The September 2015 launch of the Forest Diploma, the bespoke, in-house qualification we devised in collaboration with universities and employers, has allowed us to radically rethink our approach to Sixth Form education.

Times have changed; it is no longer sufficient to emerge from one’s school days with a clutch of sparkling, freshly-minted academic qualifications, ready to embark on the traditional ‘job for life’. Instead, universities and- especially- employers are increasingly looking beyond this rather limited measure of ability. Skills and competencies such as independence, communication, collaboration, resilience, confidence, emotional intelligence and ‘grit’ are more highly valued than ever, a situation that poses a stern question to schools tasked with preparing their students for life in a challenging world. It’s a mark of Forest’s distinctiveness and innovation, therefore, that it successfully established its own extended curriculum in the form of the Diploma, designed to offer a broad, holistic education to our Sixth Formers.

At the heart of the Diploma is a commitment to actively promoting and developing our pupils’ communication skills. In the week before Half Term this commitment was put into action when all Year 13s (some 132 of them!), took part in a Viva interview, which marked the culmination of around 18 months of work towards the Forest Diploma. During that time pupils have completed the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ), participated in a wide range of taught courses (including Adult Life Skills and Mindfulness) in addition to work experience and voluntary placements, attended fortnightly guest lectures, and worked actively to develop their communication and independent learning skills.

The Forest Diploma Viva is a one-to-one interview with a specially invited guest interviewer. The interviewers, several of whom are OFs, are highly successful professionals representing fields as diverse as business, industry, law, medicine, the arts and academia. The principal aim of the Viva is to offer students a priceless opportunity to reflect upon their progress, both academic and non-academic, throughout the Sixth Form. This process of reflection and self-evaluation is incredibly beneficial for our Sixth Formers as they anticipate the end of their time at Forest.

I am immensely grateful that our interviewers offered their hugely valuable time to visit us at Forest to assist with the Vivas. In turn, they reported back on what an enlightening and enjoyable experience it was meeting our Year 13 ‘Class of 2018’. A selection of the interviewers’ comments on our pupils can be seen below:

What the Interviewers Said

“I occasionally struggled to cover the main areas of discussion because the students responded so comprehensively to questions and engaged my interest to such an extent.”

“I was very impressed with the overall standard presented by those I interviewed. Even before making allowances for nerves and youth they were all articulate and intellectually sound. Some stood out, of course, but all gave a good account of themselves. I saw a number of rising stars in my section. The students were credit to the care and assiduity with which they are taught and nurtured at Forest. Very impressive!”

“They were charming and interesting young people and have clearly had an excellent experience in the Sixth Form. They have a really good attitude to working and learning and I would have been delighted to have any of them in my medical school.”

“I thought all the students were particularly impressive in their obvious maturity – not just intellectual and emotional intelligence – but strikingly in their unpretentious confidence. Each of them had appreciated the co-curricular elements of the programme as much as the academic and it was a significant feature of their outlook as a result that they were able to respond creatively and naturally to look at connections between subject disciplines. I thought this was a most distinctive attainment and which did grand service to all who have sustained them in their time at Forest.”

“As a school you should be congratulated on putting on an event which encourages the students to do some self-evaluation leading to a more focused future direction in their lives.”

“I enjoyed my time with these students to such a degree that I found the time limit somewhat meagre. In truth, I could easily have spent a full morning in the company of each candidate, all of whom were a privilege to meet.”

“All the candidates I met were articulate, thoughtful, creative and self-aware. They responded to questions with honesty and in discussion were confident and engaging.”

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