Looking beyond school boundaries brings rich rewards to pupils, says Alastair Chirnside, warden of St Edward’s, Oxford

Beyond Teddies: Alastair Chirnside
Alastair Chirnside

Take a moment to think about your clearest memories from your time at school. Where were they made? Who was there with you? What were you doing? Some of those memories will come from academic lessons.

If, like me, you were lucky enough to go to a boarding school, some will come from your boarding House. It’s likely, however, that most of them will come from what used to be called extra-curricular activities – sport, music, drama, clubs and societies. It is often in those activities that our strongest friendships were forged, the ones that outlasted school to be there for our lifetimes. 

At St Edward’s in Oxford, we do not refer to extra-curricular activities anymore. We talk about the co-curriculum, because we have understood how formative it can be for pupils and how integral it is to their personal development. That is partly a function of time: a child might spend two hours per week in an academic subject, but two hours per day training, practising or rehearsing.

The bonds which they forge with each other and the relationships they build up with their teachers are lasting, often strengthened by the intensity of experience. The medal at the finish line of a windswept regatta course, the curtain call on the last night of a play, the hand-clapping, foot-tapping finale to a big band concert – those are the memories of which the richest experience of school is made. 

Sitting within our co-curricular activity is Beyond Teddies, the partnership programme at St Edward’s. Its impact – on pupils and on those with whom they are working – goes far beyond the school.

It goes to the heart of public benefit, ensuring that the pupils who leave St Edward’s know how fortunate they have been and, much more importantly, want to have a lasting and positive impact on society. Some pupils work with children at local primary schools, coaching sport and assisting with arts, crafts and games.

Others help on our community farm on school grounds, working alongside FarmAbility, a local charity supporting young people with autism and learning disabilities to engage in outdoor activities. The pupils who volunteer there enjoy the company of young people with backgrounds and abilities different from their own. They are able to support the participants, promoting health, well-being and social inclusion.

Pupils are also engaged with local care homes, performing music, reciting poetry and helping residents with technology. Staff lead by example, with visits to local primary and secondary schools for both academic and sporting partnerships.

As a community, the School chooses a local charity each year to support by raising funds and by getting involved on the ground. This year’s charity is a nearby drop-in centre for vulnerable adults, and pupils attend regularly to make sandwiches for food parcels. 

St Edward’s is fortunate to have exceptional facilities, including The North Wall Arts Centre, ninety acres of pitches and all-weather surfaces, and the Ogston Music School. More than 50 clubs, societies, institutions and organisations make use of the School’s buildings and spaces, including community rowing, football and cricket clubs. Those relationships have never been more important, as we all play our part in the recovery from
the pandemic.

It is through this rewarding programme that our pupils learn how to be part of the city and its community. They make memories and friendships that will endure throughout their lives, just as they do in dance, in drama and in all the other activities available to them at St Edward’s. At the same time, however, they also learn the most important lesson of all: how to be good people beyond Teddies.

Alastair Chirnside is the new warden of St Edward’s School, Oxford


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