Sixth-Formers 'Urgently' Need More Support When They Go To University

Four students sitting on the grass in front of a big modern university building
Four students sitting on the grass in front of a big modern university building
Henrik Sorensen via Getty Images

Sixth-formers need more support when they leave school or college for university because they do not "magically turn into fully-fledged adults" at the age of 18, a leading headmaster is warning.

Richard Harman, of Uppingham School in Rutland says that finishing school education and leaving home for halls of residence can be an anxious time for young people, but help can dry up at this point.

In a speech in central London later today, Mr Harman, who is also chair of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC), says there is evidence that teenagers are less than happy with the backing they receive once they get to university.

"The students we teach every day, and their peers in state schools, are arguably under more pressure than ever before. They are anxious about high-stakes exams, unreliable marking, 24/7 pressures of social media, lack of jobs and housing, increased debt and constant upheaval in all levels of their lives. And they have to live with predictions that they will be the first generation worse off than their parents. Anxiety and depression pay little attention to income or academic prowess.

"In HMC schools we have already substantially increased our pastoral care over five years and have formed a new high level working group to drive further innovation. These innovations will need to complement similar initiatives being undertaken by some universities.

"For we all know school and college leavers do not magically turn into fully-fledged adults the minute they step out of the classroom and into the lecture hall. Leaving school, leaving home and creating a new life at 18 is bound to be a time of acute anxiety.

"But at the point of greatest need, support can dry up."

Mr Harman will say that previously unpublished findings from an HMC survey taken in 2011 show that 75% of independent and state school pupils rate the pastoral support offered by their school as very or quite good, compared to 53% of those in higher education.

He goes on to say that work is needed to ensure that all students in the UK are "resilient" at each stage of their development, taking good, relevant qualifications, receiving decent teaching and assessment and gaining the skills they need to make them employable.

Schools and colleges need to work together to support students, he indicates, as well as working with young people themselves.

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