Mr Sheer, Director of Co-Curricular, discusses the AOB Programme.
What is the AOB programme and how does it work?
Perhaps the trickiest element of defining the AOB programme is that it serves so many functions and, with over 160 activities, groups, clubs, sports, and societies per week, it is one of the areas the School is best known for. At its best, the Programme provides pupils with the chance to try things that they would not ordinarily have an opportunity to do. What it also does is to support other programmes within the School. Pastorally, for instance, it provides an outlet and a change to the means of expression, whether burning off energy or taking a moment to reflect in a Mindfulness or Yoga AOB.
In order to increase the reach of the AOBs we re-wrote the school timetable, with the AOB programme included in slots throughout the week. This had a dramatic impact on engagement. If you take music practice as an example, choir sessions used to take place in lunchtime and attracted only the absolute keenest pupils to participate. By making it part of the timetable, the numbers in the Choir more than doubled overnight. It is about providing the stimulus and the framework for the pupils to engage positively in what is on offer, and as we know, there is an awful lot to choose from.
It also means that pupils who have an interest in those sports sitting outside of our major Sports programme have an opportunity to do both; they can play their alternative sport as part of the AOB programme, and in some cases represent the School, but they can also stay competitively involved in our main sports. It is a system that benefits everyone, as we are also able to field stronger teams and more of them, and for those pupils further down the School trying one of our minor sports for the first time, we can talent spot and nurture their development for the future.
On the subject of development, how does the AOB programme fit into moulding the Cokethorpean of 18, 25 or 30 years old?
I think there are those schools that present themselves as wholly academic institutions, or with a focus on the Arts, or Sport, or whatever it might be. At Cokethorpe, you will hear about the breadth of the offer. That is not to undermine the academic pursuits of the School by any means – they are of course at the centre of everything – this is more about the rounded educational model and the interplay between all areas. It might be a cliché but that is what we are about as a School. Whether you are talking about the Leadership Programme, AOBs, Sport or engaging with life in a House, everything you see and hear about Cokethorpe speaks to providing the platform for the rounded individual to find their feet, to blossom, and for a wide range of skills to come to the fore.
The AOB programme inspires creativity, it evokes the spirit of curiosity in trying new things and moving pupils beyond their comfort zone, and it delivers the opportunity for the practical application of some of those other core traits of the School, such as Leadership. Where the programme is at its best is when the activities are driven by the pupils directly – a prime example of grasping that opportunity to demonstrate leadership – whether they run them or whether they come up with them. Our ‘Build-a-Bike’ AOB, something that gained national press attention, was a completely pupil-led activity.
The tutors and teachers also ensure there is breadth and that a pupil is getting the right balance. If the AOB profile does not match that of an Academic Scholar, then there may be intervention and a suggestion to consider options that will ultimately be more beneficial to their objectives. This is not to say we are applying limitations on the breadth, but a Biologist might be encouraged to consider Dissection Club over, say, Chess Club. Our desire is that the decision still rests with the pupil – we are looking to lead pupils to the path, it is their responsibility as to whether they go up it. We also encourage parents to engage with the process and take an active interest in those choices.
You mentioned the Sports programme earlier, how have things changed there?
Perhaps the biggest change is in the adjustment of mindset; going beyond the win-loss ratios and looking at the quality and competitiveness of the fixture and making sure our players are properly challenged and tested. I would argue that the players’ development is enhanced more readily by taking on a school that presents a true contest than a guaranteed victory.
The formal establishment of Outdoor Education is another point of demarcation in recent years. What is the thinking behind the programme and where are we heading with it?
A lot of what now forms the core of the Outdoor Education programme we were already doing and have been offering for some time. Part of my role has been moving those sports out of the shadow of our major Sports programme and shining a light on the good things that are being done there. The purview of the programme actually goes beyond what would strictly be defined as Outdoor Education and includes what you might term a ‘country pursuits’ programme – it includes clay pigeon shooting and kayaking, for instance.
A way to distinguish may be to consider a person who is loosely represented as ‘outdoorsy’ but not from a team sports background maybe finding more of interest in an exploration of the Outdoor Education programme than they might in the Sports programme.
Our strategic vision lies in creating an interconnected approach to our Sport. We are a relatively small school by numbers, how do we ensure that we are consistently punching above our weight in fixtures and competitions? One way is saying to that First XV Rugby player, rather than playing Fourth XI Football in the Lent Term, why not look at an option that benefits your core strength or your coordination? Have you considered representing the School at climbing, providing that added benefit to your wider development on the Rugby field?
The other strategic pathway to ponder is the possible commercial aspect of the facilities and the grounds, considering corporate functions and things of that nature. We are fortunate here that we have space, knowledge, and expertise, meaning that there are lots and lots of relatively straightforward opportunities to benefit from the site without compromising our educational offering. It also feeds into the School making better use of what we have; the golf course is a good example of that. By re-locating the course a few years ago, we have gone from a facility that was available for perhaps one third of the year, owing to the position of pitches, to one that can be available year-round, which benefits our pupils as well as benefiting possible commercial opportunities.
Can you talk to us about the Prep School Activities programme?
The programme looks to introduce the children to lots of different activities but, when you consider that we will have the vast majority of the children within the School for a long time, most going through all the way to eighteen, we have worked on providing something a little more meaningful for their ongoing development and to the end product of their endeavours.
If we take Dance as the example, it is something we can offer in School, but could we be delivering more from it for the children by moving it to a professional dance studio in Witney, for example? Equally, can we make an allocation in the day or immediately after it for sessions, whether Dance, Golf, or anything else, that give proper time and focus to match the exertions and the desire to progress. These are some of the areas we have considered whilst improving our Prep School Activities programme.
Mr Sheer was talking to Mr Griffiths, Head of Marketing.