Mastery Through Co-Curricular

The main body of our enrichment offer is delivered through co-curricular electives; made up of an array of arts and games disciplines designed to allow our students to acquire knowledge that takes them beyond their own life experience. We settled on ‘co-curricular’ as the name for the provision as we wanted it to stand alongside the more traditional suite of subjects, both in terms of status as well as quality. Students in Years 7 to 9 participate in four hours a week of timetabled co-curricular lessons (two hours of games and two hours of arts), while Year 10 do just two hours, choosing either games or the arts as their focus. It should be noted that although we offer elements of PE, music, DT and art as part of the co-curricular offer, we also deliver these as discrete subjects as part of the traditional subjects on offer to all students.

To support the co-curricular electives we have extra-curricular sessions before and after school to allow students to develop their abilities. Indeed, a key part of the enrichment offer – extra and co-curricular – is to facilitate and nurture the ‘grassroots’ for our sports teams and academy performances.

To ensure that the co-curricular sessions are of high quality we felt it was important that the variety of electives all adhered to a set standard and are rooted firmly in the intention of working towards meaningful and measurable outcomes for the students. In order to facilitate this, we took inspiration from Dan Pink’s Drive and his belief in mastery as a motivating driver behind getting good at something. More specifically, we have attempted to ensure that each elective fulfils the three key ingredients of mastery – pain, flow and growth…


“The path to mastery is not lined with rainbows” (Drive by Dan Pink)

Although not always physically painful, acquiring new skills and developing new understandings brings with it challenges that students must overcome to achieve their goals. When learning anything complex for the first time there will be a period of repetition, drudge, potential boredom and maybe even despair. The heuristic nature of the co-curricular provision means that it should not be simple to access in the first instance; it should not simply be a case of turning up, doing and then leaving without the sense that challenge was very much central to the activities that students have taken part in.

There’s no doubt that the repetitive nature of learning a new song with its rhythms, key changes and precise cues can become boring and staid. Similarly, acting out a scene repeatedly to get lines and timings accurate can test the patience of the student who begins to feel that they will never get it right! However, these processes are essential in achieving anything of worth. Without the pain of the repetition or the drudge of “going again from the top” the end product would be half-baked. This is the mundanity of excellence in action.


“The oxygen of the soul” (Mihály Csíkszentmihályi)

Grittiness is key to success in achieving mastery and accomplishment – it’s only at this point that the notion of ‘flow’ can enter the process. Without going through the hard yards first the student cannot achieve a state of flow. A student ‘in the flow’ is experiencing joy in their work – as W. H. Auden states, it’s about “forgetting yourself in a function”.

Only once the student has studiously learned the key apparatus necessary for accomplished public speaking can they become immersed in their newly developed craft. What may once have been a daunting and seemingly impossible feat now appears as a fulfilling and enjoyable activity with consistently impressive outcomes.

All co-curricular options must offer the initial pain of learning something new but this then shifts onto students being able to access the work in such a way that they are experiencing a genuine sense of joy from what they are doing.


“Mastery is a mindset” (Carol Dweck)

The varied nature of the co-curricular offer is to provide choice to the students as they elect to be part of a particular discipline. However, it is also designed to challenge the students’ sense of security in terms of what they ‘can and cannot do’. Dweck points out that we are responsible for the boundaries we set for ourselves. As Henry Ford said: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” With a growth mindset, students can embrace the many colours of the co-curricular electives and take on new challenges that do not necessarily feel comfortable in the first instance.

Pain: the grit and mundanity of excellence in action.
Flow: forgetting yourself in a function of suitable rigour.
Growth: effort and persistence in developing talents and abilities.

Co-curricular and the House System
Outcomes are key in the co-curricular provision, which is further facilitated by allowing staff to award House points based on students’ individual and collective performances in their weekly sessions. This raises the stakes and further ensures that staff and students fully engage in the electives across all year groups.

Planning for mastery
At the development stage of each co-curricular elective, we require all staff to complete a planning document that ensures that the three key ingredients of mastery are immersed in each respective discipline. Staff are also required to stipulate the intended outcomes, many of which result in externally recognised accreditations; the more theatrical-based electives work towards the Showcase, of which we have three a year. This planning document is available here.

The offer:
Co-Curricular Offer 2015/16