Do you picture a continuation of school as it has been from Year 7 to Year 11, with the same friendship groups, the same feelings of pressure to compete academically and the same learning relationships in which teachers lead and you follow? Or maybe the movie in your mind shows a frightening new world of enforced learning independence? Perhaps there’s a scene in which you are cast adrift in a small boat of study to navigate your own way on a vast ocean of learning?
If you are thinking this way, you are in good company. These were some of the expectations that our current Year 12 had when they began their Post-16 careers at Coombe Dean in September. But when they talked to us this week about their actual experiences, it turns out that the reality is very different … and much better than they expected.
Ethan, who is combining vocational and academic studies, imagined a rigid world of inflexible courses and a divide between the adult teachers and child learners. “Actually, there’s been a real freedom,” he says. “I’ve been able to take on Psychology A Level alongside my vocational courses and my EPQ involves research into areas that really interest me. I’ve made lots of contacts with people in the health industry – contacts that will be useful in my career. These are serious, professional relationships in which I have an adult role to play.”
Livia talks about friendship and respect in the Post-16 Centre. “I thought friendship groups would stay the same,” she says, “which would actually mean the same conflicts and drama and pressure to fit in that we had in the lower school. Actually, everyone gets along; there is new mutual respect, here, and it is OK to sit with people who are not in your circle of friends. If you want to settle down and study, people just come and join you and respect your choice to work.”
Tia anticipated a lot more independence … but not in a ‘good way’. She says, “I soon discovered that there’s a wealth of support to help us manage the demands that come with increased independence – both inside and outside Post-16. I’ve particularly valued the opportunity to join in the Exeter Schools Programme which develops links between Coombe Dean and Exeter University. I imagined being cast adrift in a little boat: in reality, I’ve joined a bigger crew of like-minded people.”
Tom expected Post-16 to be a harshly competitive environment. But he found that the breadth of study at this level allows everyone to find their niche. “We may be doing the same exam, but we’re all working in different fields with different interests,” he says. “The result is that it feels like working together rather than against each other.”
This sense of working together to gain a new independence seems to be the big theme in our conversation:
“We’re working with the school … not for.”
“Smaller classes mean better and stronger one-to-one relationships with teachers and other students.”
“You feel like you’ve got somebody.”
“Tutor time has more focus on helping me.”
“By working together, you find out there’s more than one way to do things.”
Our students paint a picture of Post-16 at Coombe Dean as a fresh start with greater independence, and of a community built around strong supportive relationships and mutual respect. It’s a place where you can be part of something bigger and feel like you have an important role to play.
If you’re considering post 16 education in Plymouth, come and take a look at the Coombe Dean community for yourself. Our Open Evening is on Thursday of this week (30th January), with entry from 7pm until 8.15pm. You will be most welcome!