Tonbridge Grammar School for Girls encourages students to experiment and explore through its ambitious Triple X programme. Lesley Tyler tells Mandy Oates how it works.Q: Tell me about your Triple X programme. What is it and why have you introduced it?
A: Triple X means eXtend, eXcel, eXplore. It's a built-in enrichment programme. As a selective girls' school with an average point score of over 10 A grades per student, we run many accelerated exam courses and students have traditionally had a very academic diet. Now they can use Friday afternoons, while staff are involved in meetings and training, to complement their normal fare. We use outside providers, sixth formers and friends of the school to staff the programme. The aim is to extend existing skills and allow students to get better at things they may be relatively weak in; to excel in things they are already good at; and to explore entirely new things.
Q: So what kind of activities feature in the programme?
A: We have around 50. To give a flavour, extend activities consolidate skills, such as conversational modern foreign languages, hip-hop dance and BMX biking; excel activities are targeted at the gifted and talented cohort, and include creative writing, Arabic, philosophy and ethics; and explore activities focus on practical skills, from childcare to car maintenance, organic gardening to rock climbing.
Q: How have pupils responded to having such a wealth of options?
A: We were anticipating a 40 to 50 per cent uptake, with the rest opting for home study or independent study on site. But we've been overwhelmed by the response. For many it's the highlight of the week. Most classes are full and many are oversubscribed, so we allow students to swap activities every six weeks. They can suggest activities, and we respond to this - hence chocolate-making, sign language, ballroom dancing and Japanese.
Q: I'm curious about the take-up of traditionally male or female-oriented activities by your girls.
A: I've been surprised by the enormous popularity of traditionally female activities such as textiles and cooking compared with, say, DIY. Our mission is to "educate able girls for life", and I feel we should recognise the full colour of that life. I don't want the first baby they pick up to be their own, or for them to be unable to cook a Christmas cake. It doesn't mean we don't challenge gender stereotyping though. Golf, rugby and football are also popular.
Q: With so many providers, how do you monitor quality?
A: First, we recruit providers with a track record of working with young people, or who I think would be good at it. We had an initial meeting of all the providers at which we laid out expectations, dealt with any worries, and toured the school. We keep in regular email contact and the staffroom is always open for tea at the end of sessions. We've given evaluation forms to students in each class, and we tour classes each week, although offsite activities are more difficult to monitor. So far feedback has been excellent. Students appreciate the chance to work with adults other than teachers.
Q: Any words of advice for a school setting up a similar programme?
A: Gauge the level of interest first - don't estimate. Our programme was far more popular than anticipated. Many classes were oversubscribed, resulting in complaints. Don't offer too much choice. Paper allocation is a lot easier than using spreadsheets. We devolve much of the cost to students, but many providers are happy to do it for free - if you don't ask, you don't get. Use sixth formers where possible - many have talents that only come to light through the programme. And when the admin is overwhelming, remember how much you believe in the philosophy.
Lesley Tyler is an advanced skills teacher at Tonbridge Grammar School for Girls in Kent.
Mandy Oates is deputy headteacher of Belle Vue Girls' School in Bradford.