‘Never has so much been asked of our sixth formers’

It is not enough just to have the top grades nowadays, says Liz Laybourn, head at Burgess Hill Girls

Never has so much been asked of our sixth formers. It is simply not enough to achieve top grades these days in order to win a place on the university course of their dreams. Now they must be able to show leadership skills, have undertaken work experience, completed super-curricular reading and much more.

With Covid-era grades much higher statistically than pre-2020 years and the rumoured re-emergence of the university interview so that course leaders can spot the high-fliers, there’s no two ways about it: showing you stand out from the crowd as a year 13 candidate is becoming imperative.

That is why we are so proud of our BOLD programme, which is designed to provide all the opportunities our sixth formers need to develop their skills and interests, and show that they are committed to the courses they apply for each autumn. The programme is dedicated to drawing out soft skills, as well as helping to construct a platform of confidence and psychological wellbeing for each girl.

Lasting across the two years of sixth form, the programme complements their academic work, nurturing in them abilities to independently research, challenge accepted norms and move on from simply absorbing knowledge to interpreting and applying it. The end result each year is a cohort that moves on equipped not just with impressive exam results but also the social, interpersonal and leadership skills that will help them be contributors in society and affect positive change.

The core academic offering at Burgess Hill Girls allows students to study three A-levels that will ensure they meet the demands of the most competitive academic degree courses plus an Extended Project which gives girls the opportunity to show how they can think innovatively and independently. Wrapped around this, our BOLD programme then offers tutorial sessions, assemblies and classroom-based training.

The programme has four strands. The first is ‘Beyond’, which sees girls venture beyond their A-level and EPQ study to engage in super-curricular activities, which could be anything from extra reading and research in areas of interest to carrying out work experience and getting involved in immersive experiences relevant to their ambitions. Our tutors will help the girls organise and shape their activities, careful always to offer advice but still allowing the girls to make their own choices so that they develop their initiative and explore their own particular interests.

We call the second strand ‘Opportunities’ and it is where we ensure that girls are fully aware of how to research and understand what their next steps might be after leaving school. All the girls’ post-A-level options are explored, including a thorough grounding in how Ucas works, time given over for university visits and course research, and guidance on how to research degree apprenticeships and other ways to access higher education.

The next strand has a ‘Leadership’ theme. We help the girls to seek out and experience opportunities which will nurture their abilities in this much sought-after soft skill and as a springboard they take part in a dedicated leadership training residential trip to Scotland in the weeks that follow their GCSE exams.

The final part of the jigsaw is our ‘Development’ strand which focuses on girls’ individual attributes and suggests getting involved in community service and extra-curricular activities. We run sixth form vivas (one-to-one interviews) which mean the girls and their teachers can evaluate their personal and academic growth as they head towards adulthood and the wider world.

We want our girls to emerge from the school knowledgeable about the world around them and the politics that makes it turn. To this end, we run a Washington DC residential. The trip takes girls to the hub of world politics but also allows them to explore the social and cultural side of the city as well as visiting its scientific and artistic institutions.

The school also runs a visitor speaker programme with achievers from the world of science, art, industry, academia, fashion and media offering valuable lessons – from how they achieved their ambitions to how they have made useful contributions to society. A series of life skills lessons complement these talks and complete the programme.

We know 17- and 18-year-olds have a lot on their plate – that’s why the programme is there. It helps them to organise their time, access information and opportunities, and develop the skills to showcase what we know they are capable of – enriching their lives (and hopefully the lives of others) both now and in the future.

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