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Transition to university: A Sixth Form Director’s perspective

6 June 2024

Schools and sixth form colleges play an important role in helping students to have a smooth transition to university. In our latest report, Improving the Transition to University, representatives from secondary education spoke about how school data and support plans could be better used to support vulnerable students at university. 

Wayne Templeman, Director of Sixth Form at St Bonaventure’s, London, shares his reflections on the transition to university, the connection between schools and students, and what schools and colleges want to see in improving the university transition. 

I was visited by one of my recent school ‘leavers’ the other day and was struck, as I often am, by how transformational that first year of university can be. Mine certainly was. I remember it like it was yesterday – such an exciting and challenging time, moving away from home to a place where I knew literally nobody.  

The student who visited me had experienced that first year transformation in much the same way as I did, but the similarities between myself and them pretty much end there. I was lucky enough to have my family’s support and the security that they would be there if anything went wrong, whereas they had none of the confidence I had in that regard. It was a true leap of faith for them and one I was not sure they would be able to make, for so many reasons.  

Throughout their time in our sixth form, they were far and away the student I worried about the most. As a child, they suffered unspeakable trauma and were under the supervision of many healthcare professionals. We had to put bespoke procedures in place to keep them safe. In spite of all this, they remained a bright, passionate young person with enormous academic potential.  

When I first met them, they displayed all the characteristic traits of someone who had every right to be mistrustful of adults. They gave me a hard time during their interview, testing me to make sure I would do everything I could to help them. I must have passed their tests – they joined my sixth form, where they would later achieve amazing exam results. 

When I think of how much support they had from so many people in sixth form and beyond, it makes me wonder just how much support is available when students go to university. I’m grateful for the new section in the UCAS application centre that allows schools and colleges to share information about any extenuating circumstances that may have impacted a student’s education and achievements. However, I and many other Heads of Sixth Form need more reassurance about how that information is used in practice. 

Post-pandemic, we understand more than ever that wellbeing is something we have to continually work on. It is not something that we can take for granted. Our students know they can turn to us for help at any time – which they frequently do. We try our best to prepare them for life after sixth form, signposting where help might be available, but it is very much into the unknown and I am certain that many students do struggle in their new, unfamiliar surroundings.  

The student who visited me recently is writing their own success story and that fills me with joy, but for many others, they leave and we never hear from them again. Most of them will also be successful and do not feel the need to stay in touch, but it is inevitable that some will struggle, and some of these students will not continue into their second year.  

I would love there to be more of a mechanism for schools to ‘hand over’ relevant data to universities, particularly for vulnerable students who will continue to need structured support at university. For now, I’m pleased to see that work is being done on improving this important transition process, and I will do whatever I can to support it. 

Download ‘Improving the Transition to Higher Education’ now from the Unite Students website. 

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