Learning beyond the syllabus

Students playing the guitar

It’s more than a little disappointing to be writing once again in front of a view of steady rain – and feeling pretty cold too. Though the traditional warmth of a summer term may be unwelcome for those in exams, it is much more disheartening to be unable to get out and about, as I’m sure all readers will be thinking. And above all, it’s incredibly frustrating for cricketers, with long-awaited fixtures cancelled or postponed, or even more irritatingly, abandoned mid-game, as was the case last week for a cup match against Hurstpierpoint.

Still, sport having been thrown into disarray by Covid, at least ‘winter’ sports are up and running again in this ‘summer’ season. When did we last see football in the Trinity Term, or hockey? But on Saturday there was a spirited 1st XI football match, another zestful Under 12s match, and a fine game of 1st XI hockey against medic undergraduates. With that, and tennis training for an astro-full of boys, it was a good weekend, and my thanks to all who took part. Some parents told me they had been more excited about coming to watch than ever, and it was excellent to see so many. Thank you too for your support.

Drama and music are next up (as they say), with preparation for the June festival well underway. Let’s hope for fine evening weather …

Well done too to our leaving IB cohort, whose superb MegaCourse (including seminars, visits, primary school teaching, volunteering … and much more) came to an end this week. Such ‘extras’ are not of course really ‘extras’: as with co-curricular activities, and academic enrichment of every kind, the rationale is very clear. But maybe it’s worth repeating. Why do we do these things – the non-examined courses, the activities, the sports, the music and drama? Partly of course because we believe them to be intrinsically valuable activities: music or drama or cricket or debating or looking after and learning about exotic animals – these are all valuable activities, and deserve new followers and future experts. But we do them to get out of our comfort zones, to learn new things, to learn from failure, to learn to work with others, to learn about ourselves.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repetition: great results are our core, and in some ways the minimum ‘good job done’ for Whitgiftians. But developing empathy and compassion, knowing yourself, and knowing what you value, are what will change the world. As will a quality which is also nurtured by learning beyond the syllabus, by enriching activities, by stretching oneself. It is the quality which shines through a rather good biography of Disraeli I’m reading, the quality he had and most leaders today lack: imagination.