Monday 5 November 2012

First term impressions in sixth form.

As many people know our son Ben has recently made his debut into the school system for the very first time. I asked him to write an account of how he felt now he'd been 'inside' for a few months!

Of course each and every child's experience of school will be entirely different from the school to the student. Ben is a particularly laid back kind of young man and very friendly and willing so we're very thankful that, so far, his school life is proving to be fruitful.

Contemplating sixth form

One could never argue that the transition from home-schooling into full time education at school was an insignificant thing or a change that does not come along with its own set of unique challenges. I had been home-schooled all the way through primary education, and on through secondary education, so I had never had any first-hand experience in a school.  The day before I began sixth form my mind was overflowing with (now ridiculous) stereotypical views on what it would be like; the “popular kids” in the corner, the “school bully” going around causing havoc and the “nerds” sitting in their own little huddles doing huge amounts of work. Of course all these views were proved wrong the second I stepped through the door. I found that every one from teachers to pupils to the Headmaster went out of their way to get to know me and make every effort to help me enjoy and flourish in this (strange, new) environment that I would be spending the next two years of my young adult life in.

What you notice immediately (or at least what I first noticed) was that everybody is more mature; there is no ‘larking around’. My only real experience with “school kids” beforehand had been in my football teams that I used to play for. I always remembered them being a bolshie and boisterous lot who enjoyed causing trouble and making life even more difficult for the instructors/teachers. The reason Sixth Formers are not like this is due to post-sixteen education not being compulsory: all the ones who did not enjoy working and were not motivated enough have either left to look for jobs or gone to a more vocational style college. (or otherwise!)

In my Sixth Form it is very easy to escape the mostly bustling common room and find a quiet place to work, whether it be the ‘Quiet Room’ designated for silent study, or in an empty classroom upstairs. The head of Sixth Form, an incredibly dynamic and influential woman, constantly tries (and succeeds!) to instill in each student the motivation to work independently. Now, if one was to ask me to sum up home-schooling in two words, I would immediately reply “independent learning”. This is, of course, given to us by our parents. This means that when joining school after being home-schooled we already have this key skill. It also means that the teachers don’t need to drill “work at home, read around the subjects, work independently,” into our minds like they do to the students who have been in school all along. I have seen this first hand already, many times, when a teacher has said “go home and read up about all this and put some independent notes together” and the people in school previously find it really hard to do, when it is almost second nature to me.

The major reason Catholic home-schoolers worry about sending their child to school is the effect it may have on their faith. I know this was my Mother’s main concern, and I can honestly say two months down the line I do not feel in the least uncomfortable about my beliefs or my view, which I knew would be contrary to most students there. Never have I once heard any anti-religious comments nor had any kind of criticism about my faith, and all my friends at school know I am a practising Catholic. It just doesn’t mean anything to them other than, “He’s a Catholic.” I even once had an interesting conversation with a practising protestant about the  true meaning of ‘Halloween’  something we both agreed on. (Agreeing with a protestant? That’s a new one!). If any one is up for a good debate about abortion or euthanasia then I’ll be in the thick of it but I wouldn’t spend my day pricking people’s consciences (well, not yet, I’ve only been there two months!).

Another advantage of going into sixth form is the opportunity of sports. Even though we’re a new sixth form we have formed a competent 11-a-side with matches against other sixth forms and colleges. We train every Thursday but in true school style I find myself cramming my lunch into my mouth and running off to play footie every single lunch time! I also enjoy Archery classes each week which are just fantastic. Last week I returned from the five day preliminary expedition for the Duke of Edinburgh Gold award. I find this is a great advantage as although this would have been possible through air cadets or home schooling groups, we have a professional team taking us through it.

To conclude, school has been a demanding transition, but an enjoyable one. It is a very rewarding system with its end of term reports and awards, and this takes place in a friendly and mature atmosphere. If there was anything I could say against school it would certainly be a grudge against the homework. The idea of two/three hours homework after school is definitely not one of the stereotypical views I had that has been proven wrong, sadly!

Ben Lewin