Our Heads of Scholars, Dr Harrison (SH) and Dr Oldham (CO), discuss the Scholars’ Programme and their plans for its future.
How long have you headed Cokethorpe’s Scholars’ programme?
I took on co-responsibility for the programme four years ago with a former colleague and was joined by Dr Oldham two years ago.
And what do we aim to achieve through the Programme?
First and foremost, we want to offer a varied programme that enriches the Scholars’ learning, extending the rigours of the academic challenges they face in the classroom.
That is certainly the main aim, though what we have also found with the changes made to the programme – pupils opting in and committing to the additional workload as a Scholar – is a community feel among the Scholars, a form of identity that is being looked on positively by their peers as a desirable figurative badge to wear. That is a powerful thing for the broader attitudes to learning in the School.
When we consider those core and more traditional elements of the programme – the Exhibition, the Scholars’ Dinner, and the Scholars’ Journal – it is about helping the Scholars to achieve those skills that will help serve them in their future academic and working lives, be that presentation or interview skills, their research credentials, or the ability to engage in and converse effectively during a formal dinner setting. They are all important skills too, of course.
You touched on skills which are recognisable within our Leadership Programme; how do the programmes interact?
One of the things we look to cultivate with the Scholars is a sense of ambition, perhaps beyond what they might recognise that word to mean. I think some of that ambition is bred by building confidence, which we help foster through presenting at the Exhibition Evening and debating in the Scholars’ AOB sessions and other occasions, enhancing their public speaking skills. But also ambition in the sense of exposing them to new opportunities and career paths they might not have considered previously; for instance, the trip we went on to New Scientist Live.
Responsibility is also a big part of the process, with the pupils taking responsibility for their work, whether that be research for a debate, journal entry or Exhibition piece, or by enhancing the reputation of the Scholars through their engagement in lessons. These are all areas that they take full ownership of themselves and they, quite rightly, take great pride in that.
And how does a pupil become a Scholar?
The process has changed this year. There are now three points of entry: First Form, Third Form and Lower Sixth. The First Form apply in the latter half of the Michaelmas Term, allowing them to get used to the pace of life in the Senior School first. They are invited to submit a letter of application to us outlining why they want to be a Scholar, followed by an interview process, so not unlike applying for a job. The Third Form applications come at the end of the Summer Term, and includes their end of year examination results, as well as the letter and an interview. Finally, they also sit an additional Scholarship Paper at the end of their exams. The timings are slightly different for external candidates, who can apply for the Programme on joining the School, but the process is otherwise the same. The process for Fifth Form applicants to become a Sixth Form Scholar is the same other than the Scholarship Paper being replaced by a presentation of their choice for five minutes, with a five-minute Q&A to follow.
The Programme has also been broken down now, with a re-application made at First Form, Third Form and for Sixth Form. Our expectation would always previously have been that the Scholars would have displayed all of the attitudes and skills to keep them in the Programme, however, pupils change, commitments change, priorities change. That’s why we ask them to reapply; it is an opportunity to take responsibility and ensures the collaborative benefits of being a Scholar continue to be felt by all.
CO AND SH
The Scholars’ Exhibition Evening is one of the representative outputs of the Programme; how does it work?
The Scholars from First Form to Fourth Form undertake their independent research projects during the Scholars’ AOB session each week. These are initially guided by us – helping them to select appropriate subjects for research, where they might like to conduct that research, and so on – but after that they really take the lead and their output is very much their own. In the older year groups, the onus is very much on them, in keeping with the expectations of Sixth Form study.
The quality and breadth of work produced across the board was superb and was perhaps best reflected in the depth of knowledge shown when parents, staff and peers questioned them, and in the sheer enthusiasm of the Scholars in answering those questions throughout the course of the evening. I think we really benefit from the careers, expertise, and wider interests of parents in this setting as well, with questions being raised that challenge, intrigue and inspire the Scholars in their areas of research.
CO and SH
You have made a number of changes to the Scholarship Programme for this year, what was your objective from these changes?
I think when I first became involved with the Programme, being an Academic Scholar was, I think, almost felt to be a prestige title by the pupils as, in truth, it often is in other schools. There were some activities for the scholars in the past, but we felt we could achieve more. One of the things we have tried to do is initiate a structured and rigorous programme through which the scholars are actively doing things to actively merit the title of ‘Scholar’ rather than a more tacit assumption that strong exam results and classroom performance was enough to have the title bestowed.
There is still a prestige element, of course, but the programme now goes beyond it and achieves something that is more pragmatic in many ways.
The wider pupil body’s perspective of the Programme has shifted with that. Being a Scholar is really becoming a thing of envy and reverence, which is a good thing for everyone. You can see this in the number of applications that have been made this year already. We are not looking to add to or advance the classroom learning through this Programme; through the trips, activities and showcases of work, we are seeking to enhance their overall knowledge and approaches to furthering it. When we are looking to appoint a Scholar, we are not simply looking for the best exam results but also considering their attitudes, approaches and enthusiasm for academic subjects outside of the classroom.
In fact, one of the pupils in interview when asked if Scholarship should be about being the best in the year said ‘no’, their work ethic, their ambition, and their empathy and support towards other pupils in their work were just as important. We could not agree more.
We also now have a re-structuring of the Sixth Form Scholars Programme. Essentially what we used to have was a group whose involvement with the Programme was entirely based on their GCSE performance. We thus had a cohort of very academically able pupils, but not all of those pupils exhibited the wider traits that we want to cultivate among the Scholars. Add to that the former Sports, Art, Drama and Design Award holders who may have become Leadership Award Holders and there was a much broader grouping. By shifting the emphasis and creating the ‘opt in’ application process, we are able to select academic scholars who really do want to engage with this specific programme.
What are the other formats through which the Scholars can exhibit their work?
I think it is really important for the Scholars to understand that learning and research is a process, as indeed it is for all pupils. At the Exhibition Evening, when the Scholars are presenting their work and answering those questions, that is their work to date rather than the final piece. That point is a juncture by which they can refine their ideas, realise where they have gaps in what they have done so far and can continue that process.
We have previously produced the Scholars’ Journal annually and was an opportunity for the Scholars to write up their research and findings formally. This was always a positive experience for them by way of improving their written communication skills across disciplines. We are now intending to alternate the Scholars’ Journal with a Scholars’ podcast, allowing them to develop their communication skills in a different way.
We opted for this approach in consultation with the pupils. There was a desire to try something new, whilst recognising the benefits of developing those more traditional communication skills. Given that some of them could otherwise be writing a journal article every year from First Form to Upper Sixth, we felt we had the space within the Programme to afford them that opportunity. I think it is fair to say we are all rather excited about this new venture!
Dr Harrison and Dr Oldham were speaking with Mr Griffiths, Head of Marketing