Interview with Headteacher

Welcome to our Sixth Form!
I am proud to be the headteacher of St Michael’s. This is a remarkably successful school with outstanding results at GCSE and at A Level. St Michael’s has a large and vibrant Sixth Form which welcomes large numbers of applications from those who have studied their GCSE’s elsewhere – as well as the majority of our own Year 11 staying on.
St Michael’s is an academic school and we only offer A Level courses in the Sixth Form. Almost all our students go off to university courses at the top universities in this country. We are remarkably successful in enabling our students to take the next step in their lives – and also a welcoming and supportive community where everyone is valued.
To provide further detail, I have presented below the questions I am most frequently asked about St Michael’s Sixth Form with answers. I hope that these will provide you with more insight into our school – but you really need to visit us to understand what a special place it is.

How good are the A Level results at St Michael’s?
The Public Exam Results are impressive and have been for many years (find out more). Our most recent results (Summer 2018) reached new heights. We had our best ever number of A* grades at 21% of all entries and our A*-B rate was an impressive 91%. These results mean that our students can access the best universities in the country. The focus of our school is not about exam results – we measure our success by whether our students get to study the course of their choice at the university of their choice – and by this measure also, we are hugely successful.

What is the secret of St Michael’s success?
There are a number of factors which contribute towards to St Michael’s success, the most significant of which is our dedicated staff of experts in their subject areas. Teachers come to work at St Michael’s because they want to teach their subject at the highest level – they love their subject and have a desire to share it with young people. We have a very low turnover of staff and this stability gives this school a great advantage in continuity of delivery and experience.
In addition, our students (whether ‘home-grown’ St Michael’s or new to the Sixth Form) are ambitious for themselves and this is the prevailing mood of the Sixth Form. Those who choose to enrol in Sixth Form at St Michael’s know that they will be expected to work hard to achieve their best, but they also know that they will be supported and encouraged along the way.

Where do your students end up?
Armed with excellent A Level results, our students go on to a wide range of courses and institutions (find out more). Each year we see students succeed in gaining places at the most prestigious universities such as Oxford and Cambridge (there were 12 this year) and on those courses which are traditionally the most difficult to get into (such as medicine). What is important is that our students follow their own aspirations – we guide and support them but we do not make the decisions for them. The vast majority go off to study academic subjects at university, but we also cater for those with creative ambitions – whether that be Music or Art degrees where we are equally successful in enabling students to take the next step towards their dream careers.

What support do you provide for students’ university applications?
We provide a tremendous amount of support in helping our students choose and apply for their university courses. This help is delivered via the Tutorial Programme – a series of talks, assemblies and sessions with tutors designed to support our students in choosing the right course for them, navigating the university admissions process (UCAS) and writing their personal statements. In addition, our expert subject teachers are great sources of advice and information about choices and options in their own subjects.
We are remarkably successful in enabling our students to gain entry to the more competitive courses and institutions. We recognise that some courses require specialist preparation and guidance and this is why we have a member of staff dedicated to providing this support – Dr Peak is our university links coordinator and each year he puts together a support programme that benefits all students and particularly those who have extra hoops to jump through such as those who wish to apply to Oxford and Cambridge – and those who are aiming for medicine.

What is a typical Sixth Form student at St Michael’s?
We are a diverse Sixth Form – like many London schools we have a range of ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds as well as faith and gender. Despite our diversity – there are elements which bind us together – a significant one is our sense of purpose. I would say that whilst there is no ‘typical’ student – there is a shared sense and drive for achieving great things. Our students want to do well, they are ambitious and hardworking – and this sets the pace and atmosphere of the Sixth Form.

Do many students join St Michael’s Sixth Form from other schools?
Yes. St Michael’s has 96 students in Year 11 – but grows considerably in Year 12, sometimes up to 150 students in total. The exact numbers vary from year to year, but the vast majority of our Year 11 stay on for Sixth Form and are joined by up to 60 students who studied elsewhere for GCSEs. St Michael’s is a very welcoming place and new students soon feel at home and join in all activities. Our experience is that the students mix exceptionally well – with friendship groups reforming based on shared subjects and external interests. No distinction is made between those students who join in Year 12 and those who joined the school in Year 7 – a clear indication of this is the fact that our current Head Girl was voted in by a democratic process across the whole school – and she only joined us in Year 12 (read about her experience on our website).

Isn’t St Michael’s an all-girls school?
No. St Michael’s is a girls’ school only up until Year 11. Our Sixth Form is co-educational and we welcome applications from boys and girls. Because most of our Year 11 students stay on into the Sixth Form, we do have larger numbers of girls – but our external students tend to be roughly 50:50 so we have about 30 boys in each of Year 12 and Year 13. Our boys do just as well as our girls and play a full part in school life – last year we had both a Head Girl and a Head Boy elected by democratic vote across the school.

Do you have to be Catholic to join the Sixth Form?
No. Although the majority of our students are Catholic, we have students who are active in other religious faiths – such as Islam, Judaism and Hinduism – and students of no faith. Our Catholic students coming through from Year 11 are very interested in and benefit from mixing with students from other backgrounds – recently a group of our Muslim Sixth Formers gave an assembly to the whole school on what it means to be a British Muslim.

Do you have to study Catholic Religious Education in the Sixth Form?
All our students have one lesson a week of RE – this is a requirement of all Catholic schools and it applies to all students irrespective of their religion. These lessons are not examined and they are both dynamic and interesting – many involve lively discussion about issues relevant to young people’s role in society, and students of all backgrounds participate and share their viewpoints. Modules include such topics as ‘Science and Religion’, ‘Extremism’ and ‘Buddhism’. At our whole-school Masses (religious services) all students join us for our celebrations and we ask that those who are not Catholic are respectful of those for whom the Mass is a religious experience. St Michael’s is a school where religious observance is respected by everyone and where we are open and discuss our spiritual identity.

How will lessons be different in the Sixth Form?
The classroom experience in Sixth Form is very different. The concepts covered at A Level are considerably more challenging and students questioning their teachers is a big part of the learning process. The lessons therefore are more generally structured as conversations and debates which makes them both challenging and enjoyable. The teachers at St Michael’s particularly enjoy teaching their subjects at A Level – students who have been at the school from Year 7 say that they only really begin to know their teachers when they get to the Sixth Form.

What freedoms do Sixth Form students enjoy at St Michael’s?
St Michael’s is a school Sixth Form and so the experience will be different from attending a Sixth Form college. Students are required to attend registration every morning but enjoy more autonomy during the school day, with independent study periods. Once students have proven that they are working well, they are given certain privileges – such as having an afternoon at home rather than in school.
Although Sixth Form students generally benefit from working independently, we keep a close eye on our students’ progress at St Michael’s – we believe this is key to helping more students achieve their ambitions. Support programmes are put in place if someone is falling behind (so expect to be challenged if you don’t do your homework!). The one freedom we never give our students – is the freedom to fail.

Is there a uniform at St Michael’s Sixth Form?
No. If you visit the school you will see the younger students in their distinctive purple uniform – but our Sixth Form have never had a uniform. We have a Sixth Form Dress Code to ensure that clothing is respectable and appropriate. Most of our students go for comfort and typically wear jeans and tee-shirts.

Are there many trips at St Michael’s?
St Michael’s students benefit from a large number of school trips, particularly in the Sixth Form. Which trips you get involved in will naturally depend upon your subject choices – but to give you a flavour we have trips to Spain and France (MFL), Berlin (History), Field Trips to Wales (Geography) and CERN (Physics). There are also a great number of day trips to student conferences in London and some trips which are not part of a Curriculum area such as the annual trip to Kenya, to Lourdes and the Ski Trip.

How are the current building works at St Michael’s affecting the student experience?
At St Michael’s we are fortunate that Central Government (ESFA) is funding a major project – our Senior Building is to be demolished and replaced. This is the school’s main teaching block – housing Art, Chemistry, English, History and Geography. The building works are due to be completed by January 2020 – so, our 2019 Sixth Form intake will move into the new building after one term in Year 12 and enjoy the benefit of brand new facilities for the majority of their time with us.
In the meantime, affected lessons have been moved to a new temporary classroom complex – which is bright and airy; all rooms have a new interactive whiteboard and air conditioning/heating. Teachers and pupils alike have remarked on the agreeable classroom experience in the temporary building – a very far cry from the ‘portakabin’ experience of yesteryear.

Want to find out more?
Come and visit us on our “Into the Sixth Form” evening – you will have the opportunity to hear from our Senior Leadership team, and to attend talks given by the teachers of each course and current students. Also, when you apply – we will invite you in for an individual discussion about your chosen courses and give you the opportunity to meet a member of the senior staff.
I look forward to welcoming you to our Sixth Form.
Michael Stimpson
Headteacher

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