Statement to Universities and Higher Education Providers
Dene Magna School opened its Sixth Form Provision in September 2019 as part of a wider initiative to raise aspiration and achievement in the Forest of Dean area. The Dene Magna Sixth Form Campus is situated in Cinderford, an area of high economic and social deprivation and a significant number are classified as meeting Quintile 1 (17 %) and Quintile 2 (51%) on the POLAR measurement. The central Forest of Dean is a semi-rural environment where no other secondary school has a post-16 provision; Dene Magna is the only provider of A-Levels. Until 2019, students who live in the area have had to travel some distance to access A-level teaching (into Gloucester, or out of county to Herefordshire or Monmouthshire) and this has had an historic negative impact on the aspiration of students to continue on to A-levels and then degree courses at University.
The majority of students take three A-levels and we do not offer vocational level 2 or 3 courses. Courses are run and taught by teachers from Dene Magna School and for many of them, teaching and assessing at A-level from 2019 was their first experience of teaching at this level for some years. Dene Magna is an ‘OFSTED outstanding’ school and a ‘Teaching and Learning’ institution, which prepared staff (and continues to support them with CPD) thoroughly in the run up to opening the Sixth Form. A number of our teachers have become A-level examiners as part of their CPD. Subjects are taught by subject specialists, with the exception of Psychology and Sociology, where financial pressure has limited the opportunity for recruitment to these fields: one specialist runs each of these two subjects, supported by experienced post-16 teachers. Physics is delivered by only one teacher as the school currently has only one subject specialist. In Further Maths, the lead teacher was recruited specifically for this level and also provides assessment support to the rest of the department. Students studying Product Design and Art and Drama have to travel to another site to access facilities.
Students are encouraged to complete an EPQ as part of their developing study skills programme, although not all go onto complete this and for many, the implications of the lockdown led them to decide not to pursue the qualification. The lockdown also interrupted the opportunities to pursue super-curricular activities as well as work-experience and we have taken the decision to enable students in Year 13 to prioritise retrieving their A-level studies rather than insist upon their completing any further work-experience.
During the 2020 lockdown, a large number of students needed to be supported with IT and all sixth form students were able to access the on-line learning and live streamed lessons that were provided. Engagement by students was good, with all students registering and participating in all online lessons. Pastoral support ensured that vulnerable A-level students were given access to face to face support throughout the period and engagement with this was also good. Many faced the added difficulty of living in rural areas with poor WiFi access, which interrupted some aspects of their learning and some of these were given the opportunity to attend school.
Predicted grades are determined by a combination of regular internal assessment and trial examination. Grades are further calculated by careful target setting based on prior attainment and students are then supported to ensure they achieve or exceed these. By benchmarking standards against several other similar institutions to ensure that our targeting is realistic and achievable, we are confident that our predictions are an accurate reflection of the students’ abilities. In 2020, trial exams were due to take place in May; these were obviously postponed until October, 2020. However, all subjects had implemented testing both before and during the lockdown period.