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Ask the experts: Places in mixed sixth forms at top schools are often highly sought after, so what can you do to maximise your child’s chances?

Much has been said about the benefits of both single sex education and that of mixed-gender schools; it’s a debate that is unlikely to be resolved any time soon.

Many argue that the different environments offered by each can suit different individuals, but with so many options out there how can you be sure you are choosing the right place?

Last week: ‘How can I increase my chances of getting into Oxford?’

Would a girls’ or boys’ school better suit your daughter or son, or would your child thrive in a mixed gender environment? Maybe a mixed sixth form would be the best option before university?

Here the experts offer their views.

Get in touch with your own education question and see it featured on Telegraph Education (details below).

Question: How can we help our daughter get into a competitive mixed-sex sixth form?

Our fifteen year old daughter would like to move from her academic single sex school to the sixth form at one of the (London) boys’/mixed sex day schools for which entry is highly competitive.

What should we do to maximise her chances? Would you recommend seeking advice from an educational consultant (or other expert) to help (a) choose the school (b) organise her thoughts about what to study both in the sixth form and beyond and (c) prepare for interviews?

Does it matter if she does not yet have her heart set on any particular academic or career path?

Guy Holloway: Prepare for the interview but don’t try to sound clever with pre-prepared thoughts

If your daughter has her heart set on studying A-levels (or IB) at one of the leading London schools, inevitably she will need excellent predicted grades at GCSE. Some schools will want all A/A* with at least half A*.

If she seeks entrance to one of these schools, your daughter will be asked during Year 11 to take the school’s own papers in her proposed A-level choices. If she performs satisfactorily in these, she’ll be called back for interview.

Yes, absolutely, your daughter must prepare for interview but this must be done skilfully. Don’t try to sound clever with pre-prepared thoughts and phrases. The key is to be a true spirit – but one that is enthusiastic and well-informed.

Those who shine at interview are those who speak with an authentic voice, emanating a genuine enthusiasm, demonstrating a breadth and depth of knowledge beyond the GCSE syllabus. To perform well, your daughter must be in the habit of discussing ideas, both at home and at school.

“Those who shine at interview are those who speak with an authentic voice, emanating a genuine enthusiasm.”Guy Holloway

I’d certainly recommend that she join the school debating society, and that she write for the school magazine. If applying to a boys’ school with a co-ed sixth form, admission tutors will be looking for a certain confidence and robustness, and this means your daughter will enjoy having her ideas challenged in intellectual debate.

Educational consultants can be helpful in providing suggestions which might otherwise be overlooked; they can also help with A-level choices, related to a career path, although good schools will also be able to help with this too.

It does not matter if your daughter does not yet have a clear career path. And I’d certainly advise against pretending to have one – this will never sound convincing. There’s nothing wrong with being 16, having a love of learning, but not yet sure of where you want to go in life.

If your daughter is moving from a single-sex to a boys’ school with a mixed sixth form, your daughter will probably have better chances than a boy applying to such a school. If unsure about a particular school, I’d suggest just turning up at the end of the day. What kinds of signals are you picking up? One’s gut instinct is usually correct.

I wish your daughter every success in whatever she chooses to do.

Guy Holloway, headmaster at Hampton Court House

Vivienne Durham: Your daughter needs to excel in her current school

If you have not done so already, I would recommend speaking to the head of your daughter’s current school. Although the head will want to promote the opportunities available at your daughter’s current school, he /she will also have your daughter’s best interests at heart and will offer sound advice about the sixth form.

At all costs, you should avoid the head being asked to supply a school reference, before being informed that your daughter has applied for a place at another sixth form.

A good education consultant will be able to offer you well informed and impartial advice on this important decision. They will also be able to provide information about the many different written tests and entrance requirements set by academically selective schools for sixth form applicants – especially in London and ensure that your daughter is well-prepared to take these admissions tests.

To maximise her chances of gaining a successful place, your daughter needs to excel in her current school. She should focus on her academic studies because outstanding GCSE predicted grades are likely to be required.

“Your daughter’s new school will be keen to assess how she is going to contribute to the wider life of the school community.” Vivienne Durham

She should read widely, especially in those subjects she intends to take at A level. Taking part in lots of extra-curricular activities is also important: encourage your daughter to participate in team activities, as well as pursue her individual enthusiasms and achievements.

Your daughter’s new school will be keen to assess how she is going to contribute to the wider life of the school community, beyond lessons. It certainly does not matter that she is not yet decided on any particular academic direction or career path and it is relatively unusual to have done so at her age.

Lots of advice about university options – and career opportunities – will be given to your daughter during the sixth form.

One final point. Do not be too surprised if your daughter decides to remain at her current school, despite having applied successfully to a highly competitive sixth form elsewhere. Both co-ed and single sex schools prepare sixth formers for 21st century adult life and the grass is not always greener.

Vivienne Durham, schools advisory director at Enjoy Education and former head at Francis Holland School, Regent’s Park

Susan Hamlyn: Schools will look for the contribution the candidate is likely to make

This has become popular amongst girls at academic, single sex, schools, especially those who have been there all their school lives. The allure is not just boys but, sometimes, a wider range of subjects and other opportunities and also just the appeal of change.

It is not without risks. All heads of girls’ schools will tell you, sadly, but with a justifiable hint of smugness, of girls who leave but who come back half way through the year, all having not been quite as they imagined.

The lower sixth year is important. Only the most robust girls can manage both the more intensive studying as well as the whole business of starting afresh in a place where no-one knows you and your achievements to date.

You don’t say whether you are writing about independent or state schools. London has only a few independent coeducational schools of high academic calibre and competition for sixth form places is fierce. There are even fewer state boys’ schools which admit girls into the sixth forms. However, several good state coeducational schools take pupils of both sexes into their sixth forms and the academic bar can be quite high.

“Schools will look to see if candidates have the resilience needed to succeed in such a move.” Susan Hamlyn

The Good Schools Guide Advice Service regularly advises girls and their parents who are considering making this move. We look carefully at the reasons for the move, possible schools and the likelihood of success.

The key things a sixth form will be looking for are: i) genuine commitment to and interest in the chosen subjects ii) the contribution the candidate is likely to make to school life in all its roundness iii) the resilience needed to succeed in such a move.

It need not be critical if your daughter is not yet clear on which subjects to pursue. Some sixth forms offer The International Baccalaureate which comprises a spread of subjects and disciplines.

However, by the time she applies, in early autumn, she will need to be clear on at least her main subjects as they will be important at interview and she will need to demonstrate a serious grasp of these subjects – not in-depth knowledge but an intelligent interest.

Susan Hamlyn, director of The Good Schools Guide Advice Service

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