Dragon School: the changemakers

The school raises over £100,000 every year for charity. Here, they explain the passion behind their philanthropic programme

Woven into the Dragon experience from reception to A Block is a deep and compassionate awareness of social and environmental issues, and learning about how to tackle challenges faced in a global era.

Every year the whole school votes to choose charitable sectors to support. This is done by using the ‘Button-o-meter’, where every child, including pre-prep children as young as four, is given a button to drop into a container representing one of 10 charitable sectors identified by the Social Impact Team. This exposes the pupils to a wide range of charitable sectors, while also effectively allowing the children to decide for themselves which type of cause they are motivated to support during the coming year. The three causes with the highest button score become those supported by the whole school that year. 

Each year group is involved in a fundraising project. Tea parties and selling handmade cards at the pre-prep become fairs and sponsored events in the lower and middle school. In the upper school, projects are designed by the pupils themselves, demanding commitment, planning, creativity and management skills. 

In Year 6 there is the famous ‘Swim the Channel’, where in one hour the entire year group swim the length of the English Channel, 1,416 lengths of the pool, in a six-lane relay. It is always a tight race against the clock and a testimony to their determination. 

In Year 7 the children learn social entrepreneurship through the long-standing ‘Governor’s Challenge’. Each child is given £5 to launch their own pop-up business; the aim is to multiply their income over six weeks. The total returns achieved can be over £10,000! These profits are pooled and in a second phase the children make presentations to advocate on behalf of specific charities they wish their year group to support. The Governor’s Challenge has inspired other schools, in particular Head Start School in Chennai, India, with whom Year 7 compare strategy and successes over Skype.

In Year 8 the pupils design and deliver their own event for charity. Invariably they rise to the challenge, designing webpages and social media campaigns around a highly creative fundraising event.

The Dragon’s social impact work goes far beyond these ambitious year group initiatives. The annual Christmas Charity Sale involves the entire Dragon Community and raises over £100,000 per year. Open to the public, it is a remarkable and vast fair, with stalls run by parents, staff and children, renowned authors signing books, a raffle and the grand and silent auctions. The sale is now in its 75th year.

The school also has partnerships with Ashoka, the Dalai Lama Centre for Compassion, the BigGive, WE Day and KIVA. With external partners, the school has pioneered and tested social impact programmes now used in dozens of other schools. Further afield, the Dragon has close links with international initiatives such as ACE Africa, Alive and Kicking, Waves for Change, and Future Hope in Kolkata.

Plus, the school collaborates regularly with other local schools, notably the Blackbird Leys Academy Trust, to host events such as the wonderful annual singing and orchestral days with the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra. Other events have included a dress-up multi-school climate march in University Parks, Oxford.

The variety of events, the speakers who come to the school from around the world, and the integration of the school’s values into the curriculum and everyday life, make a formative impression upon the children. The impact of Dragon alumni, like Leonard Cheshire and a new generation of Changemakers, like Tim Conibear and James Kirkham, has stretched around the world. As Daniel Gill, Director of Social Impact at the Dragon commented, the school’s aim is that the children, “acquire an understanding of how to give intelligently, effectively and compassionately” and develop the habit of asking how the world can be better, and how they can be a part of that change. 

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