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Post-16 and sixth form education: a pedagogical overview for ECTs

If you work at a secondary school with a sixth form now or in future, you may have the opportunity to teach further education classes in addition to Key Stages 3 and 4. Post-16 maths and physics represent a natural step-up in terms of curriculum depth – but what are the differences in teaching practice?

Pedagogy in the post-16 classroom

According to NIACE (the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education), post-16 lessons work best when:

  • learning is fun, interactive and practical,
  • there is a strong understanding of the purpose and importance of these qualifications,
  • learning has a personal relevance,
  • there is a clear assessment process with clarity on mark schemes.

Post-16 students respond to passion about the subject you teach. Good teaching at post-16 level is contingent on helping students to genuinely master the key concepts they need to learn. And post-16 students are more likely to come to school if they are succeeding.

This article explores best practices relating to sixth form and post-16 teaching in more depth, outlining the comparative ways of learning between children and adults – and how this aligns with a further education classroom.

You may think that this sounds rather similar to Year 10 and 11 students – and in many ways this is true. But one of the core pedagogical differences at post-16 is the emphasis on independent learning.

Focusing on independent learning strategies

With students in post-16 education significantly more independent than their secondary counterparts, it becomes more important to guide them with the right strategies for learning success.

Post-16 students are in a different place in their life compared with GCSE students. A-level students may have part-time jobs which they fit around their education commitments, in addition to other growing commitments which come with greater levels of independence. Therefore, learning strategies also need to adapt.

This article focuses on how sixth form students can benefit from cognitive science-informed learning strategies to boost academic performance.

What do Scholars who already teach sixth form think?

A number of FTS Scholars have already begun to teach some sixth form classes. We spoke to two of these Scholars at a previous Scholar-to-Scholar event about their experiences teaching A-level.

Jamie, who graduated from the FTS programme in 2023, focused on the importance of relationship building for post-16 students. He also spoke about how the teaching environment can be more relaxed and less explicitly rule-oriented.

Erum, who is graduating from the FTS programme this year, found that whilst the pedagogy for post-16 was not that different, the shift in expectations between these cohorts was much more significant.

You can watch these recordings from last year’s Scholar-to-Scholar event below:

What is your advice for teaching Key Stage 5?

How does teaching Key Stage 5 compare to Key Stages 3 and 4?