Extra-curricular activities shouldn’t be an extra
Mark Lascelles, Head Master of Dauntsey’s
Business leaders are calling for the UK’s education system to better prepare young people for the world of work. Academic qualifications are certainly important but surely attitudes and behaviours are as important as grades? I believe that extra-curricular activities – from drama, music and sport through to adventure and volunteering – play a central role in developing those attitudes and behaviours.
With the ever-increasing pressures on family life, ferrying children to and from dance classes, hockey practice and football fixtures can fall to the bottom of the list of parents’ priorities. After-school clubs can offer some scope but I would argue that independent schools are uniquely placed to provide the best possible chance to get involved. For boarders and day pupils, the day is longer and there is greater opportunity.
With more than one third of children aged 10 to 11 years being overweight or obese, instilling a positive attitude towards exercise in children from an early age isn’t just a ‘nice to have’, it’s a life-saver. Physical exercise should be fun, challenging and open to everyone. As well as improving fitness and co-ordination and teaching new skills, it’s a great way to build confidence, resilience and mental toughness. Team sports in particular give pupils a real sense of achievement. They also help develop leadership, teamwork and self-discipline.
Time to take part
The range of sports open to pupils of all abilities in most boarding schools is immense – there is something for everyone to enjoy. Just as importantly, boarders have time to train and participate in these sports after school or at weekends. As a Head, one of my greatest pleasures is to see the enthusiasm with which our boarders use our sporting facilities whenever they have the time, whatever the weather. Day pupils often choose to stay on, well beyond the ‘normal’ finishing time!
But it’s not just sport where pupils can gain advantage in a boarding situation. Dance has become a real feature of life at Dauntsey’s and I have come to learn that it can benefit everyone – in the classroom as well as on the stage or dance floor. Self-confidence blossoms, shy people can become outgoing, nervous people are suddenly up for taking a risk – it’s great to see. For example, we never had a problem persuading girls to dance but the boys could be more reluctant. Staging Matthew Bourne’s Lord of the Flies changed all that. The all-boy cast of 30, aged from 11 to 18, transformed dance at the school – it’s now considered ‘cool’ for boys to dance and they realise that dancers are in fact élite athletes.
Understanding risk and not shying away from it is an important life skill. Pupils can develop this through being exposed to risk in the security of a school environment. Dauntsey’s has a strong emphasis on adventure – we see it as an opportunity to demonstrate and adopt behaviours that will help pupils lead a fruitful and interesting life, in which they take risks that they understand, work towards goals and learn from experience. Whether pupils are tackling an expedition to Wales or Bhutan, taking on the challenge of crewing our Tall Ship, the Jolie Brise, kayaking from Devizes to Westminster, or simply camping in the school grounds, we want them to acquire new skills and attitudes that will stand them in good stead in the classroom and beyond. The children of Service families adjust well to this approach.
The other side of the coin is that life as a boarder can become very safe, something of a ‘bubble’. It’s vital, therefore, that pupils are encouraged to keep in touch with the ‘real world’ through volunteering in the local community and elsewhere. This gives them a sense of perspective that they could not gain otherwise. Some of our recent expeditions, including a project working with Romanian orphans and a trip to Bhutan, were life-changing for many of those who took part. Such opportunities help pupils think beyond their own experience and the formal curriculum to decode the world around them, gain cultural awareness and prepare them for a future in a global society.
Extra-curricular activities should not be an optional ‘extra’. They enable pupils to explore their personal limits and push themselves beyond what they might have thought possible. Activities outside the classroom create a platform for pupils to set themselves apart and develop into the person that they aspire to be. Every day I see the consequences, both in our school community and in classrooms. Pupils have a deeper understanding of how they function, greater self-esteem and a renewed energy and confidence in their abilities.
In short, what you learn outside the classroom can have a profound effect on the development of your character and your entire future.
Mark Lascelles joined Dauntsey’s in 2012 from The King’s School, Canterbury where he was Lower Master (Senior Deputy Head). After reading Geography at Durham University and completing his PGCE, Mark enjoyed teaching stints at Hookergate Comprehensive in Gateshead and at Boldon Colliery School, in South Shields. He was appointed to teach Geography at Shrewsbury in 1992 where he was also Master-in-Charge of Football, Cricket and Fives, before taking up his appointment of Housemaster of The Grove in 2003. In 2009, Mark was appointed Lower Master at The King’s School, Canterbury and then Acting Headmaster in 2010.