Stretch & Challenge
What is distinctive about Stretch & Challenge at St Columba’s College is that it is firmly rooted in the tradition and charism of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart. At the core of our vision is the view that each student is encouraged to grow and flourish in order to fulfil their potential.
For children with particular aptitudes, there are many opportunities to develop and grow: pupils take part in external competitions and events such as Maths challenges, national writing competitions and Science and General Knowledge quizzes. We also make use of the expertise of older pupils, involving Sixth Form and Senior students in learning sessions that move our pupils well beyond the scope of the National Curriculum. These opportunities embrace everything from Politics and Economics to Drama and Sport.
“I was proud when our team did so well in the Maths Challenge. We had to work together to solve the problems.”
One of the hallmarks of our provision for the Gifted and Talented is its inclusivity: events, clubs and
visits set up with particular children in mind are nevertheless open to all, allowing every pupil to aspire to be the very best they can be.
It is central to our beliefs that every child has gifts and talents: it is our role to find and ignite them.
We aim to stretch and challenge every child in every lesson, and we have systems in place to ensure that we do this as an integral part of our planning and teaching. Pupils are actively involved in assessing their own level of understanding and we constantly question and challenge their ideas to push them towards their own best standard.
This can happen both within the set curriculum and also in the various opportunities that extend beyond it, such as the SHAPE (Service, House, Academic, Practical and Extra Curricular) timetable. In all subjects and all areas, a culture of personal excellence is fostered and promoted, and pupils are constantly stretched and challenged both in lessons and during extra-curricular activities.
For the charism is a tree whose branches have not yet all grown and that is perhaps holding more than one surprise for us. The Foundation Charism of an Institute by Brother René Sanctorum, S.C.
The top ten percent of students, according to their end of year effort and attainment grades, are awarded a Scholar’s Badge. These individuals in particular are targeted both in lessons and by the Stretch & Challenge Department. However, Stretch and Challenge opportunities at St Columba’s College are open to all pupils, an inclusive policy which feeds into the culture of personal excellence.
Key Stage 3, 4 and 5
All Scholars and students interested in enriching their own learning are invited to attend the various Stretch & Challenge Department programmes available. These include;
- The Significance Programme. This gives pupils the opportunity to develop their research and debating skills, while evaluating big concepts such as significance, and results in an excursion to consolidate this learning.
- ‘In Search of . . .’ programme. This offers diverse yet complementary opportunities for cross-curricular learning, culminating in a trip abroad. In 2019, students went to Florence, having spent a number of sessions investigating the Renaissance and Galileo.
Keys Stage 4 and 5
- The Good Place- this is a lively and incredibly popular club where Scholars and other students engage in high quality structured discussion to hone their critical thinking skills. Topics range from the Ethics of AI to the role of social media and the group meets weekly.
- Form 4 Scholars are invited to attend lectures at Cambridge University in the summer term.
- Form 5 students attend an Oxbridge Conference in the spring term.
- Critical Thinking and Oxbridge seminars are run at various points throughout the year, and are open to all pupils from Form 5 upwards. Students are invited to attend, and also to lead, some of these sessions – contributing to the independent learning and personal excellence of students – and yielding some very interesting discussions!
- Essay competitions and subject-based events are an important part of the Key Stage 4 and 5 Stretch and Challenge programme, and are open to all students at various points in the year
- In Search of . . .’ programme. This offers diverse yet complementary opportunities for cross-curricular learning, culminating in a trip abroad. In 2019, students went to Florence, having spent a number of sessions investigating the Renaissance and Galileo.and 2023 students visit CERN in Geneva
The Sixth Form Stretch & Challenge programme builds on the work lower down in the school, broadening the intellectual experience of students, and empowers them to explore new avenues independently. It is offered to Scholars in the first instance, but all with a curious spirit are invited to take part, maintaining the inclusive charism of the College.
Most of what is on offer in the Sixth Form is embedded in a view that students should always continue to broaden their educational experience, whether this is through making connections between their academic subjects, or more importantly nurturing a desire to explore well beyond these. Our aim is that students are not narrowed by subject choices but rather develop a passion for learning anything and everything. Initially students are supported in the transition to A Levels with meetings to monitor academic progress.
After this, students are offered:
- Critical thinking sessions in the Lower Sixth – the purpose of this is to create a culture of learning, to critically discuss with students not studying the same A Levels and to begin the preparation for university admissions tests.
- An Oxbridge Conference at a local school in Hertfordshire – this enables them to meet with like-minded students and to be aspirational in their university choices.
- Cambridge Open Day – those thinking about an application to Oxbridge are invited to attend a trip to Cambridge in July where they have a chance to explore the university.
- Mentoring – if the student decides to apply to Oxbridge or a particularly competitive course or university, they are allocated an Oxbridge mentor – a subject specialist, who supervises the wider reading and additional attention that such applications require. In particular, the subject mentor supports the applicant through tests specific to an individual university, and tests for wider university applications in Law (LNAT) and Medicine (BMAT).
- Support with application – students making any application are supported when deciding on a destination and course, and later with personal statements. Students are encouraged to drive this process, with the support of various members of staff. Extra support is given to those students applying to particularly competitive courses.
- Leading learning – students are actively encouraged to model their passion for their subject in leading learning for younger students. The process of education is not just to gather knowledge but to seek to share this love with others. Students are given many opportunities to do this; as subject mentors in departments, working with the Prep, and leading Philosophy Club sessions. This will give them confidence and a chance to engage in critical dialogue.
- Interviews – if a student decides to apply to Oxbridge (or an especially competitive course) they will be given numerous mock interviews. This will happen in partnership with other schools, in departments and with the Leadership Team. The aim is to build confidence and self-reflection.
- Competitions – all Scholars are encouraged to take part in external competitions.
This is done in conjunction with all Stretch and Challenge activities throughout the College. We aim to provide a broad and rigorous programme in the Sixth Form, driven by students who are facilitated to engage in a process of life-long learning. We seek to maintain the joy for learning new things combined with an intellectual humility, recognising that there is much to learn. Students are then challenged to share this experience with others both inside and outside the school community.
Overall, the Stretch & Challenge Department, alongside all the St Columba’s College staff, constantly strives to create a learning environment which allows the students to not only reach their own aspirations, but hopefully go above and beyond them.