North Bristol Post 16 Centre

North Bristol Post 16 Centre

North Bristol Post 16 Centre

Cotham and Redland Green Learning Communities

Director's Blog

January 2017

As we approach the end of the first month in this ‘Spring' Term, it already feels as if the Christmas/New Year celebrations are a distant past.

The Year 13 mocks have been marked, reports written and all of us are concentrating our energies on the areas that need our attention in order to improve.   I have had a number of conversations about the mistakes and silly errors that were made in the mocks.  I have been pleased to hear about the lessons learned and how these will not be repeated.  I am glad this happens during the mocks rather than the actual examinations.  We all make mistakes but only some of us learn from our mistakes.  Einstein said, "The person who never made a mistake never tried anything new."

Mistakes can be made when you take risks, try something new and push yourself out of your comfort zone.  Too many people just "play safe" and as a consequence, never "move on".  I believe that it was Einstein who also said, "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results".

During January, many of you have begun to receive offers from universities and employers.  It is really pleasing that so many of you are being successful.  Invariably, some of you may be a little disappointed, but remember, that for many of the most prestigious universities and courses it is a bit of a lottery.  I believe that sometimes it is their loss.  They are the ones who will be losing such outstanding students.

During this month, I have had the privilege of speaking to all of you about the next stage in your career and what you need to do to be successful.  Clearly, hard work, commitment, the drive to understand and practice under examination conditions is essential. Successful people in all walks of life always work extremely hard and are aware of what needs to be done.  I hope that by now all of you have had one-to-ones with your subject staff and your tutors.  I do hope that you are inspired by many of your subjects and that you are accessing all the support that is available. Crucially, you should never give up: if you are stuck you need to spend time thinking about it, trying one thing and another, checking for errors, doing it again, reading the text book and notes, looking for similar questions, over and over until you gets it right. That is the only route to success.

Challenge yourself with past paper questions. Never give up. If it takes three hours to get a question fully right, that is three hours well spent. Once you conquer a question, find a similar one to test yourself one. There is no short cut to success. 



Welcome to all our New students and parents

Welcome to the North Bristol Post 16 Centre and congratulations on completing your first month of Year 12 and/or Year 13.

This is a Centre  of extraordinary people who do extraordinary things. Students who come from all over Bristol and from over 60 schools to  form a vibrant community. Every year we have students who go on to medical school, to top universities like Oxford and Cambridge, students who purse Art based pathways as well as high level apprenticeships.  We hope that you will be very happy here and that you will pursue your ambitions with confidence and success.

Firstly, many congratulations on your GCSE and AS results.  You had a job to do in passing those exams, in managing that revision and that workload, and you did it. So well done.

There is good news and bad news about GCSEs. First the good news. GCSEs are important, and your results will still matter and count in the future. They will be the first thing that universities look at when you apply there, and future employers will look at them too. They matter here too: we use them (as do many schools and colleges) as a baseline for your A level progress. Your GCSE results are used to calculate Minimum Achievement grades (MAGs) for each subject. Yours might be, say, a B in a particular subject. This means that you should be aiming at least for a B in every homework, in every test, in every assessment..

The secret of success at A level or BTEC is not about intelligence it’s about hard work and attitude. Every single student at the Centre  has the capacity to get straight A grades. It doesn’t matter if your friend or the person next to you picks up things quicker or can explain things more clearly or gets better marks; you can get an A grade in every subject. But it will take real hard work and commitment. Not good revision at the end, not brains and ability: hard work and commitment all the way through, and right from the start.

Never give up. Don’t understand something? Then spend time puzzling it out, read about it, ask someone, try it again the same way or a different way, sleep on it, keep at it. Never give up.

If you’re not thinking hard, then you’re not learning. Real learning is when you’re having to think hard. So writing out notes, highlighting or underling, these do not count as worthwhile learning activities and mostly are a waste of your time, unless they are simply a preparation for something else. Again – there will be some who don’t believe that: your success at GCSE was built on the ability to highlight things beautifully in an array of different colours. But at A level, that’s not enough, and it won’t get you to the high grades. You have to get out of your comfort zone and into your challenge zone, concentrating on what you find hard and difficult

So make sure every homework is as good as it can be – if it takes hours and hours and hours, then that’s what it takes, and that’s what it needs. Make sure you use your time out of class well, your study periods; get to know the library; use UpGrade.

 Most subjects now are linear and on new syllabuses. That means that your A level grade after two years comes only from the exams at the end of year 13..However, there are a few subjects (maths, politics,..) which are still modular, and the AS grades in those subjects count as 50% of the final A level grade. This is a bit complicated but we will return to it in the future. Most of you are doing four subjects and almost all will drop to three next year. Some will decide to drop to three during the course of this year, and that’s okay – in many schools, students are only studying three subjects now and there’s no disadvantage.

 Students here achieve their ambitions and dreams, and they do that through hard work and commitment. Everyone here works hard and no one has to cover it up or pretend about it. But this is also a social place, a place of opportunities – many of our students do sport, they volunteer, they take part. There are a huge number of trips and clubs and activities. Through engaging with all this, students are able to grow and develop new skills and to become more confident in who they are and who they want to be. Our aim is that these should be the best, the most fulfilling two years of your lives. 


Spring 2016 Blog: Revision

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? 

Students should now be stopping other things; giving up part-time work, suspending their social life, prioritising their academic work. And now is also the time to start looking after yourself too. Stop the late nights, make sure you go to bed at a reasonable time and get enough sleep. Make sure you eat properly and get enough to drink. Wean yourself off your virtual lifestyle and the excesses of social media.

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. Use the personalised subject checklists to inform your revision. Make sure you give a rational allocation of time to each subject/topic area. Educational researchers have shown that 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.

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.


November 2015: What subjects should I choose?

It was great to see so many new students at the North Bristol Post 16 Open Evening on the 15th of October. Don't forget that we have an Information Evening on the 5th of November. This will give you the opportunity to visit Cotham learning community.

You will find that everyone is very free with their advice about the subjects you should study at A level, Pre U or BTEC level. 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 at least a year, probably two, and you will not do well unless you enjoy the subject and feel confident with it.  At A Level, Pre U and BTEC level  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? 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?

The Russell Group has published a guide to A Level choices, which has been widely misunderstood and misquoted. The guide describes which A level subjects are facilitating subjects.  Facilitating subjects are carefully defined as those that 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.

If you don’t know what you want to take at university, never mind what career path you want to follow, 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.  Do some research. Think carefully about the subjects that you 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.

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:


A Level


Many require A level art (or AS level may suffice); some require some sciences or maths.


Maths. Further maths useful for Cambridge.


Maths. Further maths advised for Cambridge/LSE.


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 numbers of English courses, not just Eng lit, many of which accept English language.


Advised to do at least one essay based subject. At least two ‘traditional’ subjects are recommended.


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.


Chemistry, plus at least one from biology, maths and physics.


Further maths advised (essential for the very top universities).


Most universities want biology or PE. Some specify biology. Some want two sciences (counting PE as a science).


At least one science/maths course advised. There are a few BA psychology degrees which don’t require a science.

We look forward to receiving your applications. Don't forget the closing date is the 4th of December.

Ms Curran