Teamwork, leadership and service


by Thomas Garnier , Headmaster of Pangbourne College

A well-rounded education which develops children mentally, physically and socially relies heavily on the strength of a school’s co-curricular programmes. This is particularly important in a boarding environment where enrichment activities provide an essential avenue for expression and personal development.


At Pangbourne, our ‘challenge curriculum’ reflects the values and ethos of the school, providing a range of opportunities for all, and giving pupils the chance to learn a set of useful skills. However, providing a challenge curriculum during a global pandemic has indeed proved to be extremely challenging.

Duke of Edinburgh’s Award

The Duke of Edinburgh’s (DofE) Award provides opportunities to develop practical skills and character. The combination of volunteering, physical activities, skill-based challenges and expeditions give an all-round experience which is fun, rewarding and recognises a young person’s successful journey of self-discovery and development. 

All Year 9 pupils take the Bronze Award and many choose to go on to Silver in Year 11 and Gold in Year 12. With each level, the time, challenge and commitment required increases and this develops resilience, industry, teamwork and moral courage. As the Award is usually completed in groups, there is a sense of pride in shared success.

The restrictions brought about by the pandemic have presented challenges, but we firmly believe in the value of DofE Awards and we made a great effort to continue the scheme during 2020. Instead of our normal expeditions in the New Forest and South Wales, we used our 230-acre site and the surrounding area to run the training and qualifying expeditions on campus. Taking place a little later in the year than usual, over 160 participants undertook their Bronze, Silver and Gold expeditions in October 2020.

Combined Cadet Force

We have a proud Naval heritage and long-standing association with the Armed Forces; our Combined Cadet Force (CCF) is a vital element of our challenge curriculum which is taken up in Year 10. As in the Armed Forces, the ethos of the CFF is based on a foundation of strong shared values, disciplined behaviour and selflessness towards others. Cadets develop effective communication skills and the ability to think clearly in complex situations, solve problems, and exercise good judgement and initiative. 

The CCF programme has a unique appeal because it gives pupils the opportunity to do something completely different. Although in 2020 our field days were cancelled, practical outdoor sessions in year group ‘bubbles’ kept the new recruit training programme interesting for the 100 pupils in Year 10.

Leadership opportunities

At Pangbourne, all Year 12 pupils take part in a ‘taking responsibility’ course and nearly all of them choose to become ‘peer mentors’. Their previous experience of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and CCF has laid foundations for the skills they need to lead and support others but the training in Year 12 equips them for more responsibility in their final year. 

In normal circumstances, our Year 13 pupils would be taking an active role in supporting our Year 9 pupils. For us, one of the most negative impacts of the pandemic in 2020 was that the social ‘bubbles’ required by our risk assessment meant that they could not undertake these roles, and everyone felt this loss. We look forward to the time when different year groups can interact with each other again, as this is a strong feature of our community.

Volunteering and community partnerships

Working with local charities provides clear benefits to pupils as much as the charities involved. At Pangbourne, pupils choose a different charity each term to support, and then they fundraise, collect donations of food, books or clothes and help at fundraising events. This encourages pupils to think about the wider world and prepares them to make positive contributions to society once they leave school. 

A positive outcome of the pandemic has been an increase in fundraising initiatives. For example, a group of four Year 9 pupils used their own initiative to organise a charity hike. They planned and undertook a 10-mile walk, carrying rucksacks full of enough food to last a week. In doing so, they raised over £1,000 for FareShare, a national network of charitable food redistributors. In doing this they demonstrated leadership, selflessness and initiative.

We also have an international partnership with the Nabugabo Community Learning Centre in Uganda, which started in 2013. Every term a portion of our charitable efforts goes towards this, and every two years around 40 pupils spend three weeks heavily involved in vital local projects. This partnership experience is a wonderful adventure for the pupils. They engage with a different culture, contribute to local education initiatives and explore a diverse and beautiful country. In terms of personal development, exposure to the challenges faced and cultural differences is invaluable.

At a time when the value of citizens’ commitment to the common good is being seen so clearly during the pandemic, there is a need for schools to put values, discipline, service and teamwork at the heart of their ethos. I once heard Professor Bart McGettrick, Emeritus Professor of Education at Glasgow University, say, ‘Time spent on values is not time wasted … It is like the tide rising: everything rises with it!’ My own experience at Pangbourne confirms that he is correct.

Subscribe / latest articles and news from our schools