For most, being at sixth form or college is a two-year trip – a gap filler between being a secondary school and university, or work. When I was starting, I remember my two older brothers both agreeing with the same statement (a rare thing, it must be said): you’re either going to love your time at college or you’ll hate it. One loved it, the other did not; and I can see that in campus (or Teams) now – some of us are having a great time, others are not.
But what if you spend as long at college as you do at secondary school? I would like to introduce you to Randall – that is exactly what he has done, and he has loved it. He has just entered his fifth year after he started at college aged 16, like most of his peers. He started on a level 1 course, having left secondary school with two GCSEs.
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He is now finishing his level 3 extended diploma, and is looking forward to progressing on to university next year. His academic skills have come on leaps and bounds since he started, but Randall’s proudest achievement since starting at college has been the way he has developed as a person; something he says would not have been possible without the dedication and support of the teachers, tutors, and technicians he’s worked with throughout his time.
'College feels like a community'
Randall says that college feels like a community, and one he is proud to be an active member of; which is the total opposite to how he felt at the start of his time at college.
Randall describes secondary school as a traumatic experience: he used to bury himself in books and self-company, rather than working with or surrounding himself with his peers. This is a stark contrast to the Randall I am talking to today, who enjoys hanging out with friends and working behind a bar in a nightclub. He talks extensively of the opportunities that college has presented him with; not just learning new skills and industry knowledge but getting to know new people – and learning how people work.
On reflection, Randall explains that while secondary school did lots of good things for him, he was too “young, ignorant and stupid” to listen – and he says that as the student-teacher relationship at college is one where students and teachers are on a more equal footing compared with secondary school, it means that he respects his teachers and tutor more, encouraging him to have a more open dialogue about any struggles that he may be going through. When interviewing him, he could not express enough gratitude to his tutor, Josh, for everything that he had been helped with, and explained how he was proud to see the development of Josh, too – progressing from a technician, to a lecturer, to now being our course leader.
Thinking about the future, Randall explains how he is feeling both eagerness and dread about leaving college: “I’m excited to be moving on to a new chapter of my life, but feeling slightly overwhelmed, in the same way I did when I left secondary school; you get comfortable.” That is something I can relate to strongly – I felt very comfortable in Year 11, where I had a great "bubble", supporting me through everything; change can be really daunting.
His goal is to be more independent – to move out, to have a published book, and to be active in the media industries. These are things that all seem more achievable, thanks to further education.
And when reflecting, what is the message he would give his 16-year-old self? “Keep out of the wrong crowds, work hard, and embrace college – you’re going to love it.”
Hearing about Randall’s tale makes me feel very proud. I am very proud of college. I am proud to call him a friend. And I am proud of Randall. He has an air of wisdom about him which everyone loves to tap into – there is no situation he cannot help you solve. As we chop and change between remote and on-site learning, navigate Ucas, and try and be teenagers in the middle of a pandemic, he is a voice everyone could do with in their life.
Alfie Payne is a media student from Hampshire