Challenging the intellectually curious

Designed to inspire girls beyond the curriculum, the Elective Programme was launched at the end of the Summer Term 2018.

9 January 2019

The overriding aim of the Programme is to ‘challenge the intellectually curious’ by introducing Lower Fifth girls to a series of academic and scholarly opportunities that are not directly related to exam preparation and which also reflect some of the specialisms and academic interests of Downe House teaching staff. These modules have included: Espionage, Terror and Global Disorder, Literary Monsters, DH’Onomics, and Ancient Greek Physics and its Legacy.

Thirty-two Lower Fifth girls joined the Programme last term and were given a choice of three disciplinary pathways: Aston (Humanities), Muir (STEM) and Richards (Social Sciences), each named after Downe House alumna recognised for scholarly excellence. Most girls chose to explore a combination of Electives from across the pathways, with some honing in on one pathway in line with their specific interests.

Head of the Elective Programme, Dr Andy Atherton said, “Whilst public examinations are of course a primary concern and rightly so, we believe that it is also very important to instill a love of learning for learning’s sake and to challenge our most able girls to discover new and exciting ideas, concepts, authors, perspectives and theories. What has been most apparent in this first term of the Elective Programme is that it provides a very flexible framework for both teachers and pupils to explore and extend a topic in an interactive and responsive way. For instance, when looking at the topic of ‘Zombies’ within the Literary Monsters Elective, it was clear that the girls were particularly interested in the representation of zombies within film and so, after a whirlwind tour of film studies, we discussed various relevant clips, focusing on their cinematography. This prompted some very interesting discussions that might not have happened had we been engaged in following an exam syllabus.

This specific Elective also offered a golden opportunity to introduce girls to works of literature that they would not normally encounter until well into undergraduate or even postgraduate studies. In week two, for example, we discussed the presentation of Grendel in the epic poem Beowulf and what this might tell us about Anglo-Saxon England. Over time, girls will build up an extensive knowledge over and above that which the exam boards cover and this will undoubtedly give them a competitive advantage over their counterparts, but, more importantly, a deeper knowledge and understanding of humanities, STEM and the social sciences.”

Following its successful introduction, Dr Atherton is planning to extend the scope of the Elective Programme in various ways, maintaining its core aim to enrich the intellectual lives of those involved whilst providing rigorous academic challenge beyond the curriculum. The Elective Programme has been a huge success in its first term and clearly, exciting times lay ahead.

Find out more about the Elective Programme.

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