Secondary schools across the country have reopened this week for Year 10s and 12s as lockdown continues to ease.

Weeks of preparation have ensured students and staff at Wykham Park Academy in Banbury and those at its sister school, Futures Institute, have been welcomed back safely.

But what about the students in between those year groups?

With GCSEs cancelled following lockdown, Year 11 students have missed their last term in secondary education. It is usually at this time that these students finalise their plans for post-16 education as they transition from secondary school to sixth form or college.

At Banbury Aspirations Campus, an Ofsted-outstanding sixth form which encompasses Wykham and Futures, these teenagers have been saved from post-16 abyss through the digital solutions on offer.

Assistant Principal Carly Berry, who is also head of sixth form at Banbury Aspirations Campus, explains the technology-led measures in place to ensure it is business as usual for Year 11 students. She also provides her top tips for parents to support their teenagers during this important time in their education and journey towards adulthood.

Ms Berry told the Banbury Guardian: ‘’This crucial transition time in education for post-16 teenagers has been overhauled at Banbury Aspirations over the last five years. We have assemblies, drop-down days, mentoring, all with the aim of encouraging and nurturing students.

‘’However, this year, the coronavirus pandemic put a stop to our now well-practised routine. As soon as Year 11 left school, it quickly became apparent that they could easily become lost and adrift – in a no man’s land between Year 11 and post-16 study. ‘’Lockdown has proved to be challenging but, thankfully, technology has allowed Year 11 transition to remain on track.’’

Below she explains the measures in place and the part parents should play.

1. Connecting and reassuring

‘’As a sixth-form team, we decided immediately that we would identify all students who were, or should have been, planning a sixth-form pathway and contact them to discuss their options and offer support.

We also ensured that all other students who did not have a plan were supported in whatever way we could.

In our phone calls, we reassured students that school closure did not mean that we were not available and they did not have support. The individual phone calls were very well received. That personal contact is so important to students.’’

2. Creating a virtual classroom

‘’We used Google Classroom facilities to set up a “Transition Year 12 Intake 2020” folder. This folder wasn’t just for our current students, but also the external students who would be joining us from other schools.

We also invited all sixth-form staff and asked them to post welcome messages and then set engaging, purposeful tasks they could work on in readiness for September.’’

3. Getting to know you

‘’It was now my turn to get behind the camera, so I recorded myself introducing our sixth form and gave a virtual tour of the school. I wanted to give a clear message: yes, we are going through difficult times, but look at what you have to look forward to!

I wanted our students to feel that the future is bright and that school is here for them throughout all of this.’’

4. What should parents do?

Discuss your child’s post 16 options with them. Are they choosing the right subjects? Do they know what each subject involves in terms of study? Details for each course will be available online.

Have they made contact with their Head of Sixth Form and accessed any available transition materials? They should be in a position to start reading and researching their chosen subjects now.

Have they thought about where their post-16 choices could take them? Start researching possible career paths and the subjects required to get to that point. Some students have no idea of the different careers out there.

Lots of universities are offering online support for students from Year 10 onwards. Students can join webinars, take part in online tours and introduction to the university experience.

Complete an online course so that you have something additional to add to your CV. There is a wide variety to choose from online and some universities also offer this for younger students.