Preparing for University life; a student perspective

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The afternoon of the SWAT Conference began with a keynote speech from Alice and Sai, both students at the University of Exeter. Alice a third year International Relations student from Kings School Ottery St Mary and Sai a first year Medical Sciences student from Torquay Girls School.

They spoke with passion and enthusiasm, and gave a very insightful account of how they feel schools can effectively prepare their sixth form students for university life.


Ensure students learn how to use the Harvard referencing system during Sixth Form

Be familiar with and practice university style essays

Offer opportunities for independent learning, Alice suggested giving students a topic, they go away and research it and then pitch it to you.

Offer informed advice about choosing the right course and make sure students are aware that they can switch courses once at universities, if they feel that they have made the wrong choice. 

Emotional advice:

Drinking– both students felt pressured to drink to excess, particularly during Freshers Week and if their choice at University was to not drink at a social outing they felt they had received a negative response from others. Ensure you surround yourself with people that respect your choices and don’t feel pressured into binge drinking if it really isn’t for you.

Sexism and attitudes to women– encourage men to treat women as academic and social equals. Both girls had experienced sexism at Uni and feel that schools have a role to play in educating young people about this. Are boys surrounded by strong positive female role models at school? Do single sex schools provide opportunities for males and females to mix? Alice and Sai suggested mixed workshops and reinforcing attitudes against sexism from a young age.

Mental Health– Ensure students know that feelings of anxiety and stress are normal and that it is typical of students to feel that way when adapting to university life. This will help to ease the pressure and to know that they are not alone in feeling like that.

Reinforce integrity and values in your students as this will stand them in good stead at Uni. Sai in particular felt that her school had always developed her confidence and she was always told that she would do well and be successful. She really felt that by having positive values and attitudes reinforced throughout her school life, she had been able to transfer them to university life. Instill your students with confidence so that they believe in themselves and their ability.

Final comments:

Make sure students make informed choices.

Don’t put yourself in an ‘academic box’, A Levels are not everything and students should be encouraged to broaden their horizons.

Have a backup plan, things don’t always go to plan and turn out as you expect.

Their presentation encouraged me to reflect on what we do at DHSB and how we could extend the support and advice we offer. I feel that we provide and offer many of the things they suggested but would like to explore this further and develop this further.

It was fantastic to see Alice and Sai speak with such confidence and honesty. A highlight of the conference.

Nicola Randles @randlesnicola

Geography Teacher & Deputy Head of House


SWAT Conference 2015: Top 3


Having attended the excellent SWAT Conference last week I was left with some questions, ideas and thoughts. A change of scenery and the wonderful train journey along the coast are always invigorating and left me with a greater sense of ‘Yes! Now I remember why I do what I do! And I’ve got some more ideas about how to do it…’

Here’s my SWAT Top 3:

  • Why do you do what you do?

Listening to Dan Roberts’ keynote speech was a reminder of the courage and bravery required by the profession at a time of great change. Having taught for several years now, I can’t remember such a demanding and challenging time but have to also confess to enjoying the Rubik’s Cube nature of curriculum planning and strategising. As an English teacher and KS3/4 coordinator I’m conscious of wanting to help lead the team I am part of to successfully plan, teach and assess students ready for the new suite of GCSEs but also to take into account changes at KS3 too. Sometimes it feels like we are climbing a mountain (or maybe standing on the edge of a precipice?!) but I am quietly confident that we will only improve our students’ chances and our ability to encourage their independence as learners. I also loved Dan’s He-Man reference – although I was more of a She-Ra fan myself!

  • Literacy: hot topic

I really enjoyed Helena Baker-Thornton’s ‘A different approach to whole school literacy’ and hearing about Torquay Girls’ Grammar School’s approach to the all-important issue of whole school literacy, a perennial topic that we continue to strive towards improving. I thought the use of a sophisticated media campaign, alongside other methods, was a great way to get students’ attention and to inspire the whole community to be involved.

  • SOLO taxonomy, fostering student independence and ’thinking skills’

As explained in Nicola’s blog post, SOLO taxonomy involves a structured approach to planning and learning which draws attention to processes and stages in students’ development of ideas. This very overt method of sharing with students which skills are being used when complemented and added to my own approach to teaching GCSE English Literature this year, where I have tried a number of techniques and approaches to overtly sharing ‘thinking skills’ with students. My approach has been to emphasise the hierarchical nature of key ‘thinking skills’ required in the Literature exams and to encourage students conscious application of these skills as they approach their literature responses.

I also thoroughly enjoyed participating in the workshop led by very articulate students from Torquay Boys’ Grammar School. They shared some approaches, including ‘Argument Tennis’, which I am keen to try. A very simple but effective and consistent method for providing feedback in students’ exercise books involved a stamp with categories for teachers to write alongside the icons. Teachers provided feedback on content, SPaG and also a question for students to respond to – along with improvements. This type of DIRT feedback is so useful and made me reflect on how it could be used in the English Department at DHSB. I’ve been experimenting with my own ‘traffic light’ system for providing formative feedback this year and perhaps these two approaches might be useful for the future…

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the day and the opportunity to share and learn in a thoroughly professional environment with time to listen, talk and enjoy lunch and coffee. Teachers are consummate professionals and we should always be proud of what we do – and we always strive to be better.

Sima Davarian @simadavarian

KS3/4 English Coordinator

Building the school community

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Last Thursday saw me travelling to the University of Exeter with staff and students from DHSB to attend the annual South West Academic Trust Teaching and Learning Conference (SWAT).

Travelling by rail gave plenty of time for extended conversations with colleagues, definitely one of the benefits of a day out of school.With over 24 seminars to choose from there really was something for everyone but with a new Headteacher taking up post in September I decided to focus on whole-school issues, hoping to spend some time reflecting and then looking ahead to the new academic year.

A highlight for me was the session led by Paul Mckeown, Headteacher at The Bishop of Winchester Academy, who led us through his school journey from special measures to inspirational.

Although DHSB is judged by Ofsted to be an outstanding school I was able to bring back several ideas from Paul, mainly common-sense approaches, which we will be able to use and develop here. 

Many of these involve building the school community and ensuring the wellbeing and success of staff and students.

This school already has initiatives put in place by Kieran Earley, current Headteacher, including the celebration of student success in our Head’s Blog (a digital blog which receives over 1,000 views each week). Also, food is often on the menu with students receiving invitations to a weekly fish and chips ‘Lunch with the Head’ while new staff enjoy an evening meal with colleagues as part of their induction, followed by ‘Christmas Cheer’ with the Headteacher later in the term. 

I’m sure there is more we can put in place to ensure ‘Everyone Succeeds’.

Wellbeing became one of the themes of the day and I was impressed with the way in which two university students spoke honestly about their transition to Higher Education.

I should also mention Dan Roberts, DHSB Headteacher Designate, who delivered the conference keynote on ‘Being brave in a climate of change’ in style, and Vikram and Cian, Year 12 students who introduced their research project on ‘Challenging the Most Able’. They spoke eloquently and ably fielded some difficult questions from the teacher audience.SWAT 2

I felt incredibly proud to be part of a school which had such a strong and purposeful presence at the conference.



Bravery versus blanks: reflections on the South West Academic Trust Conference 2015

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When have you experienced your strongest sense of trepidation? Before an interview? Prior to a bungee jump? Awaiting the results of last month’s general election?

Stood in front of approximately 70 of my DHSB teaching colleagues ten days ago, I quaked. Having been given the opportunity to share results and reflections of a collaborative action research project carried out this year, I felt overwhelmed by the professional experience, skill and intellect of my school team.

Thankfully, they are also a lovely group of individuals and were receptive to my stammering, halting presentation. Audacious goal number one: achieved.

Forward another ten days and I was ready to quake once more; this time preparing to deliver a workshop on a similar theme to delegates at the 2015 SWAT Conference, in a seminar room with seemingly robotic facilities and a sweeping view of Exeter.  Once again, one crucial common denominator saved me: teachers are genuinely lovely people!  My workshop title began ‘Filling in the blanks…’ and, without encouragement, the delegates immediately began to do just that whenever given the chance.  Not that there were blank gaps per se, more carefully structured opportunities for discussion. Teachers are curious, hungry for knowledge and keen to support; they are the perfect audience.

Personal bravery aside, a key theme began to emerge throughout the day.

Dan Roberts’ emphasis on the personal crusade that teachers must wage (with He-Man as a metaphorical lynchpin) was pertinent, given the emphasis on bravery and independence seen elsewhere in workshops.

Year 10 students from Torquay Boys’ Grammar School led workshops on teaching techniques and were able to argue, with conviction, for greater independence in learning. Another Torquay voice, this time a literacy coordinator from the girls’ school, has engendered bravery around grammatical skills by fostering a ‘grammar amnesty’ in which staff and students alike are encouraged to debunk notions of mistakes as failures by sharing them and address issues through witty videos.

Young undergraduate students delivered a keynote to the entire cohort about the challenges and issues faced throughout the transition from KS5 to university and spoke with compelling honesty on some difficult subjects such as sexism and mental health among students.

Therefore, despite some of the many challenges, changes, accusations and cuts faced by educators, teachers and students alike are working as hard as ever. Despite political change, the classroom remains a shared space in which teaching and learning drive the development of people.

The diversity and passion of the students and teachers at the SWAT Conference 2015 was infectious.  Bravery as an approach allows us to experiment, innovate and reflect: it builds our resilience (like He-Man, we will master the universe) and enables a sense of defiance to drive our work in turbulent times.

Louise Everett Lindsay @EverettLindsayL

Teacher of English and Media Studies

Why do you do what you do?

I am writing this on the way home from a great SWAT Conference. Fabulous surroundings – both indoors and out – at Exeter University made it worth the route march up from the station. Several of the paths are so steep I felt that we should have been provided with ropes and crampons, but it no doubt helped to compensate for some of the excellent buffet lunch…

Sue M 1

Anyway, from challenging journeys to real world issues of another sort. Dan Roberts @danjjroberts, in his keynote speech, challenged the audience to rethink Why do you do your job? The two workshops I was particularly interested in attending were also on this theme; why do we do our jobs, and how can we encourage students to think about why – and how – they will do theirs. The first presentation was Real World Learning. I’d been looking forward to hearing this from Gary King, Assistant Principal at Tavistock, but as it happened Gary (@Gary_S_King) had to stay in school so Phil Ruse (@WellsportsPhil) capably took the lead and talked about engaging businesses – and students – in tasks that have a real relevance.

Sir/miss why are we doing this? is a refrain that most teachers will have heard, (and hopefully answered) but Phil pointed out that engaging both students and staff with long term careers outcomes has been a long & not always straightforward journey. Tavistock College have made real progress in this area: they attempt to flip the classroom focus to skills and careers whenever possible, engage with local employers and Chamber of Commerce, appoint faculty careers champions and produce careers based posters for each subject area with links to websites etc. They also use the  site (similar to for film snippets of different careers, and have instigated a subject to career week with each subject area promoting possible employment areas. Staff CPD time may be necessary for planning in order to strike a balance between progress (in traditional school subjects) and preparation (for a longer term future – at university, in apprenticeships, and beyond into working life)

It was really great to hear from another local school who are thinking on the same lines and appreciating the real need for linking to the real world.

I also attended a workshop by Dr Sue Prince from Exeter University on encouraging Businesses into learning – she has been using business mentors with her law (& other) undergrads to set up real challenges for students rather than just using false curriculum led scenarios.

She went on to identify cross curricular skills valued by all the employers as follows :

  1. ability to work in a team structure
  2. ability to make decisions and problem solve
  3. ability to communicate verbally & in writing
  4. ability to plan, organise & prioritise
  5. ability to obtain and process information,

Demonstrating how these skills cut across every curriculum area, and yet more evidence of the need for “outside world” reality as well as good grades in the classroom.

A very worthwhile day with workshops to suit many different roles in school, or even to widen your horizons and hear about something completely beyond your usual area, and good to have time to talk to colleagues from other schools.

It was also lovely to have the luxury of time to share with your own colleagues – we had an impromptu conversation on the train as to ideal alternative careers, which ranged from jewellery and ceramic designer through graphics & writing creatively to travelling as a lifestyle and even being a ballet dancer. Fellow members of staff at DHSB will have to work out for themselves who chose what, but I can categorically confirm that Dan (Roberts) is obviously a great loss to the world of chicken impersonators…

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Sue Moreton @suemoreton1

IAG co-ordinator DHSB

How Google Classroom has helped me?

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Earlier in the year, I wrote a post about how I use a Google site to deliver Psychology A Level. This piece acts as a companion to that, explaining how I use Google Classroom alongside the site. I also use Classroom in some of the other things I do but I will leave those to one side for now and concentrate on Psychology.

These are the main things I have done on Google Classroom.

a) Uploaded Slides For Each Lesson

I use Google Slides to plan and deliver each lesson. It is easy to upload these into Classroom so that students can access them.

b) Passed On Routine Information

Classroom links directly to students’ gmail accounts. If I need to tell them something, I can post an announcement. That is easier than emailing them directly because I have a record of communication with each group in one place.

c) Set Up Quizzes For Each Sub-Topic, With Hyperlinks To Core Content

My plan at the start of the academic year was to have quizzes on Google Forms as pre-reading tasks for students to do before tackling the sub-topic in class. That has not worked out, partly because I have not been able to get ahead of myself and prepare a few days in advance and partly because I have often wanted the first sight of a sub-topic for students to be looking at an image or watching a video. The advantage of giving short multiple choice quizzes on each sub-topic in class is that I do not have to explain each point laboriously. Google Forms lets me present a summary of quiz answers so that, without naming names, we can all see which questions produced errors and can focus on the complexity behind them.

d) Delivered Feedback On Assessments, Using Markschemes With Hyperlinks

For major assessments, I can share a markscheme with students, with hyperlinks to the content they have covered on the Google site so that they can see the connection between what they have learnt and what was in the assessment. I can add commentary on each question in the same way as an examiners’ report does for a live exam. I then use Classroom as a place to keep self-reviews so that students can comment on what they have achieved and set targets.

e) Posted Links To My Post Of The Week On My Blog

I have been writing a blog for a while. It has become an important way of keeping interested in current trends in Psychology. It gets very few hits from my students but they have no excuse for not looking at it. I can add a link to each post on Classroom.
f) Used It For Mastery Learning

I use the concepts of “core” and “mastery learning”. “Core” represents the theories, evidence and definitions needed to pass the exam. “Mastery learning” refers to the tasks we do to explore ideas and deepen knowledge. That involves looking at a wider range of questions and sources. In AS, this is to a large extent optional. In A2, because students need to include issues, debates and approaches in their essays to achieve higher grades, it becomes compulsory. Students sometimes contribute answers via class discussion, at other times they contribute by adding a comment to the workstream on Classroom and at others still, we have a Google doc shared via Classroom on which students can write what they think. In each case, I can then use the Classroom environment to sum up what has been learnt and what we need to think about next. Using Classroom means that when the exam season approaches, I can go through the workstream for each class, summarising what has been done and identifying any issues which need further attention. For the A2 course, there has been an extra element. For each topic, I have been able to distill commentary from each sub-topic into a “How Science Works” summary. In A2 Psychology, “How Science Works” is the route to A* writing.

g) Managed Student Projects

I share with students on Classroom project briefs for practicals. Classroom enables me to make a copy for each student. The brief contains a checklist and a self-assessment. At the end of the project, they turn in their work.
What do you think about Google Classroom?

Simon Tombs @tombssimon

Teacher of Psychology

Going SOLO involves the whole school – blog post 1 from #SWATCONF15


Making flowers out of bits of foam at 10am in the morning, I wondered how this could ever help me in teaching Economics. SOLO taxonomy is a way of getting the students to order their learning to enable them to asses how they are progressing, what stage they are at and what they need to do in order to achieve top level. What I particularly like is that students can visually see how they can stretch themselves in any subject. I can visually see how students are able to become more independent learners if they understood exactly how this works.

The orders are PRESTRUCTURAL; Find out the key idea takes you to UNISTRUCTURAL; Find out more, do further research, ask questions takes you to MULTISTRUCTURAL; Go deeper. Find out WHY. Link knowledge and ideas to the bigger picture takes you to RELATIONAL; Think critically about the issue. Analyse and evaluate. Be creative. Think for yourself, takes yourself to EXTENDED ABSTRACT.

For Theory of the Firm in Economics it would look something like this:

PRESTRUCTURAL – I do not know anything about the structure of different markets

UNISTRUCTURAL – Explain how the market goes from Perfect competition, to Monopolistic, to Oligopoly to Monopoly. I can define what these are.

MULTISTRUCTURAL – Describe the characteristics of each of these markets. I can list and explain the key characteristics of each market structure.

RELATIONAL – Explain how different firms fit into different markets dependent on their objectives. I can independently analyse the market structure for long-haul and short haul flights (for example)

EXTENDED ABSTRACT – Critically evaluate how firms can move from one market structure to another dependent on their behaviour. I can analyse and evaluate using examples of different firms the type of market structure they operate in and how impacts on profit.

To help both the teacher and the learner in this quest, there are colour-coded symbols for each of the stages. We saw it effectively used in Art, Design Technology and French. During the student research presentations we saw it effectively used in History.  I can see it being used effectively in Economics, so does this call for a whole school approach to solving the dilemma of how to help the students visualise stretch and challenge?

I have lots of resources on how to use the method if you are interested in seeing if it would work for your subject.

Nicola Lilley @nicolalilley3

Teacher of Economics and Business