Why the Friday Club Works

Posted on: 07 Oct 2014

By James Hanson, Head of the Boys' Senior School at The Royal School, Surrey.

At The Royal School, Surrey, the highlight of the pupils in Year 7’s week is Friday last period – and not because they are going home.

The school has introduced a Leadership Club which offers pupils the chance to build a paper model of the Eiffel tower, become trained CSIs solving a murder investigation or act as advisors to COBRA on the Syrian crisis...

It is usually mid-July before the timetable for September gets wafted under teachers’ noses. But most members of a staff room will instinctively head down the columns to see what awaits them on Friday afternoons. “Oh, no – not a 9H double period 5 and 6 after lunch”, I’ve heard on more than one occasion.

Whatever our luck of the draw on Friday (or close personal friendship with the chief timetabler), how often do we look forward to period 8 for that final bell to ring and for peace to reign before the weekend starts. Is it the pupils or the staff who want to get out of the door first? Energy levels are low; tolerance and patience wearing very thin, so why on earth might it be a good idea to extend the day on a Friday to include an extra period 9?

What possibly might excite secondary age pupils or entice them to stay after school until 6pm to do more, err, school? Do we offer them large sugar-based snacks or drinks? Do we pay them money to be there? Do we reward them with merits or end-of–term certificates of excellence?

No to all of these – there is no reward or bribery system in place; it is purely voluntary, based on their expectation of having fun learning life skills.

We piloted a club with our Year 7s on Fridays called “the Leadership club”. I use the term loosely, because I envisaged the remit of such a club to include, basically, just about every life-skill I can conceive that doesn’t usually fit into a natural or national curriculum. But the aim is that there is large emphasis placed on decision making, collaboration and consensus.

Let me explain further ….. It is all too easy to see some schools offering lessons in mindfulness, etiquette, character and well-being to name but a few, so why not combine every key facet of life-readiness that we can conceive that they would find really beneficial once they leave our doors. After all we, as teachers, see ourselves as life coaches most of the time, so why not try to explore further life-skills.

This is all good, and a perfectly sound idea, but why on earth would you choose to use last thing on a Friday to stage this, when staff and pupils must be on their lowest ebb?

Actually, the converse works, we find; pupils look forward to this extra “lesson” if you must call it that, as a hi-light of their week, so it felt imperative to stage it last thing in the week so that Friday afternoon didn’t start to drag for anyone. If a school also has a key leaning towards creativity, it is all too easy to see that lost in the mires of drive towards league table position or ever-changing inspection frameworks, so we said why not add some creativity at the end of the working week.

As for staffing – I like to block that hour free in my diary, and am ably supported by one of the team’s young and very enthusiastic teachers. The other main draw to our new idea is that it runs in the Head’s study – why shouldn’t that be a learning zone for pupils? The proof of the pudding is in the eating – they keep coming back every week, and also, I sometimes have to gently chivvy them out of my study when we are approaching 6pm. They also badger us on Friday (or Thursday) for a clue before we meet.

So, what have they feasted on for the pudding of the school week? It is all creative in the way that any staff member could deliver, but for example; they have built a scale model of the Eiffel tower out of paper, become trained CSIs to solve a murder investigation, saved a football club from going into administration, re-enacted the battle of Waterloo, participated in our own version of the apprentice, acted as advisors to cobra on the Syrian crisis, debating the merits (or not) of badger culling and come up with rules (and then played) a game of 3-sided football to name but a few session ideas.

I also like the idea of etiquette lessons, mindfulness and character development, but we can accomplish all of this in a similar vein as they progress through school. Watch this space – I have even promised to teach them how to iron in the future. One mother said, in response to this, “oh excellent, can you please teach my husband as well”. I can hear them coming along the corridor now, having been promised “eggs” tonight as their clue – I yoke not.

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