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As we approach the Easter holidays, it is time to get into full revision mode. I know it is tough, and much easier to find distractions or reasons to put it off, but the time has come to get serious. We sometimes talk about the sixth form as the time when you start to become the person you want to be. Well, don’t you want to be the kind of person who does what needs to be done? There are no excuses anymore.

Before getting full into it, you need to spend a couple of hours planning your time. You could start by drawing up a timetable for the Easter holiday period. Give yourself the odd and/or half-day day off. Plan to work 7 or 8 hours a day. Best to work ordinary school-day hours, because that’s when the exams take place, so work 9-5 or 8-4 and have the evenings off.

Plan your schedule in as much detail as you can. List particular topics not just subjects or units. Make sure you give a rational allocation of time to each. Educational researchers have shown the interleaving or spacing out revision is the most effective technique. What that means is this: revise topics in bite-size chunks, then mix it up between subjects. It works because you return to topics several times rather than just the once.

In the past, we have had some students who ran out of time with revision because they spent time writing out all their notes again, or reading and highlighting notes. These activities are the least effective thing you can do. What is worth doing is to create your own summaries for each topic – perhaps a mindmap or spider diagram or just a very concise summary of key points and things you need to memorise for that topic. It is worth doing it yourself rather than copying/using someone else’s. Then you need to go through the summary, make sure you understand it and test yourself on it.

Some students, especially in maths and sciences, go straight for the past paper questions and miss out the actual revision – going over the key facts, concepts, methods and understanding the basics. Best to use questions from textbooks, past homeworks and tests at this stage and leave the exam questions for when you have completed a whole unit.

In essay subjects, you can test yourself by constructing essay plans with bullet points.

Ask your teachers for advice on revision specific to that subject.

Finally, make sure you look after yourself. Get enough sleep. Eat well and drink lots of water. Put distractions away whilst revising – turn your phone off, don’t play music, don’t have any screens on. You are kidding yourself if you think they don’t distract you. Use the local library or the College library (open every week day over Easter except bank holidays).

Choosing Your A2 Subjects

We ask students at this time of year to start thinking about and to give us an indication which subject they are likely to drop when they progress into the A2 year. Many change their mind after AS results and we do our best to accommodate all requested changes.

Four A2

Some students will want to continue with all four. This is allowed as long as you get a mixture of grade A and B in each of your four AS levels. You should think carefully, however, before deciding to continue with all four: your grades might suffer, and there are hardly any circumstances in which there is any benefit. Even Cambridge University has said that there is no advantage to applicants who are taking four A2. However, LSE does not accept a combination of three A2 in which two of them are maths and further maths, so that is one context in which four A2 might be sensible. A very good student, the calibre to try for one of the very top universities, ought to be able to cope with four A2 without dropping grades.

Which one to drop?

This is a tough decision for many students. Things to take into account:

  • The requirements of your likely degree course. Now is the time to start your research. A good place to start is For example, if you enter Economics and scroll down to Queen Mary (a popular London Russell Group destination), you will find under ‘entry requirements/A level’ that A level mathematics is required.
  • How well are you doing in your subjects and how much do you enjoy them? It is an obvious point that you should choose your best subjects to carry on to A2. The grades are more important than anything else, so it simply doesn’t make sense in most cases  to choose a subject you are likely to get a lower grade in.
  • What are your subjects like at A2? Are they similar or different than AS? Ask your teachers. Also, what is the assessment like? For example, if you choose History, English Literature and Art, you will have a massive coursework burden – which is okay if you enjoy coursework. But with that combination, you might not want to add an extended project on top!
  • Listen to advice from teachers, tutors, parents and others. BUT everyone has their own perspective and their own hang-ups and everyone is wrong or misleading some of the time. For example, some people might tell you to take maths instead of Sociology because maths is more highly regarded by universities: but actually, that is mainly rubbish. An A grade in Sociology will serve you better than a B in maths, unless maths is a requirement of the degree course. All A level subjects offered at Woodhouse are ‘good’ subjects and will take you where you want to go: for example, we had a student two years ago accepted for Cambridge History and one of her A2 subjects was Theatre Studies.
  • The so-called facilitating subjects can be a misleading guide. They are called ‘facilitating’ because they facilitate progression in a number of different directions. But once you have decided your particular direction, then they are irrelevant: the only thing that matters is the course requirements and the grades.To spell that out a bit more: a subject like Classics, say, is not a facilitating subject but it is a well regarded, academic A level and will be just as good as any other subject at A2, so if you enjoy Classics at AS there is no reason not to take it at A2.

An extra course?

Some of you might want to add an additional course. The main ones that students consider are:

  • AS Further maths – this is a good idea if you want to take maths or a maths-based subject at one of the top universities
  • Extended project – we will send out further information on this later in the year.

Requirements for A2

At Woodhouse, you have to pass each subject in order to take it at A2. The full policy is on our website.

How to succeed in A Level Maths

Nationally, Maths at AS level has one of the lowest pass rates. Only 84% of students pass at AS level in English schools and colleges, whereas the pass rate is 10% higher in English. Is that because English is easier? No. It is because to pass maths requires a different type of work habit, which some students never fully acquire. Success in Maths is not about being ‘brainy’, it’s about your attitude and commitment.

How to succeed in A Level Maths
Listen well in class, and ask if you don’t understand. Make good use of your class time.

Go over your notes after each lesson, and check you understand them. Re-write key points in clearer/different or more succinct form to be useful for revision. Finish any class work/exercises questions that you didn’t complete in class.

Just because you understood it when the teacher explained it doesn’t mean you understand it properly and can do it yourself. Practise.

Make sure every homework is your best possible work. Start it early, not the day before it’s due. Present it well, even if you have to write it out again. Don’t leave any questions undone.

Learn from every completed homework. What did you get wrong and why? Do you fully understand why you went wrong? Do those questions again and seek out some similar questions until you are confident.

At the end of every topic, compile a revision summary; practise some ‘skills’ questions from the textbook; do the MEI chapter assessment and/or some past paper questions on that topic.

Seek out some harder questions on every topic, questions at the end of the exercises or past paper questions that you don’t like the look of.

Get a little study group together, and explain things to each other. Having to explain something forces you to understand it better.

Spend most time on the topics/questions you don’t like or find hard.

Never give up on a question. If you can’t do it at first, try:

  • Look for similar examples in your notes or the textbooks;
  • Check and double-check your working for errors;
  • Try a different method;
  • Sleep on it and try it the next day;
  • Ask a friend or your teacher or go to maths tutorial – but don’t ask until you have spent lots of time on your own struggling with the question. You won’t improve your ability to do harder problems if you ask for help too soon.

Much of this advice goes for other subjects too, especially science and related subjects.

Open Day Speech

Students these days have many choices for sixth form. You can stay at school (if your school has a sixth form); go to another school sixth form, which many do in London; go to an FE College, like Barnet or City & Islington; or go to a sixth form college,  of which there are only a few dotted around. All of you are different, and what is right for one person isn’t necessarily right for another, so you need to think carefully before making your decision. I think Woodhouse is a special place, but it won’t be right for everyone.

I would like to tell you a little about the College, and what makes it special, but I am going to start by introducing myself properly.

I have been Principal only since January, Vice Principal here for 4 years before that. I have been a maths teacher for nearly 25 years, and I still teach. I teach because … because I think it is important for a head to retain some classroom contact, but mainly because I love it and would never want to give it up!

I am also a part-time Ofsted inspector – I have been inspecting sixth-forms for 12 or 13 years now, 1 or 2 a year. Perhaps because of my Ofsted experience, I take a very self critical approach to school leadership, never complacent, always looking for ways to improve. As part of that, we listen very carefully to views of students and parents – we especially welcome complaints as it gives us an opportunity to engage with parents and improve what we do.

And I am a woodhouse parent. Both my daughters went to local schools and then came here for sixth form, and my son, currently in Year 11 in a school in Crouch End, is looking round today. As a result, I understand the experience from the point of view of parents and new students; the worries of students, for example, about making new friends and of parents that they might be making too many friends! Both my daughters are now at university, incidentally – since you ask – one doing maths and the other music.

People sometimes ask what is Woodhouse’s specialism. Our specialism is … A-levels. That’s all we do. The fact that we specialise in A-levels means that we have a big range of over 35 subjects – and perhaps the key thing is that they can be studied in almost any combination. When I was at school I was desperate to take maths and History at A-level, my two favourite subjects. And I couldn’t. Because they were in the same block. Last year, with around 550 new AS students, not one student had a clash, not one couldn’t do the combination they wanted.

And the fact that we specialise in A-levels means we have excellent study facilities – take a look today at our fantastic library and two learning zones, and at our labs and other specialist accommodation. But it also means that our staff are specialists too, experts in their subjects and in A-level pedagogy. They are not rushing from a challenging year 9 class to take a breather with their Year 13s.

And it means that we specialise in advice and guidance in the university application process, that all our staff are involved, and that there is plenty of support and expertise – because 95% of our students go on to university, so we see it as part of the core of who we are.

I would like to tell you a little about the College community, what it’s like here. Our students come from across north London, from over 150 different schools, one from this school, a couple from here, half a dozen from there. They are diverse in all ways …, but they are all ambitious and they are high achievers. They are here because they want to be here, because they want and expect to do well. They mix well, and form a supportive, friendly community in which all have a place.  My daughters were worried that they might not fit in here, that the College might somehow be too different for them.  But in fact they have loved it, and they have found very many students here from similar schools and backgrounds to themselves. When you join the Woodhouse community, it is not like joining another school’s sixth form where you are the outsider – here, everyone is new together, and we are very proud that Woodhouse students make friends for life.

The feel is quite schooly in some ways – we have the same strong pastoral framework as a school, with registrations, notes from parents if ill, form groups, tutors monitoring progress, reports and parents evenings, just like a school. We believe in a strong relationship with parents, and get in touch where there are concerns. Our retention is very high – we don’t lose students – which says something about the support we give them, but also about the nature of our students, who are lively, ambitious and committed to success.

But we are not an exams factory and our ethos is to provide a bridge to university. We provide a huge number of opportunities for students to get involved in activities outside the classroom. Enrichment, volunteering, Duke of Edinburgh, charity fundraising, College council & TG reps, Woodhouse challenge and speakers corner events, a lot of student organised groups such as the feminist society, the LGBT group, an amnesty group. There are many additional courses too, like the extended project which is worth half an A-level and has allowed many of our students to impress universities with extended dissertations or other types of project. Our students are always quick to come forward with new ideas and to volunteer for activities and events. As a result, there is always something going on, always a cake sale in the social area, notices of events in our student bulletin.

I say we are not an exam factory, but of course the measure of a school is in their results.  Our A Level results regularly place us in the top 5 sixth form colleges in the country when measured by the A*-B pass rate, which is the most representative and fairest measure. Last year was a reasonably good year, and we had:

  • 99% pass rate
  • Two thirds grades were the high A*-B grades
  • 20 students to Oxford/Cambridge/medical school
  • 22 subjects had a 100% pass
  • 45% to Russell Group universities
  • And significantly positive value added according to official government measures. In other words, at both AS and AL, our students do better here than their prior qualifications would suggest, they do better here than they would elsewhere on average, better than they did at GCSE.

Finally, please get as much as you can out of today.

Prospectuses are available in the social area

Staff and students are in departments, ready to talk and answer questions.

Your choice of sixth form is a big step, but so is your choice of subject, so think about what you are interested in, what you are good at, what will help you with particular career options, and go and talk to the right people whilst you are here.

Our application system is online, described in our prospectus, and it opens tonight at midnight. There is an admissions desk outside if you have any more detailed queries.

Thank you for coming. Enjoy the day and the rest of your weekend.

How to choose your A level subjects You will find that everyone is very free with their advice; there will be no shortage of people telling you to take this or that subject, often contradicting each other and themselves, leaving you more confused and conflicted. There are all sorts of reasons to take particular subjects, but they need to be YOUR reasons and not somebody else’s.

First of all, you need to take subjects that you enjoy and are good at. You will be studying them intensely for two years, and you will not do well unless you enjoy the subject and feel confident with it. At A Level, all subjects require extra reading, additional work outside the classroom, and you are much more likely to do this and do it well if you have a natural enthusiasm and interest in the subject. For example, if you are thinking about English Literature, do you actually like reading? Do you read a lot in your spare time? Do you enjoy a range of texts and not just books written for a modern day teenage audience? For another example, in maths, do you relish the challenge of a harder question? Do you hate to be told the answer before you have tried a problem every which way? Do you feel confident and in control?

Nationally, results vary hugely at A Level. For example, the pass rate amongst all schools and colleges in the UK for English Literature  and History  are far higher than for Maths  and Chemistry. Is this because maths and the sciences are harder? No, it’s because some students choose maths or a science when they are not really suited to them; they lack enthusiasm and confidence, don’t do enough work and slip into underachievement or failure.

The Russell Group has published a guide to A Level choices, which has been widely misunderstood and misquoted. The guide ( describes some A Level subjects as facilitating subjects. Facilitating subjects are carefully defined as those which provide good progression opportunities to a range of degree subjects. They make the point that Economics, for example, is a good and well regarded subject but is not a so-called  facilitating subject because it is not actually a required subject for many degree courses. The Russell Group suggest that students take two facilitating subjects. This is good general advice for those who want to keep their options open, but remember that it will not apply in all individual circumstances. The most important factor will be the grades that you get rather than the subjects you study.

If you are clear on your future career and on the degree you want to take, then congratulations. It is much easier to pursue a goal when you know what the goal is! If you are in this situation, then you are better placed to get good advice. Check out some university websites (make sure you check a few and not just one or two) but do take care to avoid the ‘received wisdom’ and rumours that you may  have heard from friends or which were true in your parents day but not anymore. A useful website is this one: and another good place to start researching university entrance requirements is

If you don’t know what you want to take at university, never mind what career, don’t panic, you are in the majority. But do try to get down to some serious thinking. The choices you make now will determine what choices are open to you further down the road. Have a careers interview if your school has that facility. Do some research. Think carefully about subjects that you do currently do and find out about A Level subjects that aren’t available at GCSE and whether they might suit you. Take advantage of open days at sixth forms to find out more about subjects, and ask sixth form students for their feedback.

Think also about the way your A levels complement and support each other. And don’t opt to do four A levels unless you are very strong academically (averaging better than A grade over all your subjects) and unless you have a good reason. Universities want three good grades; if you get four slightly less good grades, you will be disadvantaged.

Many degree courses will stipulate the obvious A levels. For example, to do a History degree, you need History A level; to do a Geography degree you need Geography A level.

Here are some of the less obvious ones:

University A Level
Architecture Many require A level Art; some require some sciences or maths. There are different types of course – do some research!
Computing Maths. Further Maths useful for Cambridge.
Economics Maths. Further Maths advised for Cambridge/LSE
Engineering Maths and Physics usually required. Chemistry essential for Chemical Engineering. Further Maths advised for some top universities.
English Literature English Lit needed. There are increasing varieties of English courses, not just Eng Lit, many of which accept English Language.
Law Advised to do at least one essay based subject. At least two ‘traditional’ subjects are recommended.
Maths Further Maths advised (essential for the very top universities)
Medicine/Dentistry/ Veterinary Biology and Chemistry. Don’t require Maths or Physics. Some medical schools like at least one non-science/maths subject. Mainly A/A* grades required at GCSE.
Natural Science Should do Maths, Chemistry and either Biology or Physics. Further Maths useful for Cambridge.
Pharmacy Chemistry, plus at least one from Biology, Maths and Physics
Physics Further Maths advised (essential for the very top universities)
Physiotherapy Most universities want Biology or PE. Some specify Biology. Some want two sciences (counting PE as a science).
Psychology At least one science/maths course advised. There are a few BA Psychology degrees which don’t require a science.

What I Told Your Parents

I hope your sons/daughter are settling in well. Woodhouse students tend to carry on making friends throughout their time here and we are proud that they make friends for life. Before long they will be signing each other’s yearbook, going to the prom, hugging each other at results day, going off to uni and swearing to stay in touch. But at the moment it is still early days ….

I remember when my daughter started AS a couple of years ago. For her, as a typical 16 year old, her main concerns were social – making friends, staying in touch with her old friends who stayed at school, meeting new people, having people to talk to at break and lunchtime, establishing a new friendship group. She also had to get used to new travel arrangements, a longer journey, different buses. All that was quite stressful, and she was very tired for the first couple of months. If that rings true with you too, then the best thing you can do is be supportive, and try and make sure your daughter or son gets enough sleep, and eats properly (a hard ask for a parent, I know).

As a teacher, my main concern is to make sure that our new students establish good working patterns. In particular, that attendance is high I know that if a student misses even a single lesson that can throw them off kilter for a week or more – so we will ring you and write to you and text you if we are concerned about attendance.  And we are also very tough on poor punctuality and we would like your support in this. I know the late rule is hard – I don’t actually like it myself – but so far it’s the best way we have found to ensure good punctuality and stop ragged lesson starts disrupted by latecomers.

I am a practising Ofsted inspector – have been for over 12 years now. As a matter of fact, I am off on an inspection next week. at least partly as a result, I am very self critical and always seeking ways we can improve what we do, so I would like to make this plea for feedback. Tell us what we do well, but also tell us where we fall short. Complain. We will not be defensive, but rather use the opportunity to engage with you and students to improve what we do and how we do it.

We are ambitious for all our students. We have high expectations. Firstly in terms of their personal development and growth. This is an important couple of years for young people: 16-18 is when they grow and become the adults that they are going to be. We take great pleasure in seeing that process in front of our eyes. Students often change direction in lots of ways, inspired by others and by the vibrant Woodhouse community. We try to provide the space and opportunity for students to be themselves, and we urge them to take advantage of their opportunities, to keep an eye on what’s going on and take part. In the last couple of weeks, new AS students have come forward and made suggestions for a range of events (MacMillan coffee morning, feminist society, events to raise money for Amnesty), and that’s great, the more the better.

We have high expectations  for students’ academic progress – our ambition is that all our students aim high and get brilliant grades at AS and A-level. Every single one of our students is capable of getting straight A at the end of this year. But it doesn’t come automatically – just because they got good grades at GCSE, just because they are at Woodhouse. The secret of success at A-level is not brains, it’s attitude – hard work and commitment.

There is a jump from GCSE to A-level, and students need to do more than the minimum. The formal homework that they hand in, get marked, that’s the minimum. But there is always reading around the subject, doing extra questions, extension work, review and consolidation. They have always work to do in every subject – always. We will report to you every half term on their progress – we will set a minimum grade based on GCSE performance, a challenging target grade, and a working at grade.

16 year olds today are lucky. Lucky because they have so many opportunities, they live in a small world, with hard work they can realise almost any ambition.

But they are also unlucky, unlucky because they are the most over-examined generation ever, there is huge stress on today’s teenagers, everything matters, year 12 is a really important year which in some cases will determine their future choices of university and career.

We will do everything we can to help and support them, to challenge and extend them. I hope your sons/daughters are very happy here and that they thrive socially and academically. If you have any concerns about anything at any time, please let us know. Contact your tutor or me.

personal statements-ville

I have been deluged with draft personal statements over the last couple of weeks. If I am honest, most of them are bad. Very bad.

The first paragraph is usually the low point. Students write beautiful, flowing prose, full of big, impressive words (some of which even mean what the students think they mean) but these are empty sentences, with no point other than a rhetorical flourish. In particular, they lack honesty. Tell me: why do you really want to study economics or medicine or law? Don’t tell me you want to save the world or make a mark on humanity, I don’t believe you. You can tell when a personal statement is honest, because it is specific and has depth and tells us something real and genuine about the student.

And don’t devote a paragraph to how important economics/law/medicine/maths is to the world. The university admissions tutor already knows that. Tell us something about you, about why you want to do the subject, about why you might be good at it at university, about why they should offer you a place.

If you have done work experience, that’s great. We want to know what you learned, what insights you gained. But not some pat routine comment about teamwork and communication being important. TBH, you could have written that before going on work experience. If you really saw something that gave you an insight into teamwork, then let’s have the details, make it real. Maybe there is something counter-intuitive that you might talk about: for example, everyone says doctors have to have empathy, but maybe you witnessed how doctors sometimes need to withhold empathy in order to be professionally effective.

Remember you are applying not for a job but to be a student. so tell them what kind of student you are. For example, do you work hard outside class to consolidate learning and read around the subject; what do you do when you get stuck?

If you did a relevant EPQ, don’t just bang on about the skills you have developed. tell us something about the content of it. What did you find out? What were your conclusions?

Finally, short sentences please. Short sentences that say one thing and say it clearly. Paragraphs that are on one theme only. Avoid long words that you barely know what they mean. And double check spelling, grammar and punctuation. If you can’t get the apostrophes in the right place, many universities will reject you out of hand.

Here’s some good advice: