The new academic year has brought with it a new course, Trivium, for Third Formers (Year 9s) at Oundle School. Trivium is a course based purely on ‘interestingness’. It complements the School’s already extensive Voluntaries programme and Extended Project Qualifications (EPQs), encouraging pupils to extend their learning beyond subjects for academic assessment.
Twenty teachers at Oundle are involved in the new Trivium course, and their brief is to educate, to introduce pupils to ideas and culture, to sow seeds and to broaden the educational experience. The topics explored vary from group to group; whilst one class is studying the works of Koestler, another is immersed in the art of Berlin. One set of pupils is discussing ethical aspects of technological advance while another is being introduced to the poetry of Yeats.
Oundle’s Director of Studies, Ben Evans, commented: “Our new Trivium course is studied by all Third Form pupils in groups of 10 for four lessons per week. Oundelians are intellectually ambitious but it is vital that they do not equate all learning with assessment. ‘Triv’ has no syllabus and no prescribed content.”
Many of the Trivium themes will overlap, and this is important: appreciation of a work of art is enhanced by an understanding of historical context. What links all the sets in this course is the method of teaching – Trivium’s ‘traditional three ways’ of Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric. Oundle provides a modern Trivium, but expects that these three disciplines will remain central to the teaching.
The close relationship between the teacher and the pupils develops during the course of the year, with small set sizes allowing for the classroom atmosphere to be similar to that of a tutorial. The philosophy of the course can be summed up the words of E M Forster: “only connect”.
Ben added: “Oundle’s GCSE results are exceptional. The raw results have placed us 30th in The Times’ league table for the past two years. The Value Added per pupil has improved steadily for the last ten years whilst the academic ability of the average Oundelian has remained remarkably consistent.
“The evidence suggests that the results have reached a peak, and the new challenge is to maintain standards, especially against a backdrop of falling GCSE top grades nationwide. If we assume that we have reached a zenith in terms of teaching towards examinations, we should investigate further ways of improving the educational experience whilst still maintaining the rigour involved with preparing pupils for GCSE.
“We wish to sow seeds for the future by providing intellectual stimulation from the off. Our aim should be to create something akin to a ‘colloquium for all’.”
Oundle’s extension programme is strong, with academic societies, extension courses, Voluntaries and EPQs all offering many opportunities for intellectual challenge.
Fifty-eight Voluntaries courses are open to First to Fourth Form (Year 7-9) pupils including photography, mah-jong, climbing, origami, astronomy, palaeontology and yoga.
Ben commented: “Voluntaries represent the chance to broaden pupils’ academic horizons, and to explore artistic, literary, cultural or sporting activities without ever having to be tested on what they have learned and experienced. Voluntaries are an opportunity to delve deeper into things that really interest pupils, or they could be a chance to have a go at something that they have never done before. Above all, they are supposed to be fun.“
Extended Project Qualifications (EPQs)
In addition to traditional A levels and Pre-Us, pupils may choose to produce an individual project in an area of particular interest rather than opting to follow a taught course for their Sixth Form extension.
The final project will be completed by the end of the Lower Sixth, and may take the form of a 5,000-word report or a ‘product’ (which may be a CD, DVD, crafted object, original composition, work of art) with an accompanying 1,000-word report. Each project will be assessed to gain the AQA Extended Project Qualification.
Last year saw the introduction of EPQ Level 2 Projects at Oundle, which requires a high level of independent work and original thought. It is a stand-alone qualification completed in one year where pupils can gain an A* grade equivalent to half a GCSE.