Sixth Year – a waste of time?

I read a sixth year yearbook over the weekend.  As I read their comments on the last year I couldn’t help but ask myself if is hadn’t been a complete waste of time for many.

Perhaps we need to radically review the purpose and form of sixth year at school? I believe it has the potential to provide a very positive bridge between the safe and nurturing environment of home and school and the wider world they must engage with on making their own way in the world.

In many ways sixth year hasn’t changed much since I was at school – committees, dances, common rooms, skipping classes, prefect duties, “study” periods, ‘free’ periods – and that was 32 years ago!!!!

Surely there could be an alternative which might be more fitting to the times in which we live?

15 thoughts on “Sixth Year – a waste of time?

  1. Don’t know about that – I found sixth year to be a pretty good transition state between a rigid school environment, and a more liberal university environment. Didn’t do much for me academically, but it was a good experience.

  2. I agree, SalVal. As a “maturing” year before heading off to study it was vital, and it was exactly the “committees, dances, common rooms, skipping classes, prefect duties, “study” periods, ‘free’ periods” which gave me the non-academic skills I would rely on in the coming years.


  3. I’ve got to comment – I left at the end of fifth year as I had passed my exams and didn’t need to get any more grades. I did this because my older sister who had got 5A’s stayed on for 6th year and got a further 3A’s – she said in retrospect it was a complete waste of time as she could have gone went to Uni based on her 5th year results alone.

    So I went and worked for a year full time before I went to Uni, and having just organised a Grad Ball for my year don’t feel I’m missed out on these sort of skills. In my opinion, a good way to ‘mature’ before going back into an academic life at Uni and also finding out what its like to have a full time job.

    Though I think the problem is that many pupils achieve all they need to in 5th year and then waste the next year filling up their time with classes they don’t really need. In saying that, 6th year is clearly vital for a lot of pupils who need to achieve a Higher or Int2 they hadn’t got before.

    6th year could be a good opportunity to provide a more vocational period in a teenagers life?

  4. To answer the question “A waste of time?”
    For some yes, for others no.
    It comes down to the individual involved.
    Some need it, others would be better going on and doing some work.
    How do you think this topic sits with the English/Welsh proposal to raise the school leaving age to 18?

  5. Was my 6th year a waste of time? Absolutely. But, it was the most beneficial period of time wasting I’ve ever had.

    I remember you giving an assembly where you said don’t stay at school because it’s easy or cosy, yet that’s essentially what I did, although I thought at the time it was because I should get some more Highers and an Advanced Higher – what for I don’t know. What I got out of the year though was the time I needed to round off, or mature. It gave me the chance to get the skills that Lee Carson mentions.

    For some it’s vital, for others useless. But for the ones like me who stay because it is the easy option, a sixth year can be really useful in the long run – even if most of the time seems wasted.

    If I had gone off to uni or to work instead of spending my 6th year quickening my pace whenever I saw you coming I might not be about to start teaching and still be dithering around wondering what I should do in life.

  6. All

    Thanks – I can’t help but get the feeling that there are growing numbers of people for whom 6th year – in its current from – does not give them the skills they need.

    In a future post I’ll explore some alternative models. But if you want to get in first please feel free to jot them down here.

    Stewart – was I really that frightening???

  7. Not frightening at all, instead it was that you always seemed to have a little job or challenge for me. They were the sort of things that made 6th year worthwhile but at the time they felt like things it was easier to avoid. Heaven forbid a lazy 6th year should do something of no direct benefit to himself! Of course by doing them and simply having the time to grow up a bit that view has changed.

  8. Don
    This is one of the reasons why we have changed the model of our curriculum to make it more appropriate for the individuals involved

  9. Having left school in 5th year I have no personal experience of 6th year but my teaching experience suggest that the outcome of the year is as varied as the individuals in it. From the instrumental point of view, some pupils flourish and accept as many opportunities as possible to become ambassadors for the school and the authority as possible, in addition to helping out younger players and taking on some practical responsibilities. At the opposite end of the spectrum, others regress both musically and behaviourally, becoming little more than a disruptive and poor example for younger players.

    A common point to emerge in many comments is that individuality is given much more room in S6 than in any other year. I suppose it’s what you do with that freedom that matters.

  10. I left after 5th year ( many many years ago) and still meet with friends from school all of whom did 6th year. I seemed really brave back then stepping out early. They obviously have shared memories of 6th year which seem now to indicate that studying came second to personal development ( through the non academic activities) though they did not consider that at the time. Emphasising the benefit of reflecting on personal learning (eg what am I doing, why am I doing it, what use might it be…) – from any learning activity – during 6th year might produce some interesting results.

  11. I can see some of the benefits of a sixth year, especially as a second chance for some. Overall however I think the year lacks purpose and direction. Not just for the pupils either – it’s dispiriting for teachers when pupils drop out from courses halfway through the year on finding they have unconditional acceptances to university.

    I think we should push more of our exams into S6 and develop a more cohesive ‘senior school’ which balances the academic side with the development of personal skills. I think this might also allow us the chance to involve S5-S6 in the sorts of programmes which allow them to develop confidence and a decent work ethic. At the moment we have a hectic S5 frequently followed by a less than motivated S6.

    I think it would be good for younger pupils to see something
    more dynamic happening at this level too.

  12. My daughter has just left school having finished her Highers and is working in a coffee shop. In January when she is 17, she will go to a United World College in Swaziland where she will study for 6 International Baccalaureates and do community service, largely with children orphaned by HIV/AIDS, with other young people from up to 80 differnet countries.

    It will be a combination of academic rigour, service and working for peace and international understanding. I think this is a wonderful model.

    We can’t replicate the exoticicism of southern Africa but perhaps we could consider enabling young people to make a positive contribution to society. (Wow – sounds a bit as if I’m calling to bring back National Service!)

    My other 2 kids certainly wasted their 6th year – until they left early: one to ‘au pair’ (spelling?), one to school in the US.

    But I’m English – perhaps I’m just jealous as I had to do A Levels over 2 years!

  13. I have very mixed views about S6. So far, two of my children have left after S5 and spent a year growing up doing other things. They would probably not have done much growing up in S6. I think we do need to rethink what we do with S6. It tends to be too much of a waste of time for too many.

  14. Pingback: Don’s Learning Log » Blog Archive » Sixth Year - some alternatives

  15. I left school in the October after deciding to do 6th year. By October I was fed up with the nonsense that 6th year brought. I was being asked to upgrade Highers when I knew that I had given my all to get the grades I had. I was glad to leave and ended up working in the kitchen in a school on a YOP scheme where I learned more than I would have in sixth year. I have been vey successful in all my careers and have no regrets making the decision to leave. For many it is a waste of time. On the same note I believe that a fair number of students with academic ability leave school early because they hate school and the systems in-built to the schools They feel that school does not meed their needs. I know of 4 relations who have done this and have not looked back.

Comments are closed.