A parent’s guide to sixth form enrolment

Welcome to enrolment. As parents or guardians your role is vital. You can help your daughter or son to understand their options and you know them better than anyone so your insights can be really useful.

So how can you make a positive difference at this crucial moment?


Listen to your child and try to go with the grain of what they are saying about their interests and ambitions. Try to avoid imposing your plans on them, they may be brilliant but not appropriate. This is not an opportunity for you to live your life through them.

Listen to our advice and try to understand how we have reached the judgements we are making. Enrolment is not a clash of wills or a test of your advocacy skills. We know that you love your child and want the best for them, you don’t need to prove that. We also want the best for them and we are trying to give well-informed and objective advice. To do well on a college programme students need to be interested and excited by what they’ve chosen and have a mix of motivation, commitment and aptitude.


Make time to talk things through, there may be a sense of pressure but there’s no need to make it worse. These are big decisions and there will always be time to pause and reflect with your child before making commitments.

Do tell us what you think and ask any questions you may have. Tell us about any challenges or obstacles which your child might face with their studies, whatever these difficulties might be.

Keeping rational and avoiding emotions or preconceptions:

If you are disappointed with your child’s results remember that it doesn’t make things any better to keep reminding everyone how disappointed you are. It’s also not helpful to make unflattering comparisons with relatives who have ‘done better’. Rather than dwelling on failure, we try to focus on what has been achieved and how we can build on it. This is a stressful time and you want to get things sorted, but adding strong emotions at an already emotional moment won’t help us make the right decision.

Avoid blaming others for any underachievement. It may be that your child’s GCSE English re-mark will result in a higher grade or that the school had problems with the GCSE Maths entries but this doesn’t change the objective outcomes we are looking at.

Being open-minded:

Don’t rush to judgements about proposed courses. We will share objective information about where these courses lead. Parents who are adamant that “I don’t want them doing a BTEC….” often change their mind when they hear about how many vocational students have progressed to brilliant degree courses at university.

By all means, ask for a second opinion or a review of the case if you feel strongly that you’re not getting the best advice. We try to be consistent but sometimes it can help to get a different perspective on a finely balanced case. But if you’ve had clear advice don’t just try to bounce from one member of staff to another until you ‘get what you want’ – this doesn’t work.

Keeping the young person at the heart of the process:

Remember that it is your child who will be studying the course, not you. You will be providing emotional and material support but you can’t do the work for them and you can’t deliver on any promises made at enrolment (“I guarantee that s/he will work hard / attend well / achieve well…”). They are the ones who will be coming in every day, attending classes and taking on the workload, so any promises or commitments need to be genuinely theirs.

What next?

This is not the end of your contribution. We will welcome your involvement throughout the year. You can contact us and staff will contact you about your child’s progress. You will receive reports and be invited to parents’ evenings and you can join our parent forum and parent council to learn more about the college’s work and help shape its development. You also have specific representation on our corporation; a parent governor elected by parents to speak for them and report back to them.

So although we see sixth form students as young adults who need to take responsibility for their own learning, we also value our relationship with their parents and guardians because we know how much you can do to help and encourage your child on their journey towards success.

See also:

How to choose a sixth form (August 2014)

How to make a strong college application (February 2015)

Your college interview (February 2015)

Enrolment: where aspiration meets reality (August 2015)

About Eddie Playfair

I am a Senior Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges (AoC) having previously been a college principal for 16 years and a teacher before that. I live in East London and I blog in a personal capacity about education and culture. I also tweet at @eddieplayfair
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