Category Archives: SWAT

SWAT 2016 -Poetry from Sue!

On Thursday June 16th, I left home at the unearthly hour of 7am to ensure bagging one of the sought after parking spaces at Exeter Uni for the SWAT conference. I was due to present a workshop with my colleague from Eggbuckland who was kindly driving and despite my cough and sore throat we talked all the way to Exeter, attempting to perfect our presentation.

As the sun attempted to break through the mist, we pontificated on the importance of the – in our opinion – incorrectly titled “soft skills”, & managed to reach the Uni and one of those coveted spaces. The Forum, a relatively new area of the University, is a fantastic space and ideal for this kind of conference – lots of well-appointed classrooms for a variety of audience sizes and a fabulous lecture theatre for the keynotes – one before and one after lunch – with tiers of comfortable high backed swivel seats.

As well as the wide variety of workshops there were also opportunities to listen to student speakers from some of the schools including our own brilliant Alfie Carlisle.

I listened to one speaker on how to prepare for, apply to and interview for a new job or role – no amazing new insights but presented with some humour and relevance.

Our talk on the necessity for employability skills in addition to exam grades unfortunately only attracted five delegates so we had somewhat over prepared resources, but at least the nerves were gone in time for my final workshop choice which was a very interesting explanation of growth mindset in action throughout Gt Torrington School.

An eclectic and on the whole valuable day – wish I’d been presenting earlier so as to lessen the stress!

Here is my not very successful attempt at putting the day in rhyme…

So delegates who made up the quorum

Were asked for a short piece to blog

About the conference in Exeter’s Forum –

That’s the reason for this monologue


Communication as in sharing good practice

Or gath’ring classroom top tips and some notions

No end to the subjects designed to attract us

From growth mindset to prep for promotions


SWAT Conference 2016

We made our way by train which always makes for an optimistic and exciting start to the day and this along with the prospect of meeting people and having time for focussed discussion and likely a yummy lunch in the forum at the university was truly a positive prospect!File_000 (1)In the last 4 years, more than ever before, I have come to love the opportunities to learn specifically about teaching and learning from my peers as very ‘real’ experts. I love the buzz of being around people as excited about learning as I am. Teachmeets, SWAT events and Learning walks in our school , are accessible opportunities.The keynote started with this information on Generation K:

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After 25 years of teaching my subject, I am keen to revive and refresh and develop the quality of learning happening in my classroom more than the content of what I should know about Biology. I remember looking at experienced teachers when I was about 4 years into my career, and wishing that I had the luxury that they had, of experimenting with delivery and practice rather than worrying about behaviour and subject knowledge and here I am. It’s not surprising then that it’s part of my role now in a mixed experience school team.File_000 (5)
To be at SWAT, accompanied by DHSB colleagues and others; all there to make teaching and learning more enjoyable and accessible, was pretty special. I didn’t contribute a thing at the conference other than friendly chatter but I walked, sat chatted and listened. I thought and reflected. As the day went on ideas started to form in my mind. I thought about my teaching, how I assess and the quality of my students learning and also the experience of students coming to the ‘ 5th lesson in a day where the teacher emphasises the importance of the work’ ! I feel compelled to act, having listened to the enthusiastic PHS students as they spoke of the need for variety, “ditch the textbook to independent study” they said, and as they shared their 10 Tips for teachers. See here:File_000 (3)

Following a great presentation from Jill Clayton and John Steiner at Torrington school, I know that I will execute a plan now to embed an ethic of excellence in my lessons too.My outgoing year 13 class were a stunning group who celebrated effort (not achievement ). Together we had built a climate of trust. Following a previously disparate sixth form group, I wanted to grow a more ‘in it together’ and positive culture in my new class in 2014. I wanted them to be united and feel responsible for their own progress. We developed a sense of team and they had definitely developed a sense of autonomy in their learning. We explored their mastery through me helping them to evaluating their answers in past papers (every single one there ever had been too!) The next step in taking this culture forward will be to tie their work with a sense of ‘purpose’ sooner.

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I wholly recommend that you too read : The Ethic of excellence by Ron Berger.It’s about much more than drawing butterflies!

Preparing for University life; a student perspective

Swat 5

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

Success in SWAT!

This has been a record year at DHSB for SWAT events. Since starting in January getting used to the ways of SWAT has been a steep learning curve, but I think I am finally getting the hang of things.

We have had many successful subject meetings and some organised by our own DHSB staff such as the Maths and Classics events. There has been extensive collaboration, planning curriculums which all SWAT schools are going to teach and sharing of great practice.

The programme of events culminated with the “Mastering the Dragon Conference” in Poole. You have already; I am sure read many of the blog posts about this event. It was a huge success, a real showcase of outstanding practice and celebration of individuals across our schools.


Iain Anderson @iainanders2008 Chair of SWAT opening the MtD Conference 2014

For me the conference challenged my thinking about university, gave rise to some thought provoking conversations about how we provide opportunities outside of the curriculum and I got the opportunity to chat with @headguruteacher about Lesson Study – perhaps the next step for my Lesson Observation Triads.

There are many more exciting events planned, especially for the students in our schools. I am looking forward to continuing to giving colleagues opportunities for CPD across our SWAT schools.

Rachael Green @DHSBGeography


Art across the curriculum

This session run by Sarah Harris explored the benefits associated with an artistic approach to learning.

6 reasons why arts in education are so important

· They are languages that all people speak that cut across cultural, social, educational, and economic barriers.

· They provide opportunities for self-expression.

· They develop both independence and collaboration.

· They make it possible to use personal strengths in meaningful ways.

· They improve academic achievement — attitudes, social skills, critical and creative thinking.

· They exercise and develop higher order thinking skills including analysis, evaluation, and “problem-finding.”

I would like to add ‘prosperity’ to this list, as it is interesting to note that official statistics published recently reveal that the UK’s creative Industries are now worth £71.4 billion per year to the UK economy –that is a staggering £8 million pounds an hour!

Finally, here are two great websites that I have used recently that encourage creativity.

iPads are powerful tools for creativity. Students can engage with content in interactive ways, find information in an instant, and create their own imagery anywhere, anytime. Packed full of adaptable ideas and inspiration for the classroom.

And don’t you just love it when science and art meets….

The Creators Project is a global network dedicated to the celebration of creativity, culture and technology, fantastic projects that will inspire discussion and ideas.

Leonardo would be proud!

Amanda Burdon @staffaburdon

#SWATConf2014 #SWATDHSBAwayday

Having recently attended the SWAT Conference “Enter the Dragon” at Poole Grammar School, one of the most memorable workshops for me was the final one of the afternoon ( in itself unusual?) I entered the room to see party blowers/hooters on each table, which immediately raised my expectations – although others in the room said that their hearts sank at the same sight, so I guess you can’t please all of the people …

The session was entitled Head into the Dragon’s mouth which referred to the occasional necessity for delivering presentations or CPD not only to strangers but to your colleagues. Yes, those people that you usually sit with and moan about someone else’s presentation skills…

Of course all the advice given by Jo Sibley during the presentation is valid for any type of presentation; in class to your eager students, at a conference to polite strangers, or in the staff room to your honest peers.

The key points were: give them something to do (pairs, groups or individually); ask a provocative question; give time to chat/think; and something physical to do if the session is long.

It is important to be convincing – don’t talk about it if you can’t at least sound excited by your material; add as many bells and whistles as you can, and accept the fact that if your audience don’t take away everything you’d hoped for, they will at least retain the most important point ~ “If you take nothing else from this session, at least…”

She also spoke about checking your technology in advance, but then trusting it, and if it does go wrong stay cool and don’t keep apologising; never read your slides and keep bullet points to a minimum for each slide. Reward all contributions/engagement even if negative and LISTEN to responses; and finally ASK for feedback, be generous and brave.

None of this was rocket science, but all the points were certainly ones we have all seen and despaired over when they are lacking – a very useful way to end a very useful day.

So what was the one thing I took away with me? The party blower of course, which I used to entertain the troops on the way home in the minibus. They loved it.


Sue Moreton IAG co-ordinator

The Deprivation gap is narrowing & the Gender gap is widening

Over the next few posts we will be discussing the main outcomes from the ‘Mastering the Dragon’ Teaching and Learning conference from the South West Academic Trust (SWAT).

You can see more links and discussion on Twitter using the hashtag #SWATConf14

Special thanks to Iain Anderson @iainanders2008 and all of the SWAT Coordinators for organising such a fantastic event.

First up was the opening keynote presentation from Professor Sir Steve Smith – The Vice Chancellor and Chief Executive of Exeter University and the current Chair of UCAS.

One of the main messages coming out of his presentation was that ‘The Deprivation gap is narrowing & the Gender gap is widening’ hence the tile of this post. This is potentially a worry particularly those of us working with mostly boys.


However there were many other interesting talking points too. He spent time talking about the recent changes to student finance and it was interesting to hear his outlook on this as something that could be viewed more positively.

Students now hold the purse strings

Although students are paying more with that comes more power and since 2012 we have had the emergence to a ‘real market’ for Universities due to the financial changes. There has been a shift of where the income from Universities comes from – shift from the government to individual students/student loans. With this shift has come power. He highlighted this through conversations that he has with staff at the University:

Why should we serve coffee at midnight on campus? Because that is when it is needed – our students are customers and they demand this service.

Why do we need computer support between 1-3am? Because that is when most coursework is completed – our students are customers and they demand this service.

But what is the real cost of this power? A massive increase in student debt. I wonder how students feel about this ‘shift in power’?

Student numbers are on the rise

It is important to remember that Universities however must be doing a good job. The UK is 21st in the world for resources put into HE but 2nd highest for outcomes – so Universities under invested but highly successful.

Perhaps it is for this reason that numbers are increasing not decreasing as first predicted due to the financial changes.

495,000 students were placed in University last year this is an increase of 36K accepted places in 2013.

The number of 18 year olds in 2011 who went to university in 2011 and 2012 is lower than 2012 & 2013. Therefore students haven’t been put off by the financial changes. 30% of 18 year olds are now going to University.

The knock on effect though is that many universities have increased where some universities have dropped dramatically. The best universities are getting more students. E.g. Exeter applications up by 50%. Therefore the Russell Group are increasing numbers significantly where those not are decreasing. How does this impact on those students from the poorest backgrounds?

Well apparently the number from the poorest backgrounds are increasing in participation and the gap is closing.

Narrowing the gap

In 2004 if you were in the lowest quintile for socio economic group – around 14% went to University where today it is over 20%. They estimate in 2019 the difference in between participation rates will narrow further by socio-economic factors however there is a potential issue with gender.

Women are more likely to go to University, Women are more likely to get the A levels – how does this impact on Boys? Therefore the deprivation gap is narrowing, whereas the gender gap is widening. From someone who is working in a boys school, I believe that we are doing fantastic things to ensure our boys are engaged and inspired to achieve the best that they can. We ensure they achieve strong academic qualifications whilst ensuring they receive the right guidance on their next steps. However what is happening nationally? What are you doing to support boys in raising participation rates?

Finally Sir Steve went on to say that today’s 16 year olds by the time they are 36 will have had 6 jobs – employers are increasingly concerned about whether students are developing skills like team working, conscientious, ability to be adaptable and change, IT literate etc. How are you developing these skills in the classroom and in your school?