The new Vanguard Programme at Stowe, which runs from the Third to the Fifth Form, is a core programme encouraging the pupils to ‘learn how to learn’. In a busy Third Form and GCSE curriculum of different subjects and exam pressures, it can be too easy for pupils to slip into only focusing on ‘what do I need to know for the exam?’ rather than, ‘what can I be doing to deepen my understanding and skills?’

Here at Stowe we see the most promising pupils as being the ones who display a willingness to take on new challenges, whether this is on the sports field, in the theatre, or in the classroom. Challenge is the key to growth and improvement and this applies to academic progress as much as it does in the gym. As teachers, therefore, our aim is not to make learning ‘easy’ for our pupils, but to help them find the right level of challenge for them, in the areas that interest them, and to give them the encouragement and support to try difficult things, make mistakes and learn. This is the key to unlocking potential.

The Vanguard Programme is designed as a vehicle for allowing us to help pupils develop an understanding of how learning happens and how challenge (and also failure) is essential to achieving progress. It provides the opportunity to encourage Stoics to look beyond the confines of the examined curriculum, to see how their studies are interconnected and how they relate to the ‘real’ world. It is designed to foster inquisitiveness and genuine independence as learners.

When Stoics arrive in the Third Form, they will have a designated space in their timetable devoted to Vanguard. Lessons will be devoted to developing an understanding of how best to approach learning and to building an awareness of and interest in issues and topics that fall outside or between the subjects in the examined curriculum. This will be done both through whole year group lectures or seminars, and through follow-up work in small sets of 12 to 15 pupils.

Throughout the year they will work both as individuals and in teams and will be encouraged to read, think, innovate, take risks, and reflect on their progress. In the first term they will have lessons on understanding how learning happens and what makes learners more effective, and in the second and third term they will be exploring thought-provoking topics where they will be encouraged to research, challenge and debate. By the end of the year they will have also designed a proposal for the individual project which they will pursue across the next year and a half.

The course in the Fourth and Fifth Form offers them the opportunity to make their ideas manifest, giving them the space and time to challenge themselves in an area of their choice through the development of the individual project. The project can take on a variety of formats – a dissertation, artefact, investigation or performance, for example. This leads to a ‘Higher Project Qualification’ or HPQ, which is managed through the exam boards and is equivalent in weighting to a GCSE. Pupils will be working in small sets with a supervisor. The supervisor will not necessarily be an expert in the areas their pupils have decided to research, but will provide guidance on how to formulate a workable question or design brief, how to go about research, how to assess sources of information and how (and why) to provide professional academic referencing.

The project will come to a close at the end of the Michaelmas term in the Fifth Form, when the pupils will give a presentation on their work and submit their final version, with a reflective analysis of their learning journey. Marks are awarded not just on the quality of the outcome, but also on the pupil’s ability to manage their project independently, to find and use resources analytically, and to genuinely reflect on the process; what they learned about themselves from their successes and mistakes along the way.

The programme is designed to be transformational and empowering. Through self-awareness, reflective practice and determination they will discover how to develop and transfer skills, resulting in a growth in both confidence and competence. Furthermore the programme will lead to the development of habits, attitudes and competencies that will reflect richness and integrity and which will ripple out into all their examined subjects and indeed all areas of their lives.

There will be another opportunity to carry out project research in the Sixth Form, where pupils can choose to embark on an ‘Extended Project Qualification’, or EPQ. This is very similar in design to the HPQ, but with more independence, more depth and more rigour. It is worth 50% of a full A Level and is very highly regarded by universities, as it encourages pupils to develop the intellectual curiosity and skills needed for success in the tertiary sector.