Are Our Students Unprepared for University?

The library at DHSB is not a library any more, but instead a comfy, cosy, beanbag-full ‘learning commons’. It is more of a child’s play area. It has so many comforting features that attract year sevens like moths to a lamp. This so-called ‘swarming’ stops any other pupil from being able to listen to themselves think.

Worse still, we have armed some of these younger ages with iPads. The attractive and innovative solution to boredom, but not hard work. Computers are brilliant when you try to work because you need to commit to the work you’re doing. iPads, however, are far too easy to play games on or muck about with. The majority of the students don’t mature at the screen of an iPad and it is embarrassing how engrossed students are into the fiddles of an iPad, rather than the work at hand.

This brings me to my next topic; limited funding for sixth form books. I have personally been in a situation where subject books are unavailable because of funding. I can’t help but wonder whether money is being spent appropriately within the school. Is the school dragging money away from education to boost a public image? If so, why on earth are we letting the school image come before the students education?

The hand-holding effect of the iPads, Homeworky, Google classrooms and the constant emails that prescribe every detail of how we should live and act are a massive problem. The sad fact is that all of these convenient extras are not good for the habits of students. The fantastic support left, right and centre is going to be brutally cut away from us when we leave sixth form. The whole idea of a student learning is also learning how to learn. We can’t adapt in this way if the environment around us fits us already. We can’t mature when the facilities available to us fit the childish attitude of the younger students. Do they need to mature? No, and so they won’t. In University, homework won’t even be set; let alone Homeworky or the twittering emails controlling what we should do. We will be like tortoises out of our shell, frozen in the harsh, cold reality of the matter that absolutely everything we do will have consequences.

So, I hear you ask, what can be done? There are in fact several things that would massively improve the prospects of students in the real world. The first, and possibly foremost, is to set up work experience as it once was. It used to be encouraged and free; something which is not always the case now. I believe that work experience is important as it allows students to develop into maturity faster.

Another idea is to make Universities the main point raised by PHSEEC lessons and encourage students to explore it themselves. We should also reduce student monitoring with the Google charts and trust the students with their own behaviour – another chance for them to mature themselves.

Finally, we should do more for our sixth formers. More could be done to cater for the sixth former’s academic development. Maybe the school should give us more sixth form computers or a sixth form library with advanced -physical – subject books on our subjects at DHSB, especially with the loss of so many books from the library. Let us have new equipment in our subjects to help us with our learning. This is how we can improve, and more importantly, how we must.


By Michael Collingwood


  1. Andy Breare

    Great article and well written. Interesting to hear what the students think. Please keep writing as articles such as this can make a difference.

    Andy Breare
    Parent Governor

    1. The Editors

      Thank you for your comment. We are always keen to have opinionated articles on the website and we hope that these opinions are considered and valued.

  2. Sharon Davidson

    Sixth formers may have books in the shelves of the SFC Michael!We have simply never been asked to supply such a resource by any sixth form student. There are certainly spare reference texts in every department . Whilst these texts may not be matched page by page to the specific syllabus you are exploring, this year; they are useful in content for reference. (My main concern and difficulty with this provision is that students need to leave them for use by all, in the centre and they do not!) An alternative is to borrow these from departments for use in private study. Have you asked and been refused?
    Come and see me and we shall source some books for you all.
    Ms Davidson

  3. The Editors

    This article has certainly caused a stir! We would just like to take this opportunity to point out that if people disagree with what is in the article (as they are most certainly entitled to do) we would welcome them to take the time to either write in the comments section or write us an article in response. We hold no bias over what is published and are keen to have as many points of view as possible on the website.
    Thank you
    The Editors

  4. A Smith

    I find the lack of textbooks in the LRC appalling as not everyone can afford a textbook and accessing websites such as kerboodle can be difficult and more time consuming than actually just doing the work.
    The sixth form centre is clearly not designed for studying as the seats are uncomfortable and it’s too noisy to even attempt studying. Whereas the LRC may no longer be a library but it’s a fantastic place to study when it’s not over run with year 7s – perhaps the upstairs area could be designated to sixth formers during lunch times as there is no where else to study and we’re just wasting valuble time as we can’t study.

    1. J Grigg

      Completely agree. Anyone who has stepped foot into the SFC will understand that it is not at all a working environment. Any progress to make the upstairs of the SFC a designated work area has failed. Now that the refurbishments have promoted the Learning Commons, i often find no suitable place to work since it has now become a social hub of the school, rather than a place for work. This is in addition to teachers and other members of staff booking out the top floor. In these situations, again, sixth formers have no suitable place to study (The downstairs of the LC can accommodate about 10 at best. I hardly call that flexible).

      However. I do support the removal of redundant books in order to make extra room for desks.

      PS: I no longer see an accessible printer in the LC. I may be wrong though…

    2. PReis

      That is such a good idea!! Would make the day more productive as all we ever end up doing in the SFC is just go on our phones and dont actually do work productively

  5. D Shahin

    The use of Google Apps for Education was a move that we have made to give students, more responsibility for their learning, to encourage collaborative learning and to initiate a flipped classroom learning style (particularly across the Sixth Form). All of these things are being put in place in an attempt to prepare you for University.

    The library at DHSB is not a library any more and indeed it isn’t, it is infact a Learning Commons, built to be an adaptable learning space to suit the needs of all students at DHSB. The space was designed with the intention of having 2 clearly defined areas which within themselves can also adapt to meet differing learning needs. Our upstairs area is a more focused working area, with the expectation of quieter environment in general, with write on surfaces, our non-Fiction library, moveable furniture, multifunction bookable rooms and device friendly charging and presentation stations, providing areas for group meetings and tools to support creative efforts. Our workspace is great for impromptu, informal encounters, but also suits more structured, formal meetings too in the bookable rooms. This space is enclosed and therefore benefits from having its own atmosphere unaffected by the atmosphere downstairs which tends to be our more social space. Downstairs we have the Learning Commons Lawn, which benefits from comfortable seating and the organic outdoors feel, with lots of natural light, a hub for interaction, an area that students can get away from a desk and chair, take their shoes off and relax; get away from what sometimes can be a tough day. Increasing literacy levels is a whole school initiative and we believe creating this space will really encourage students to pick up a book and get lost in a story. It was really important for us to create a balance of different types of spaces so that people can work anywhere and feel comfortable to be themselves.

    A respected and highly renowned part of DHSB – ThinkSpace has also been moved down to the Learning Commons in attempt to give it a new lease of life, with staff aiming to launch the ThinkSpace Projects this year, where students can get real life experiences of working with businesses to solve real problems. We have already built a website for a local company and are continuously looking for more work to get stuck into with you. Another motive to prepare you for not just University but for the working world building CV’s and Portfolios with you.

    We have invested in 60 Chromebooks in the Learning Commons as we feel they support student learning and also work seamlessly with our use of Google Apps for Education. Chromebooks provide a lot less distractions than other devices and really benefit our students learning experience. The feedback over the last year we have had for the Chromebooks has been amazing. Chromebooks have keyboards. In spite of all the hype about tablets and touch screens being the future, physical keyboards are still the present. When a student needs to type up a research paper or essay that keyboard is going to come in handy. On a Chromebook, a student can simply sign out, and then another student can sign in with their own account. Their settings and data will automatically be synced to that Chromebook making them personal devices for everyone.

    The desktop computers from the LRC have been recycled & repositioned in the Sixth Form Centre to give them their own space with the technology and resources that they crave so that they can escape the lower school, but you will find at all times of the day that the majority of them still to prefer to be here in the Learning Commons.

    When removing some books from our Learning Commons we spent countless hours analysing carefully what books were being used and which books weren’t. We have recycled books out of our establishment and passed them onto others. We have moved some of the more difficult or challenging subject books into the department classrooms as we felt they would be used more often. We have bought new books and are intending to keep our book collection more fluid, buying new books more regularly and removing books which aren’t being read. We have invested in an eBook solution which we will be launching after half term which will make books even more accessible for our students and we are also looking to invest in an online journal service too.

    Whilst at University we were set homework, we had assignments to complete regularly which pushed us to encourage our learning and achieve more from our private study time by keeping us focused. Homework and assignment deadlines are extremely important and at University if you are 1 minute late to hand in a piece of work your mark is capped at 40% up to 24hrs where after you will score a 0. This is again another reason why we are working on Homework as one of our key focus areas this year, to ensure quality use of your personal study time and to really push you outside of the classroom as well as in.

    We feel we are working really hard to prepare you for life, whatever your choices may be to ensure that Everyone Succeeds.

  6. Jamie Williams

    First of all I would like to thank Mike on behalf of an overwhelming majority of the students at DHSB for bringing up this issue, however this isn’t just a problem for Sixth formers- as a Year 10 I also feel that there is not enough adequate quiet study sites and books for us to achieve to our full potential.
    Can we really be prepared for university if we have nowhere to quietly study? Can we do the work to get the grades?

    While changes have been made with the best intentions, the school needs to realise that this is not working for everyone. The “Learning Commons” has been altered from a quiet place where you could crack on with work to a bustling, unpleasant and noisy “Play Centre”. The school claim that you can get on with quiet study upstairs- this is false. The racket from squealing and shouting students, with nothing better to do than to muck about on devices, makes studying impossible. Furthermore the school has stated that it has a literacy problem, so on this topic I would like to pose this multiple choice question:

    “Your school initiative is to improve students literacy, so what do you do?”
    a. Purchase more books and adjust the timetable to provide more literacy lessons for the students
    b. Provide an environment for students to concentrate on reading and writing
    c. Get rid of nearly 21,000 books and buy beanbags and wooden sheep

  7. Jack Williams

    I completely agree with almost everything in this article Mike. What I have noticed in the comments is that people seem to be attempting to justify the learning commons as “what the students wanted”, and gloss over any problems in order to try and uphold the idea that everyone is happy. This is quite simply not true. In addition to this many people feel like the school likes to “change for the sake of change” when these amendments do not benefit us in any way.
    With regards to giving students more responsibility, students are now being told not to write things down in their planners, because teachers are putting it on classroom. I fail to see how email notifications, though useful, encourage responsibility and a need to take learning into your own hands.
    The learning commons is most definitely not an adaptable learning space to suit the needs of all students at DHSB. As Mike brings up, the Learning Commons now feels much more like a child’s play area. As lovely as it is to have an organic outdoors feel, and to be able to take your shoes off, this is not what a library is for!
    Whilst most Sixth Formers do prefer to spend time in the Learning Commons, this is because the SFC is a social space and a library should be a place for coming to work. It is worth pointing out that this is not a “Sixth Form vs Year 7″ argument. Year 11s, Year 10s, even some Year 9s have all bemoaned the fact that our Learning Commons is now a social space, not an environment for work.
    The issue of books in Devonport is bewildering. Whilst it is a whole school initiative to improve literacy, the school has done away with many of its 21000 books from the original library- how is this supposed to improve literacy and encourage lower years, who may not want to read “Evolution for Dummies”, to pick up a book and read?
    Although the school has limited areas where it can spend its money, the fact is that in many cases the school does not have enough books, and yet does not seem to want to spend the money to rectify this. An example would be in my FM class; the idea that the school always has sufficient books for all students is not quite true. Last year we were without an FP1 textbook until roughly December, to our great frustration, and we spent 3 months trying to get by with 3 books.
    Likewise my brother’s Year 10 class recently had an insufficient number of Macbeth books to stay in their classroom, and were forced to migrate to the learning commons to make use of the Chromebooks. Whilst these are a valuable resource (and one of the Learning Commons’ few successes), the class were forced to sit on beanbags trying to make notes!
    I have recently spoken to a parent who was concerned about the falling GCSE grades in the school. As of Jan 2015 in DHSB A*-C grades were achieved by 90% of students. Plymouth College achieved 92% the same year. We have historically been the top school in the city- is swapping books for beanbags the best way to go about rectifying our recent slump?
    I think there are a number of students and parents who feel that there are certain insufficiencies in how the school listens to students. Whilst the school says the Learning Commons was suggested by students, I am yet to speak to anyone who feels it has overall improved their learning experience. Furthermore, many teachers have also expressed dissatisfaction about the Learning Commons! I would be interested to find out more about the school’s information-gathering policies, both before and after construction of the Commons.

  8. W Reis

    Whilst some of the assumptions of University life in this article were slightly misinformed (we do get ‘homework’ but perhaps not in exactly the same form), I whole-heartedly agree with Michael. D Shahin’s comments about the ‘organic outdoor feel’ encouraging students to pick up a book seem a little odd compared with having a greater selection of books that could be read anywhere rather than on some synthetic grass.

    In reality, if this Learning Commons is supposed to give an idea of what University study areas are like, it should be a quiet space with lots of rooms for books and computers and focus on being able to source new books that students can request based on specific academic requirements – something increasingly important if sixth formers would like to do some extra reading pre-University.

    The idea that the way forward is to digitise and make things adaptable to every conceivable use naturally causes a lack in effectiveness.

    This whole topic of iPads etc was raised by sixth-formers a few years ago but in a fashion similar to what seems to be going on now, DHSB seems to distinctly undervalue the thoughts and opinions of perhaps the most experienced and mature students in the school (the sixth form).

    Will Reis
    3rd-year undergraduate
    Ex-DHSB (2013)

  9. Tom Phillips

    Dear Michael,

    Well done for expressing your views in a clear, coherent and sensible fashion. It is right to bring your concerns to the attention of the staff, and particularly the School Governors.

    Will is, of course, accurate in his assessment of the school management’s treatment of student opinion. When we both completed our studies in 2013, I sent an email to staff outlining my personal views on the decisions of the Leadership Team throughout my time (2006-2013). Rather than starting an active, intelligent and purposeful debate, the email was on one side ignored and on the other directly contradicted and condemned. Indeed, I was banned from attending my final A Level Biology class as a result. Please contact me if you would like to see it.

    I encourage you to canvass student opinion. You will notice that the responses from staff do not quote any statistics. If the school Leadership Team wishes to demonstrate a serious and professional response to student opinion, in the manner undertaken by organisations like universities for example, it must be quantitatively shown that school targets actually meet student requirements.

    Gather your own data on student opinion and present it to the Governors.

    I wish you the very best of luck.

    Tom Phillips
    Former Deputy Head Boy
    2nd Year Undergraduate

  10. C Kinsella

    I have to say on the whole this article is VERY opinionated and quite frankly sounds rather neo-reactionary. Instead of choosing to embrace the new opportunities of the learning commons (eg more chrome books, small spaces for uninterrupted study, bean bags that are comfortable for a good read) the writer has decided to ride the trend of hating what I believe is a step in the right direction. All positives of the learning commons have been completely ignored.

    Something to consider: perhaps try using the learning commons during study periods or afterschool? There is only one hour a day (and it’s not even every day) that the learning commons is packed with younger years. Factor in quiet Wednesdays and that’s a maximum of four hours a week that the LC is “flooded” with younger years. I personally have also had no trouble regarding books; the LC ordered a book I required for my English coursework and it arrived in school within 48 hours of me enquiring despite the book being hard to find and over 50 years old.

    The LC is obviously not perfect; I can’t find a single seat which provides good back support for working, the whiteboard tables just aren’t as convenient as they sound (perhaps a few whiteboards on wheels would’ve been both more collaborative, practical and cost effective?), and it does get annoying when it is filled with younger years who aren’t there to work. We have to remember, however, that when it comes to computers, iPads etc the priority is given to people who need to do school work, so realistically you will be able to access some kind of device for working. You also forget though: these younger years that play games will find games whether it’s an iPad, computer, or whatever else. If they want to work they will, if they don’t they won’t. Either way, I don’t recall the LRC having any fewer younger year students during break and lunch. I remember spending much of year 12 thinking “woops it’s half past 12 better finish up!”

    Regarding the “hands on” style of homework and email, what you’re forgetting is that this is the way the world is moving. Personally I’ve never used homeworky but I use Google Classroom on a regular basis to monitor my homework. It’s useful because teachers can link any resources and you also have the EXACT task for reference. Admittedly I used to be one who would occasionally miswrite a homework and resultantly misunderstand the task. Though I’m not a uni student (yet) I can imagine that at uni there will be a lot of communication with tutors. Then again, I may be wrong.

    I know it’s been long, but I thought I would address all the issues from an article that I thought to be a little closed minded and quite upset by the sounds of things. Honestly, if you recall the LRC from the last few years, I’m very glad to have the new LC and would much rather study, read, or relax in it.

    TL;DR give the learning commons a chance, I’m sure it will impress if you just attempt to work with it, instead of against it.

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