Academic rigour will, rightly, always form the bedrock of a solid education, but the wider learning opportunities, and the benefits they bring to the classroom, must never be overlooked. Co-curricular activities, whether artistic, sporting, musical, theatrical or otherwise are just as important in the modern educational landscape as work in the classroom.
At St Edward’s School, Oxford, community is a byword for many aspects of school life, both internally, in Houses, classrooms and tutor groups, or on the sports fields, and externally, as part of the city beyond the school gates. The location in Oxford is a huge part of the School’s identity, not only for the academic, cultural and social benefits of being a boarding school in a vibrant university city, but also for the opportunities it gives the pupils to forge purposeful and lasting relationships with their neighbours in the community.
Under the inspired and compassionate leadership of Head of Community Engagement, Paula Diaz Rogado, pupils now have access to an exceptional programme of volunteering opportunities. One such programme takes place in a quiet and picturesque corner of the school’s grounds, where the Fair Close Community Farm is situated and offers the charity FarmAbility the chance to host regular sessions for young people with learning difficulties. As part of the school’s volunteering and outreach programme, St Edward’s pupils join with some of these sessions, working under the guidance of the FarmAbility staff to support the other young people on tasks as varied as fruit picking, sheep shearing and field clearance.
Paula explains the benefit to St Edward’s pupils of this experience: ‘It’s about bringing community together: we are bringing people from different areas of society together who may not have had much occasion to communicate previously in their day to day lives. The St Edward’s pupils have the opportunity to realise that, in so many ways, they are very similar to the young people they meet at the Community Farm, but that people have different skills and abilities.
‘For the young people from FarmAbility it is a fantastic environment to develop their confidence levels, finding purposeful roles where they’re valued and appreciated for the work they are doing in their community is clearly immensely gratifying, and you can see the progress they are making as a result. To be able to host such activities on school grounds makes it all the more rewarding.’
There are tangible benefits to both the local community and to the St Edward’s pupils of working with projects such as FarmAbility. The young people on the FarmAbility programme benefit from the combined ingredients of the farming environment and an approach that supports young people to progress through to meaningful occupation. Though away from the classroom, the experiences offered here bring significant benefits to pupils’ academic studies; it enhances their wider skills, such as leadership, teamwork and collaboration, as well as engendering a good work ethic in a physically demanding setting.