In the education systems of England, Northern Ireland, Wales and some
other Commonwealth countries, sixth form (sometimes referred to as Key
Stage 5) represents the final 1-3 years of secondary education (high
school), where students (typically between 16 and 18 years of age)
prepare for their A-level (or equivalent) examinations.
1 England and Wales
2 Northern Ireland
4 Other countries
5 See also
England and Wales
The term sixth form describes the school years numbered 12 and 13,
which are called the Lower Sixth (L6) and Upper Sixth (U6) by many
The term survives from an earlier system when the first five years of
English secondary schooling were known as forms (which would
originally have been long backless benches on which rows of pupils sat
in the classroom). Pupils started their first year of secondary school
in the first form or first year, and this was the academic year in
which pupils would normally become 12 years of age. Pupils would move
up a form each year before entering the fifth form in the academic
year in which they would have their sixteenth birthday. Those who
stayed on at school to study for
A-levels moved up into the sixth
form, which was divided into the Lower Sixth and the Upper Sixth. In
some private schools, the term Middle Sixth was used in place of Upper
Sixth, with the latter being used for those who stayed on for an extra
term to take the entrance examinations that were previously set for
candidates to Oxford or Cambridge universities. Other schools
Oxbridge examination students as being in the Seventh
Form or Third Year Sixth.
The system was changed for the 1990–1991 academic year and school
years are now numbered consecutively from primary school onwards. Year
1 is the first year of primary school after Reception. The first year
of secondary school (the old first form) is now known as Year 7. The
Lower Sixth is now Year 12 and the Upper Sixth is Year 13. However,
the term "Sixth Form" has still been retained as a vestige of the old
system and is used as a collective term for Years 12 and 13. Public
(fee-charging) schools, along with some state schools, tend to use the
old system of numbering.
In some parts of the country, special sixth form colleges were
introduced beginning in a particularly important phase of student
life. A large proportion of English secondary schools no longer have
an integral sixth form. This is mainly related to reforms in the later
20th century, where different political areas became a factor in the
introduction of colleges instead of the original sixth forms. There
are now numerous sixth form colleges throughout England and Wales, and
in areas without these, sixth form schools and specialist further
education (FE) colleges called tertiary colleges may fill the same
Sixth form is not compulsory in England and Wales (although from 2013
onwards, people of sixth form age must remain in some form of
education or training in England only, the school leaving age remains
16 in Wales); however, university entrance normally requires at least
three A2-level qualifications and perhaps one AS-level. Students
usually select three or four subjects from the GCSEs they have just
taken, for one "AS" year, the AS exams being taken at the end of Lower
Sixth. Three subjects are then carried into the A2 year (the dropped
AS being "cashed in" as a qualification) and further exams are taken
at the end of that year. The marks attained in both sets of exams are
UCAS points, which must meet the offer made by the
student's chosen university.
In Northern Ireland, the equivalent of Reception is "P1", and the
equivalent of the English Year 1 "P2", while the first year of
secondary school is known as Year 8 or first year (rather than Year 7
as in England), and following that Lower and Upper Sixth are Year 13
and Year 14 respectively.
In the Scottish education system, the final year of school is known as
Sixth Year or S6. During this year, students typically study Advanced
Higher and/or Higher courses in a wide range of subjects, taking SQA
exams at the end of both S5 and S6. Pupils in
Scotland may leave once
they have reached the age of 16; those who reach 16 before
30 September may leave after national examinations in May, whilst
those who are 16 by the end of February may leave the previous
It is not essential for candidates to do a sixth year if they wish to
attend a Scottish university, as they have obtained adequate Higher
grades in S5 they may apply and receive acceptance, but this is
conditional on being successful in the examinations. However, the vast
majority of Scottish students return for S6 if they plan to attend
university. Some English universities will also accept Scottish
students who have obtained adequate Higher grades in S5. It was
announced in December 2008 that, as from 2010,
UCAS will increase the
number of points awarded to those who achieve Highers and Advanced
In some cases, particularly in independent schools, the term sixth
form is also used for the last two years of secondary education. An
increasing number of independent schools are offering their students
the International Baccalaureate Programme.
In some secondary schools in Hong Kong, Jamaica, Barbados, Sierra
Leone and Trinidad and Tobago, the sixth and seventh years are called
Lower and Upper Sixth respectively. In
India and Nepal, it is the "+2"
part of the "10+2" educational system.
In 2009, Malaysia, which previously used Tingkatan Enam Bawah dan Atas
(Lower and Upper Sixth), switched to Pra-Universiti 1 (Pre-University
1, replacing Lower Sixth) and Pra-Universiti 2 (Pre-University 2,
replacing Upper Sixth) to reflect that the sixth and seventh years
prepare students for university.
Similarly, the term sixth form is also used to define the final two
years of education before entering university in Malta.
In Singapore, however, the equivalent of a sixth form college would be
called a junior college, where pupils take their Cambridge GCE
A-levels after two years. Prior to the 1990s, these two years were
known as "Pre-University" (Pre-U) 1 and 2.
In some college preparatory schools in the United States, such as The
Hill School, Woodberry Forest School, Ethical Culture Fieldston
School, Kent School, Pomfret School, The Church Farm School, The
Portsmouth Abbey School
Portsmouth Abbey School and more, sixth form refers
to the final year of education prior to college. It is the equivalent
of twelfth grade in the US education system.
In New Zealand, under the old system of Forms, Standards and Juniors,
Sixth Form was the equivalent of Year 12 in today's system. Year 13
was known as Seventh Form.
Australia also sometimes uses the term for
Year 12, though the Australian Year 12 is equivalent to the NZ Year
13 / Seventh Form and the UK's Upper Sixth / Year 13.
In Brunei, sixth form comprises Year 12 and 13, which may also be
referred to as Lower and Upper Six. At the end of the schooling,
students sit for Brunei-Cambridge GCE A Level. Students may also
opt to take
Advanced Subsidiary Level
Advanced Subsidiary Level or AS Level halfway at the end
of Lower Six or halfway through Upper Six.
Sixth form is not
compulsory, but a preferable choice for students wishing to continue
in academic studies leading to university level.
Sixth form college
Education in the United Kingdom
Eleventh grade and Twelfth grade—Equivalent American grades for this
Ontario Academic Credit
^ BBC News Website
^ "Ministry of Education,
Brunei Darussalam - Post Secondary
Education". www.moe.gov.bn. Retrieved 2016-11-15.
Education in the United Kingdom
English medium education
Free school (England)
Gaelic medium education in Scotland
Irish medium education in Northern Ireland