Asks Les Webb of Education Advisers Ltd  

 International students and parents are often confused by UK education terminology! The words ‘sixth form’ refer to the two-year education period between ages 16 and 18, which is usually a qualification period to study for university admission. Thus, sixth form can also be referred to as post-16 education or pre-university education. Just to confuse matters, they are also referred to as Years 12 and 13 in school years even though these year groups are sometimes different in other countries.  

UK sixth forms can offer different curriculums such as A-levels, the Pre-U, International Baccalaureate (IB), Foundation Programmes or BTECs. Most of these are accepted by various universities for admission purposes depending on the degree subject sought. 

Now to tackle the next confusing issue! Most UK senior schools have a ‘sixth form’ to which progression comes after GCSEs or the IB Middle Years Programme. Some may even refer to this stage as their sixth form college.
However, there is a completely different education institution known as a private sixth form college. So, what is the difference between these and the sixth form in a senior school? 

A private sixth form college is usually differentiated by the following features: 

  • It is a stand-alone college without younger pupils (although a few now accept 14- or 15-year olds for GCSEs)
  • Typically, there is no school uniform and fewer school rules or discipline. Students are treated more as adults and as if they are already at university. By the same measure they are expected to take on more responsibility for study and hard work
  • Sixth form colleges are often in city centres and very few have large campuses
  • Their size means there are generally fewer sports and co-curricular activities
  • Class sizes are frequently smaller
  • The majority have boarding facilities and a greater proportion of international students than regular boarding schools
  • There is an expectation of hard work and many sixth form colleges have high league table positions

The highest concentrations of sixth form colleges are in London, Oxford and Cambridge. There are 20 colleges in London, which are convenient for the children of embassy staff. Astrum Group consists of two special private schools, both very close to the majority of London embassies. Chelsea Independent College caters for pupils from ages 14 to 19 coming from more than 30 countries. Kensington Park School is a new independent school taking a wider range of ages from 11 to 18 on a day or boarding basis. 

Oxford International College is the fastest rising sixth form college in our league tables, soaring to number two position in the 2018 results. Yasmin Sarwar, their Chief Education Officer, points out that they have an enviable track record of university admissions success with numerous acceptances into Oxbridge colleges, Russell Group universities, medical schools and US universities. 

Brampton College is situated in Hendon, which is particularly suitable for embassy staff living in North London in suburbs such as Hampstead.  Brampton consistently achieves high A-level results and was the top London sixth form college in 2018, whilst offering better value fees than central colleges. 

With some schools such as Eton and Winchester, it is very difficult to gain a place in their sixth forms because of the few places available. You have to apply at least a year in advance. However, we can often find places in good sixth form colleges within two weeks of the start of the UK academic year in September. Also, we can nearly always find spaces for students who have scored badly in their GCSEs or who have Special Educational Needs. 

Most colleges offer a wide range of A-level subjects. There are three which offer the IBDP.  Several offer specialist programmes for entry into medicine, dentistry, veterinary practice, engineering or law. Several of the top academic colleges have unrivalled track records for Oxbridge offers. 

Several colleges offer Foundation Programmes which are for students age 17+ and often offer 12-month fast track entry into named universities. For foreign students with limited English language ability there are special courses. 

Education Advisers publishes the only league table of sixth form college exam results on www.sixth-form.com  It is worth noting that three of the top five co-ed schools in the UK are private sixth form colleges, so they can get exceptional exam performance. We place students into all colleges on an impartial advice basis – do phone for help on T: 01622 813870.  



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