Magdalen College School master Helen Pike explains how co-curricular activities and a focus on the institution's founding values help pupils to flourish in the 21st century.

AS I write, this year’s new undergraduates are gathering in the Sheldonian Theatre to matriculate.

Matriculation is an intimidating word, but it is a joyful and welcoming event which marks the beginning of university life.

I was 18 when I attended it, fresh from my northern comprehensive and growing out an unfortunate perm.

Twenty-five years later, I returned to live in this wonderful city as master of Magdalen College School.

If anyone had been able to tell my 18-year-old self that one day I would be leading such an extraordinary institution, I would never have believed it.

In common with many people whose lives have been transformed by education, what I did know when I graduated is that I wanted to give something back, and in some form or other I wanted to teach.

Magdalen College School’s founder, William Waynflete, was the only mediaeval bishop and Lord Chancellor with a background in teaching.

In 1480 he founded a grammar school within his college walls to educate boys in Latin and Greek, so that men who went up to Oxford would know what they were talking about when they got there.

There was so much more to Waynflete’s idea of education than Latin texts. Waynflete was part of an international network of scholars and philanthropists, people who understood that education is about doing as much as it is about thinking.

Today this is a belief which unites great schools around the world.

This summer I was in South China, talking to the headmaster of the most successful school in Guangzhou.

Our common ground?

That our outstanding results are achieved not in spite of all the co-curricular activities which our schools offer, but because of them.

Take the Oxford Festival of the Arts, of which MCS is the founder and lead sponsor.

Each summer it offers more than 100 events, and they are open to everyone.

You might have seen its banners festooned on the streets of Oxford and wondered what they have to do with education—aren’t they just a bit of pink froth?

(Not that there’s anything wrong with a bit of pink froth in June, mind you.)

The OFA is in part the culmination of year-round educational projects which we undertake in partnership—dance and cricket have featured heavily in recent years.

The people who are most fulfilled in life know what it is that gets them out of bed in the morning: they know what their purpose is—they know what they are ‘for’. One of the many things which a good school does is to offer the opportunities which allow young people to discover who they are in the fullest sense.

Some call this character education, and the University of Birmingham has set up the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues which is devoted to the understanding and promotion of this vital aspect of education.

Well rounded and grounded pupils don’t just know how to succeed in exams—they want to make a difference.

In the 21st century the study of Latin and Greek might seem stuffy to some, but in 1480 Waynflete’s educational ideas were forward thinking, and they remain so today.

MCS remains true to the spirit of Waynflete’s intention while honouring the principles and traditions on which the school was founded.

We were founded to be at the heart of education in Oxford, and this is one of the reasons why we have so many partnerships with local schools and other organisations.

We support and inspire thousands of children across Oxfordshire every year. Maths is a particular strength, and our expertise is much in demand.

We are always happy to hear new ideas from existing or prospective partners.

To give just a few examples from dozens, we offer primary school maths challenges alongside further maths masterclasses for pupils and teachers alike.

We coach hockey; we offer Latin in primary schools; we even do beatboxing. Which, by the way, is one of the many things I wish I was able to do. It’s never too late to learn a new skill. Perhaps next year...