students and teachers connect? Do teachers give of their time and advice to develop each individual?
Effective transition, induction and pastoral care underpins all of this. While we look for academic curiosity, and students that are outward looking and community minded, we know that it’s our job to nurture these qualities and these skills and to give our students – male or female – a platform and a base from which they can truly flourish.
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