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The importance of Co-Curricular activities in schools


John Davies, Director of Co-Curricular at Kingswood School, Bath fondly remembers how at the age of 13, he had the opportunity to take part in a mountaineering trip around the British Isles which has helped to shape his life, and his career.

In the summer holiday of 1983, aged 13, I was lucky enough to be one of a small group of five pupils who were taken on a mountaineering trip around the British Isles by an enthusiastic teacher at my prep school. This trip was the culmination of the training that we had received over the previous couple of years on the open spaces of Dartmoor, the cliffs of the Wye Valley and the rocky slopes of Snowdonia. In an unforgettable road trip, with camping every night, we visited Glencoe to traverse the Aonach Eagach Ridge, Ben Nevis to climb Tower Ridge, the Isle of Skye to scramble sections of the Cuillin Ridge and North Wales to complete the Welsh 15 Peaks Challenge in under 24 hours. This experience, amongst others enjoyed at school, was profoundly important in giving me the confidence, imagination and desire to begin an exploration of wild places and the outdoors, in the UK and abroad, which has helped to shape my life and career ever since.

Some of the moments that have given me the greatest satisfaction in my teaching career over quarter of a century at Kingswood have been hearing the reports from my former students of their own outdoor adventures, often enjoyed long after they have left school, which they attribute, at least in part, to the training and inspiration that they gained as a result of engaging with outdoor pursuits in their time at Kingswood. For those who enjoy the outdoors we offer: Orienteering; DofE Expeditions at Bronze; Silver and Gold; the chance to take part in the Ten Tors Expedition each year; year group hikes for Years 7,8 and 9; a Year 8 Expedition Club; a Year 9 Mountaineering Club; climbing and kayaking clubs; mountain biking; surfing trips and a survival skills activity for Year 7 as well as other more occasional activities. Outdoor pursuits will not be for everyone but what I want more than anything from the Co-Curricular programme we offer at Kingswood is that everyone has the same chance that I enjoyed to find the thing, or things, whatever they may be, that they can be passionate about and that will help shape them, give them joy and enhance their lives now and in the future.

We are very proud of the range of activities we offer and grateful that the teaching staff are so committed to helping to offer the kind of holistic education we set so much store by. Alongside traditionally strong areas such as music, sport, drama, DofE and outdoor pursuits, we also offer a different programme of weekly activities each term which reflect the enthusiasms of staff. We strongly believe that pupils, particularly in Year 7-8, should try a variety of different activities and they are encouraged to work towards the ‘Westwood Gold Award’ which recognises success in doing so.

The benefits are numerous and difficult to summarise succinctly but our hope is that, first and foremost, the students will enjoy the experiences on offer and, as alluded to above, for many their engagement with activities now will spark a lifelong passion. I would also suggest that one of the reasons for the very positive relationships between students and teachers at Kingswood is their shared experiences and interests outside the classroom.

Kingswood has always offered a very good variety of activities, certainly this was something that struck me about the School when I first arrived twenty five years ago and it is one of the most important reasons why I have never wanted to leave. Being a boarding school has always meant that the school day starts early and finishes late, allowing for more to be offered than at many schools. The earliest activities begin at 7am, the latest finish at 10pm and the weekends are busy.

The activities on offer are very well supported. We have an enviable number of students who are keen to represent the School in team sport. Music and drama are fantastically well supported and the offer of a year group hike will often elicit a positive response from over half of the eligible students. Up to 40 students turn up to Early Morning Hockey Skills with the Deputy Head at 7am! The challenge is to provide the places needed rather than to find the pupils to fill them. School trips, of which there are many, are often oversubscribed.

The range of activities on offer is constantly evolving. I love interviewing potential new members of staff to elicit from them what they might like to contribute to our extra-curricular programme, there are always surprises and each new teacher brings new ideas and enthusiasms. I had never heard of Lego Robotics until recently but it thrives now and Ukulele for Beginners arose out of a recent School trip to India.

As a school we try to look beyond the confines of our wonderful grounds and immediate school community to impact positively more widely. With over 150 pupils engaged in DofE each year a great deal of volunteering takes place as part of that programme and we have a tremendous tradition of service within the school community. In addition to this we have some very longstanding relationships with particular charities and many pupils volunteer with local organisations and even as far afield as Malawi, where we support Open Arms (which is a Transition Home for vulnerable children), and Kenya through our relationship with The Restart Centre.

We have pupils who have earned international caps in sport or made their extra-curricular passions their careers but for me the best feeling is watching a student discover something that will add significantly to their enjoyment of life and decades later finding out that they are still at it or that it is a treasured memory.

John Davies is the Director of Co-Curricular at Kingswood School, and has taught History and Politics at the School since 1994. Before taking up his present post he was Senior Housemaster of Upper House, a Day House for boys, and Head of Outdoor Pursuits.

John read History at the University of York and is a qualified Mountain Leader and Climbing Instructor. John lives at Kingswood with his wife and two children, both of whom attend the School. In addition to his academic teaching he continues to lead expeditions and instruct outdoor activities as well as coaching rugby, hockey and a range of other sports.

Published: June 23 2020

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