A Wigan sixth-form college is calling for the importance of independent learning and experiences to be recognised alongside academic study
In a competitive job market and with universities looking for top results it is easy to focus purely on exams.
However, staff at Deanery Sixth Form believe it is vital young people take part in enhancement programmes alongside traditional academic study.
“Universities, employers and apprenticeship providers are increasingly looking for a range of student skills and experiences, in addition to academic qualifications,” said head of sixth form Anthea Friend.
“Problem-solving, verbal and written communication skills, teamwork and initiative are high on the list of sought-after skills.
“Every student should be complementing their studies with a range of experiences to build these competencies.”
Enhancement programmes can be anything from scholarships and work experience to extended qualifications and taking part in national competitions.
‘My scholarship helped pay for expensive materials’
Deputy head boy Nathan Willis is one of two current Deanery students to receive an Arkwright scholarship.
Arkwright Engineering Scholarships are seen as a beacon to the most talented STEM students in UK schools.
They aim to help ensure high-potential young people stay engaged in engineering in the critical 16 to 18 age range.
Nathan said the scholarship has had a ‘significant impact’ on his education.
“The financial award has helped significantly especially since A-level subjects often require specific materials and these can often be quite expensive,” he said.
“My future career intentions have been shaped through the experience and knowledge I have gained through the whole Arkwright experience.
“Arkwright provides a constant flow of opportunities.”
When he finishes college, Nathan is hoping to gain an apprenticeship which will allow him to study for a sponsored degree.
Standing out from the crowd
However, enhancement programmes aren’t just for a few high-achieving students.
Deanery Sixth Form is the top performing college in Wigan for progress of disadvantaged students within academic qualifications.
“At the Deanery Sixth Form an extensive package of enhancement opportunities is on offer for students to develop their confidence,” said Mrs Friend.
“Students are actively encouraged to grasp opportunities wherever possible to make them stand out from the rest.”
One of the main ways students are encouraged to do this is with an Extended Project Qualification (EPQ).
The EPQ allows students to pursue an in-depth study into an area of personal interest and gain an additional AS qualification.
Recent projects have included topics as diverse as artificial intelligence, prison sentences and the influence of rap music.
“During the project students develop their research and referencing skills, time management and resilience,” said Mrs Friend.
“Students have been able to discuss their research at university or apprenticeship interviews, giving them the edge over other applicants.”
The EPQs seem to be a success. In 2018, 60 per cent of students achieved A*-A, and 100 per cent achieved A*-B in the Extended Project.
Deanery is also in the top two Wigan colleges for ‘Value Added in Academic Qualifications’ which includes A Levels as well as other academic qualifications such as the EPQ.
Tackling the skills shortage
Outside of the classroom, there have been growing concerns from employers in recent years over skills shortages.
All lower sixth-form students at Deanery share the opportunity for work experience placements on Wednesday afternoons.
Mrs Friend believes experience in a relevant field is ‘crucial’ to the development of the skills employers are looking for, particularly in health, childcare and practical industries.
For example, students studying a L3 National Diploma in Children’s Play Learning and Development complete 750 hours of experience.
“This experience, alongside the professional evidence portfolio they produce, equips them fully for a career within childcare,” said Mrs Friend.
“The qualification gives a licence to practice, and four of our students have been successful in securing jobs in Kuwait at the end of their course.”
Student Naomi Jung said she was excited to secure an NHS placement in orthopaedics because she wants to pursue a career in medicine.
“This opportunity will help to motivate and encourage me further to learn new things about the NHS and careers in the hospital,” she said.
“It will also help to strengthen my application to a medical school and I'm sure it will be an overall interesting and exciting experience.”
Taking their place on the national stage
Alongside support at the college itself, students are also encouraged to enter national competitions.
Head boy Sam Burgess was given a four-week placement at Edge Hill University to research machine learning after securing a Nuffield Foundation Research Placement.
As a result of this research, Sam is a finalist in The Big Bang Competition at the NEC Birmingham in March.
Three talented students are also currently working on building a Siemens Electric Go Kart after the science department won the kit in a competition.
Matthew Melling, Ben Rosbotham and Nathan Green, have set about putting the kit together in their spare time and after college.
“These hands-on, practical skills will give them knowledge and experience and transferrable skills in the word of engineering,” said Mrs Friend.
With other opportunities including the Teachers of Tomorrow Programme, Charity Fundraising and Duke of Edinburgh Awards, every student is given the chance to achieve their full potential.
Find out more
Deanery Sixth Form is the top performing college in Wigan and well above national averages for Applied General Qualifications.
To find out more about how it could enhance your teenager’s learning visit www.deanery.wigan.sch.uk, email 6thFormEnquiries@deanery.wigan.sch.uk or call 01942 597517.