By Paul Willet, director of Didcot Sixth Form

‘Be proud of who you are and all that you achieve!’

These are fine words and the message we share with our students at Didcot Sixth Form (DSF), a unique partnership between two very successful schools, Didcot Girls’ School and St Birinus School, and part of the Ridgeway Education Trust.

But what do these words mean in practice?

We are predicting that our students will receive outstanding results this coming summer with their A-level results; results that students, parents and teachers have every right to be very proud of. Proud not because of the A*s, As and Bs they will achieve, but because they are the result of the sustained hard work and commitment to studies they have demonstrated over the last two years, supported by a dedicated teaching and tutor team. We celebrate together the success of each student, determined not just by the result itself, but by what they have personally achieved and the barriers that they may have overcome along the way.

Whilst we are not an ‘exam factory’, exam results are clearly very important in opening doors to future aspirational pathways. As important, of course, are the qualities that help the student to ‘stand out’. This is the reason we offer so many extra-curricular and supra-curricular activities. Results do not determine the qualities of the individual but are just one part of the individual story. Tolerance, inclusivity, kindness, leadership, initiative, drive, ambition, resilience, confidence, intellectual curiosity; all these are attributes that make up the success of the individual student and are qualities to be celebrated.

How do we nurture these qualities and enable the students to ‘stand out’?

Didcot Sixth Form has been running a flagship programme aimed entirely at enriching our students’ experience, and providing them with valuable learning opportunities outside the classroom. We know that good grades, although hugely important, are not always enough to set students apart when it comes to interviews and applications; whatever our students want to do after sixth form, we want them to stand out from the crowd and be noticed. Students have two dedicated ‘enrichment’ hours on a Wednesday afternoon, enabling us to develop a bespoke ‘Gold Standard’ programme aimed at supporting them to do just this. Visiting speakers from all walks of life, inspire our students to aim high, take risks and be aware that there are failures as well as successes in life’s journey. Business mentors from the community and high quality work experience allows the practical application of knowledge learned in the classroom, and supports and encourages applications and careers post sixth form.

We encourage students to not only get involved but to lead a range of clubs and societies including: Mandarin conversation; Debate and Public Speaking; Performing Arts; the Literary Society; Young Enterprise; Medicine; Engineering; Sport; and Science – the list goes on and is determined by the students themselves. These societies are all student-led and supported by dedicated enrichment staff.

All students are encouraged to take part in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Gold Award – what better programme to combine learning skills, develop leadership and oracy skills, with contributing to the school and wider community!

We also offer the Extended Project Qualification and are very pleased that over 90 pre cent of our students are currently taking part in the programme – an opportunity for students to explore and become an expert in an area of interest to them, and to learn how to research and develop a project through to final presentation and dissertation.

We want our students to aspire to be leaders in whatever they choose to do and believe that our enrichment programme will help to set them apart from their peers. It is the students themselves who are the driving force behind enrichment activities, assemblies, and charity and community involvement.

We are very proud of our students – for who they are, their personal qualities and their accomplishments, not just academic, but in sport, music, drama, dance, languages, the list goes on. We continue being proud when we hear about the successes our students go on to have post sixth form. We celebrate and share in these successes, with our DSF constellation noticeboard displaying the names and photographs of those students both past and present who stand out and ‘shine’ like the stars they are.