For Callum Watson, coming to East Durham College's Sixth Form, ED6, was an absolute no-brainer.
"After visiting a range of top sixth forms in the local area, ED6 has something that none of the others had: a sense of community that I felt on each and every taster or visit." said Callum. "I felt welcomed by the staff, student ambassadors and fellow students. All my questions were answered and I could engage in the sessions fully throughout.
"Amongst those key things, there were lots of additional bonuses that attracted me to the sixth form. The free buses so I would not need to pay to commute, the free gym membership to improve both mental and physical health and wellbeing and the amazing library, careers advice and student union services available."
Callum has been an exemplary student while at ED6. He studied four A Levels - Computer Science, Chemistry, Mathematics and Further Mathematics - and when it came to results day this year, he couldn't believe it when he opened his envelope to find he'd achieved an A* in every subject he studied.
He will now be moving on to study computer science at York University.
Although yet to start university, Callum is looking forward to the future and was full of praise for the support he received at East Durham College to help him achieve his next step.
"At the time of writing this, I have yet to go to University." he said. "However, through the sixth form and the careers advice team have helped me get onto lots of programmes to best prepare me for University, such as: Social Mobility Foundation (SMF), York Experience Summer School (YESS), and the YourJourney program. Since I have came from an area of low University Progression and was targeted for exceptionally high grades ED6 helped me get onto these programs which have given me: Mentoring advice, University visits (pre-COVID) and taster sessions, talking to employers, talking to student ambassadors, learning about academic and uni life, contextual offer (lower grades required to get a university offer), practice university assignment and I even managed to win a laptop that I desperately needed to run all of the resource intensive programming IDEs that I will need to use for my Computer Science course.
"I now feel really prepared and excited for University and could not have done it without these support networks."
In the future, Callum hopes to achieve his computer science degree and find out what he truly loves about computer science through university. He also applied to do a year of industry while at university, giving him valuable work experience before graduating.
Callum also thoroughly enjoyed his A Level programme at East Durham Sixth Form, thanks to the support of his lecturers, and the support to set up extra-curricular activities too.
"One of the main positives that I felt throughout all 4 of my A-Levels was the collaboration and engagement I experienced through the whole lesson." said Callum. "Due to the smaller class sizes, I felt like I knew everyone very well in all of my classes which made it much easier to ask for help, discuss ideas and answers and collaborate on problems. Furthermore, this made the time spent out of lessons much more enjoyable as I then had students in my position to talk to, collaborate on homework or engage in social activities.
"My lecturers for my subjects were Dr Wanda Scott, Julie King and Jamie March. They were the most wonderful and supportive lecturers I have ever had. Seeing them 4-10 hours a week meant that lessons needed to be interesting and they never disappointed me with that. Each lesson was well structured and planned so that it was not them just talking to us; I was making notes, collaborating on questions, testing myself, asking questions or making revision resources. Even the homework was interesting as it used this flipped learning structure, having us look at the content before the lesson so it is not as difficult and then reflecting upon it afterwards. Then on occasions, there were more competitive opportunities such as quizzes. Finally, despite the lockdown, managed to teach us a few things outside the syllabus and participate in events with other sixth forms such as the Senior Team Maths Challenge and the UK Bebras Challenge (a Computer Science event).
"I even managed to win a Raspberry Pi 4 desktop Computer through a website that Julie showed me which allowed me to do my programming project through lockdown. Another interesting part of the sixth form routine that I grew to enjoy was that the lessons were quite often 2 or 3 hours long, with a break in between of course. This felt much better than the typical full day of 1 hour lessons that I would experience in secondary school. It not only made me feel like more of an adult but helped focus as I would not be constantly moving lessons and allowed for longer lesson activities.
"One final point about this is that it would typically mean I either had a full day of lessons, half a day or an independent day, which allowed me to have self-directed study time or group study with classmates in the extensive library and computer facilities. It allowed me to get the majority of homework done at college where I focussed the best, complete practice test questions and make revision resources at points where I was weak.
"Then there were ways in which staff supported me outside of lessons. One of my dreams was to make my very own Dungeons and Dragons club here at the sixth form. Through the amazing support of my lecturers and other staff from ED6 such as Charley Armstrong and Adam Sawyers, I managed to secure a room, create posters, advertise it on the college virtual learning environment and this has been the home of around 20 students over the years. Both experienced and new players from all around the college, including other EDC campuses have taken the opportunity to participate in this enrichment activity. Thanks to some funding from the Student Union, last year we even managed to set up a very popular dice shop and our own Instagram page.
"Throughout my time at ED6 I have experienced 2 COVID Lockdowns, which led to remote learning. ED6 students and staff showed amazing resilience, adapting to this change at a fast rate. It helped me boost my confidence and encouraged me to get up and engage fully in these sessions. Now, the staff are prepared and have their own online teaching environment if it is ever needed. This change has taught students and staff lots of new skills and we have all come out better from it. Finally, one of my favourite parts of ED6 is the Student Ambassador opportunities. Over my time at the sixth form I have been able to assist at open nights, set up my own club and help in Y11 taster weeks. With most of these I have gained valuable experience which I added to my personal statement along with at least £10 for my time. It allowed me to leave the sixth form a better place than I had found it and truly made my experience more enriching."
Finally, Callum has some advice for any young student considering ED6 as their sixth form of choice:
"There are so many exciting opportunities for you to have in ED6: my advice would be...take them! It could be putting yourself in for the college’s student president, becoming a student rep, becoming a student ambassador, taking on a social action project with some friends, taking on some work experience, creating your own society, joining / becoming a leader in a society, making lots of friends, making use of all of the EDC facilities and of course, getting the grades and qualifications you need to get into your dream University.
"Prepare yourself for an amazing unique experience at ED6 where you will become the best version of yourself, ready to enter society or university as a resilient, responsible, resourceful, reasoned and reflective adult ready to take on the world with your amazing achievements and valuable experiences."