Schools told not bar

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R.C. sends another example of odd headline-ese: "Schools told not bar naughty sixth formers", BBC News 10/23/2012:

Schools in England have been told they must not bar badly behaved youngsters from sixth forms.

For American readers not raised on Tom Brown's School Days or familiar with the few U.S. schools organized along similar lines, "first form" to "sixth form" is the British equivalent of 7th to 12th grade.



  1. Ben said,

    October 23, 2012 @ 10:29 am

    I think this is just a typo, omitting the word 'to' after 'not'. It's not your usual British headline word dump; however clumsy they can be they usually parse through some contrived rule, while this seems not to (to me)

  2. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    October 23, 2012 @ 10:44 am

    "first form" to "sixth form" is the British equivalent of 7th to 12th grade.

    I don't think that can be quite right, since sixth form lasts two years. So it would be in itself, I think, the equivalent of eleventh and twelfth grades. That would seem to make first form equal to sixth grade. In any case, sixth form typically starts at sixteen.

    In fact the language of 'forms' has largely dropped out of use except for 'sixth form'; this remains in use because entry to sixth form marks a major transition – the first major set of exams, GCSE's, takes place before it, and in some cases entry to sixth form also involves moving to a new institution, a sixth form college.

  3. Nicholas Waller said,

    October 23, 2012 @ 11:12 am

    I am guessing that the headline writer ideally (and simply) wanted "Schools told not to bar naughty sixth formers", but there's not enough room on one neat line.

    The link headline on the BBC Education & Family top page reads "Behaviour 'no bar to sixth form'", which is shorter but sounds like a dispassionate finding of facts, not an instruction to schools. "Schools: 'don't bar naughty sixth formers'" sounds as though it is the schools telling someone else, such as the local authority, not to bar students.

    "Naughty" is an odd word in this context, as it's usually applied to pre-school and primary children, not 17- and 18-year-olds. A convenient shorter word such as "bad" might imply a poor, ie incompetent, student, or worse: naughty is a behaviour, like badly behaved, and "bad" would sound as though the whole person is being written off as a wrong'un and ne'er-do-well.

  4. Nathan said,

    October 23, 2012 @ 12:35 pm

    Maybe the original had "told to not bar" and got incorrected?

  5. Linda said,

    October 23, 2012 @ 12:47 pm

    Forms aren't that simple. When I started Secondary School at age 11 (in 1961) I went into the Third Form. This was followed by Lower and Upper Fourth, Lower and Upper Fifth, before going into the Sixth Form aged 17.

  6. JohnMM said,

    October 23, 2012 @ 1:48 pm

    Andrew and Linda, though the 'form' term seems to have been lost in Britain for the most part, it remains alive and well in the US, mostly among some IB programs, schools aimed at the families of British diplomats or temporarily resident corporate hacks, and schools attached to abbeys founded by refugees from the "last war" (which, unfortunately wasn't), (Why these monasteries exist, I don't know. I mean, I can understand why the priest would would want to leave during the forties, but I don't know where they came from after H8 and all that. It was explained to me once by Abbot Aidan, but in much too much detail for me to have retained it.)

    In the US, the schools wind up using it the way Mark describes, twelve to eighteen (or within months of eighteen) being forms 1 through 6.

    Just to touch on the point for a second: Wouldn't 'don't' have worked fine? Or ": don't" even? And not taken up much more room? How quick is the turn around for the people who write these things?

  7. Peter Taylor said,

    October 23, 2012 @ 3:01 pm

    In many British schools, the "Sixth Form" is now "Years 12 and 13".

    I'm slightly surprised by the use of "youngsters" in the sub-head. It jars somewhat with "sixth form". Am I just a couple of decades younger than the author?

  8. Steve said,

    October 23, 2012 @ 5:19 pm

    Also, it seems a bit odd to refer to the students as "naughty sixth-formers" when the issue is whether a school can bar them from becoming sixth-formers based on (past) naughtiness. If they aren't technically sixth-formers yet (even though the only remaining bar to becoming such has apparently been overcome) they can't be naughty sixth-formers. To use a US-based analogy, a student who finished the 9th grade and who is about to start the 10th grade, and who has a history of misconduct, is not a "naughty tenth grader", whatever else he or she might be.

    Finally, I have to note that I'm surprised that "row" didn't find its way into this headline. ("Naughty Sixth-Former Bar Reversal Row," perhaps?)

  9. GeorgeW said,

    October 23, 2012 @ 8:08 pm

    How about, 'Government bars baring naughty six formers?'

  10. Mr Punch said,

    October 23, 2012 @ 8:31 pm

    I attended an American boarding school, founded in the 1890s, Episcopalian connection, that had forms, initially 1-6, 1 and then 2 dropped. The US secondary system is more rigidly structured than most, almost always exactly four years, so the "sixth form" usage (where it exists) may actually hold up better here than in the UK.

  11. Mark Mandel said,

    October 23, 2012 @ 11:21 pm

    I attended an old prep school, K-12, in which grades 7-12 were formally [sic] called Forms 1-6.

  12. Mark Mandel said,

    October 23, 2012 @ 11:23 pm

    … NYC: Columbia Grammar School, which changed its name to Columbia Prep(aratory School) while I was there. Originally, but no longer, associated with Columbia University, but never with the Episcopal or any other church AFAIK.

  13. rwmg said,

    October 23, 2012 @ 11:55 pm

    Did you also notice the failed attempt to avoid the passive at the bottom of the screenshot: "The ombudsman has ordered Latymer School in Enfield was ordered to"?

  14. Mark Etherton said,

    October 24, 2012 @ 4:06 am

    @JohnMM et al

    I'm not sure I'd agree that 'form' has been lost in Britain; in the fee-paying sector at least it's common. Presumably that's why schools aimed at the families of British diplomats use the term in the US (I would have thought these would be primary schools in any case, since British diplomats get allowances to send children to boarding schools in the UK on continuity of education grounds, and although some parents jib at sending 8-year-olds away to school, by the time the children are 13 most of them board).

    To complicate things, in some schools there are also years called Shell and Remove. The OED definition of Shell is:

    The apsidal end of the school-room at Westminster School, so called from its conch-like shape. Hence, the name of the form (intermediate between the fifth and sixth) which originally tenanted the ‘shell’ at Westminster School, and transf. of forms (intermediate between forms designated by numbers) in other public schools)

    and of Remove

    a form between the Fourth and Fifth year, itself sometimes divided into the Lower and Upper Remove; (also) a class or division within another year (esp. the Fourth year); (in modern use also) spec. a class in which pupils spend an additional year preparing for examinations.

    Shell is still in use, for example, as the equivalent of Third Form in King's Canterbury, which claims to be the oldest school in the world, while the most famous Remove, as the OED notes, is in the fictional Greyfriars, where Billy Bunter is 'the fat owl of the Remove'.

  15. richard howland-bolton said,

    October 24, 2012 @ 5:49 am

    "naughty six formers" sounds like something from St Trinian's!

  16. Laura said,

    October 24, 2012 @ 7:06 am

    GeorgeW said "How about, 'Government bars baring naughty six formers?'"

    And so they should. Baring students would be a highly inappropriate punishment for their naughtiness, and any nudity is, I think, frowned upon in educational settings.

    (Apologies – but I genuinely LOLed at that.)

  17. GeorgeW said,

    October 24, 2012 @ 7:43 am

    @Laura: Oh my goodness, the misspelling certainly 'bares' correcting.

  18. Robert Coren said,

    October 24, 2012 @ 10:17 am

    @Mark: Likewise the Ethical Culture/Fieldston schools. And the term "Form" was used both formally and informally (i.e., nobody connected with the school ever said anything like "9th grade").

  19. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    October 24, 2012 @ 11:32 am

    Certainly some schools still use the word 'form'. But while 'sixth form' is a well-understood term, widely used and having cultural significance, the same isn't true of other forms – people wouldn't regularly refer to someone as 'a first-former' or whatever. I had supposed that at one time the various forms had a generally accepted meaning, and that this had faded away: but given what Linda says above, perhaps they never had.

  20. Chris said,

    October 26, 2012 @ 2:48 pm

    BBC headlines (shared among web and red button – ex-teletext – TV services) often have careless typos in them these days. And don't get me started on the "ticker" running along the bottom of the screen on the BBC TV news.
    They've also got a habit of putting a space after a hyphen, e.g.
    "sixth- form" in the red button news stories, which might be for some weird technical workaround reason, such as hyphens not breaking at line ends.

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