At St Swithun’s we are proud of our academic excellence but also believe in the concept of being ‘appropriately academic’ which means encouraging the girls to work hard in class but then also providing them with the opportunities to do something else.
The ‘something else’ is as important as academic lessons and sometimes more so. We expect the girls to try new things, to make mistakes and learn from them, to develop commitment, perseverance, teamwork and organisational skills.
We accept that some girls will naturally want to take part in many activities and that others will need some gentle persuasion. We would be failing in our duty to the latter if we did not emphasise the importance of balancing academic work with other activities. After all, the girls will never again have so many opportunities to try such a wide range of activities.
Weekly Co-Curricular Programme
In addition to music, drama and sports activities the school’s regular after-school programme includes drop-in sessions and societies across a varied range of subjects such as biology, maths, chemistry, linguistics and debating. Polo club, scuba diving, karate and fencing are part of the weekly sporting programme as well as the opportunity to take part in training with Winchester and District Athletics Club. We run three choirs, three bands, an orchestra and instrument ensemble groups which reflect the girls’ interests at the time. Our most recent addition is a bassoon ensemble. Pupils commit to an after-school activity for one term. Form tutors help to ensure that the girls have a good balance of co-curricular activities and that they honour any priority sport, music or drama activities for which they are required.
Weekend Activity Programme for Boarders
In addition, at St Swithun’s we offer a full and varied programme of cultural, social and recreational activities at weekends to suit all boarders. We believe the weekend is a time when girls should have the opportunity of some ‘downtime’, to try out new experiences, to learn how to organise their time appropriately and effectively. The organised weekend activities are different each week. They could include, for example, an art workshop, golf, a takeaway and movie night and a roller disco social with a local boys’ school. Typically there are two or three activities on Friday evenings, and anything between seven and ten options on both Saturday and Sunday. There are regular opportunities to develop a skill across the term, but there are also many one-off activities, so each weekend is different and there are many new experiences to try.
The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award is a voluntary, non-competitive scheme designed to support the personal and social development of young people aged 14-25, regardless of gender, background or ability. It offers an individual challenge and encourages young people to undertake exciting, constructive, challenging and enjoyable activities in their free time. DofE offers a unique opportunity to develop leadership and team-working skills and across the country over 130,000 young people enrol each year.
At St Swithun’s, girls are encouraged to participate in the scheme, which seeks to develop self-confidence, independence, commitment and social conscience through a programme of volunteering, skill, physical activity and expeditions. Participants can start at any level but usually around 90% of the girls in M5 start at bronze level aged fourteen or fifteen and many continue to complete their silver and gold levels at the school. Expeditions take place in areas as far afield as Dartmoor, the Brecon Beacons and the Forest of Dean as well as nearer home in the Purbecks and The New Forest. Parents often help with the expedition section of the scheme and have found, like the girls and staff, that involvement can prove very enjoyable.
At the school, the scheme is run by a dedicated DofE centre coordinator who is able to offer the necessary advice and support; pupils manage their own award and, through the scheme, develop their initiative, organisational skills and sense of responsibility.
At each level (bronze, silver and gold) participants must engage in four activities:
An overnight self-sufficient camping expedition ranging from two days and one night (bronze level) to four days and three nights (gold level). The expedition section includes training for, planning and completing a journey on foot or horseback, or by boat or cycle or wheelchair.
Volunteering encourages participants to help individuals and the community (working in charity shops, drop-in centres for the mentally handicapped, helping with environmental projects).
Skills can cover almost any hobby, skill or interest of the participant, such as riding, photography, or playing a musical instrument and physical recreation focuses on sport, dance and fitness.
In addition, those taking their gold award must undertake a residential project that requires them to spend four nights away from home or school in the company of people previously unknown to them and in an unfamiliar environment, typically a youth hostel, camp or sailing ship. This might involve learning a skill such as sailing instruction or photography, or working with the handicapped, or with young people with special needs.
Those who complete their bronze or silver levels are invited to an awards ceremony to receive their certificates from a local dignitary or celebrity, whilst those who complete their gold DofE are invited to St James’ Palace in London to receive their certificate from HRH the Duke of Edinburgh. DofE is well regarded by universities and employers who recognise how it can benefit an individual.
Since 2006 the school has undertaken a major overseas expedition every other year for four weeks in the developing world. The focus of this has been personal development in a challenging environment, involvement in a major local community project and undertaking a major local conservation project, with an emphasis on helping to set up sustainable community-run projects.
Past expeditions have included Kenya, Tanzania and Malaysian Borneo. There have also been two expeditions to Uganda which included the opportunity for students to undertake some joint activities with pupils from our sister school, St Katherine’s. In summer 2019, pupils from year 10 to year 12 will undertake a four week expedition to Malawi, culminating in a three day trek up Mount Mulanje.
Past community projects have included school construction projects in Africa and the building of a community centre and fresh-water gravity feed in Borneo. Conservation work has included planting sustainable fuel wood trees, regenerating an area of damaged rainforest, and digging a waterhole to encourage wildlife and income from tourism. Personal challenge has included climbs of Mt Kenya, Mt Meru and Mt Kinabalu. A major component for the girls is fundraising part of the cost of the expedition themselves.