We said farewell to the Upper Sixth year group recently with a fantastic Leavers’ Day celebration. Hopefully the students will spend the next few weeks in independent revision and in showing their best form in the exam room.
The Fifth Year pupils are also away on exam leave, and First, Second and Third Years are tackling school examinations, meaning that an eerie quiet has descended upon the school.
Teachers feel slightly bereft having spent the last few weeks building up to a crescendo of past-paper marking, extra tutorials and revision sessions for the Upper Sixth and the Fifth Year pupils. Rather like an orchestra falling silent after the final chords of an enormous romantic symphony, they pause for a moment of reflection and recovery after a performance that has drained the emotional energy as well as the physical reserves, particularly given the restrictions and uncertainties of covid.
I am always amazed at the changes that have occurred in the Upper Sixth students over two short years, the personality development that has occurred in transforming uncertain 16-year-olds into confident and distinctive near adults. Of course, the students grow and change before the Sixth Form and will continue to mature through their university years but the change seems most striking through this period.
Prospective Sixth Form parents frequently ask me what role the school plays in this transformation and what difference attending SGS would make to the character, skills and life-chances of their offspring. Pragmatically, we have a high demand for places so there must be benefits, but I do try to answer fairly. It is difficult to disentangle the effects of environment upon development: clearly no student can attend SGS and take some other option for these two years, preventing a direct comparison of outcomes.
Inevitably I talk initially about fine exam results, a specialist team of advisors to aid preparation for university application and study and the academic value added by the school but I quickly move on to the ‘values added’. All good school Sixth Forms provide a myriad of opportunities for honing social abilities and learning to develop and manage real (rather than virtual) relationships with a host of other students of different character and interests as well as with younger pupils and with teachers. Community study prevents anonymous interactions and inevitably promotes some degree of honesty, kindness and commitment to others and many life-long friendships are forged within the Sixth Form years. Our new Sixth Form Centre with its social areas, café and study room was deliberately designed to promote social interaction between Lower Sixth and Upper Sixth pupils.
Formal community service helps many students to become less self-centred and more aware of the lives, needs and concerns of others. At SGS we have a large number of community service projects; partnerships with maintained sector primary schools around Stockport are of particular mutual benefit and have broadened horizons for all of the students involved.
Charitable fund-raising, led by some of our senior prefects, is a strength of the school and we continue to raise funds for EducAid, a charity working to raise educational standards in Sierra Leone. More locally, we support the Wellspring, a Stockport charity that helps homeless people. The unfolding tragedy caused by the conflict in Ukraine has prompted real generosity from the school community this term. A number of Ukrainian children are being hosted by SGS families and have attended SGS for a short while, on a ‘guest’ basis before finding permanent school places elsewhere. The friendships and personal links that have developed between these children and some of our pupils will certainly shape the attitudes and views of many young people towards empathising with the plight of others on a life-long basis.
House events allow prefects to develop leadership skills: public speaking, arranging sports teams filled with sometimes disorganised younger pupils and sustaining energy and enthusiasm towards the end of a long term all demand determination and resilience. Our wider prefect program allows Sixth Form students to take real responsibility for the smooth running of the school. They may find themselves leading in more specialist areas such as Eco-Schools, serving on the School Council or in promoting Equality and Diversity within the school. Whole school responsibilities allow Sixth Formers to learn to influence their peers and to meet and help visitors to the school with confidence and empathy. Extra-curricular activities tend to develop team work skills: loyalty to others and a desire to play for the team rather than for individual glorification are important life-lessons.
The classroom dynamic in Sixth Form lessons is subtly different from the rest of the school: teaching small groups of students who have genuinely chosen the subject of study alters the relationship between student and teacher in a way that encourages greater expression of individuality and open discussion. A level study demands a much greater level of independence of the student and meeting this challenge entails taking a greater share of the responsibility for learning. By the time they reach the second half of the U6 the students have offers of university places riding on achieving particular A level grades and this brutally clear scenario prompts maturity in the students as well as a real sense of teamwork with the teachers.
We wish the U6 leavers every success in their A-level examinations and hope that they will take away some great memories of SGS and stay in touch.