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A catalyst for change

This summer, Winchester College will hold a two-week digital programme for the curious, ambitious and open-minded. The aptly-named Catalyst course is designed to give students the skills to thrive in a rapidly evolving world, and will encompass interactive lessons, online seminars and one-to-one coaching to help students challenge their thinking.

The course has been developed by a team of Winchester College teachers, so we spoke to Justin Pinnells, Head of Languages and Head of German, and Co-Director for Catalyst, to discover what the selected students can expect.


What’s the objective of Catalyst, and how will it better equip students for the world we now live in? 

Change is relevant in everything, and is everywhere; from bleaching coral reefs to cooking. But we rarely study it – and we rarely learn from it. Global problems are more complex than ever before, because circumstances change at an unprecedented speed. We want to bring the study of change to the foreground, and helping students to understand that change happens where disciplines intersect is critical. Tomorrow’s world is interdisciplinary.

Catalyst intends to help students shape a lens through which to identify, analyse, question and, we hope, bring about change. How has change happened? How is it happening today? How might it happen in the future? These are the questions that tomorrow’s leaders – that is, students – need to explore.

Through Catalyst, we hope students will develop a unique perspective about how change happens by interrogating patterns of change within and across different contexts and disciplines. And the journey doesn’t stop after just two weeks. We’re committed to helping Catalyst alumni pursue change as they confront new beginnings at university, and beyond.


Can you introduce us to the key themes of the programme, and this year’s contributors?

The course is divided into three modules. The first has scientific and historic roots and will give an overview of the most impactful changes on humankind. The second module follows a strong philosophical and inquiry-based approach, which challenges and tests our belief systems – especially when facing such seismic changes as the eco apocalypse and climate disasters. This leads naturally into our final module, which will explore how to address global energy and climate challenges through large-scale policy, technological and societal shifts. Following the previous modules, it will be very interactive and involves a real-time simulation of global energy and climate system models.

Alongside myself, there will be a number of key contributors from Winchester, including Head of Sixth Form, Tom Quayle, who teaches English, Div, and supports students’ university applications as co-head of Careers. Dr Alex Clayton, our Head of Geography and a glaciologist. And Dr Beth Mackintosh, a trained philosopher and Incoming Head of Theology and Philosophy at Winchester College.

We’ll also be working with subject experts who will help bridge theory and practice. These include Pete Convey, a terrestrial ecologist and world-leading polar explorer, with over 25 years’ experience with the British Antarctic Survey. Dr Magnus Ryan, Cambridge University Historian and thought leader in political history. Major General Jonathan Shaw, a senior ranking British military leader, and Ninel Musson, a Founder at VTH Season, South Africa’s leading independent record label.


Div is at the heart of the Winchester College approach. Can you tell us a bit more about it, and how it will influence Catalyst?

Div is the hallmark of a Winchester education. It’s a subject that explores history, literature, art, politics, music and religion, from antiquity to the present day. It also serves as a forum in which students learn to debate, listen and respond to opposing views – an indispensable skill in a world filled with so many fundamental oppositions. Div is essentially an academic discipline in which critical thought has been formed for centuries. Not only is it a subject that develops a critical mind, it also upholds civility in discourse and promotes intellectual curiosity.

Div is non-examined and takes up a substantial part of the Winchester week. The freedom that comes from not having examinations allows for true exploration and educational adventure. And what’s more, students can lead the way just as much as Dons.

This approach to learning and intellectual exploration almost naturally formed the basis of Catalyst. Div was not necessarily in the foreground when designing the course; however, it has been invaluable, as we often came back to the fundamentals of teaching Div and used its core as a basis for Catalyst.


We understand students will receive a transcript covering their strengths and areas of development. How can they use this to inform their next steps?

You could argue that the traditional ‘transcript’ reinforces modes of education that are increasingly outdated. It can constrain innovation and, at worst, might limit learning to single subjects or ‘exam results’. We want to support each student in learning for today’s world, pursuing varied pathways to futures that excite them.

The Catalyst Transcript is effectively a form of iterative feedback – something that evolves with the student. We hope that this narrative will help students understand their own strengths and areas for further development, which might shape how they approach their latter school years, and even what they focus on at a university level.

We think of it as a roadmap to mastering key skills like empathetic collaboration, narrative defence, and negotiation and resolution – all things that will endure well beyond secondary school.


Why do you think additional programmes and accelerator courses like this are important for today’s students?

I think schools are great at delivering specific content, within the framework of a curriculum and towards the specifications of an exam. However, I often find myself longing for greater exploration and only scratching at the surface of certain topics.

This course tackles precisely that. We have scientists, philosophers, linguists, entrepreneurs, mathematicians and more on board, all of whom are able to provide a unique angle on any given topic.

Too often we become specialised and lose sight of the bigger picture. It’s vital to stay on top of one’s field; however, true curiosity has no subject boundaries and that is something we hope to engender with this course.


Catalyst is open to applications from any student entering, or currently in, the sixth form. No more than 30 students will be selected, with discounted fees for those applying before 5th May 2022. Please get in touch with the Figtree team if you’re interested in applying, and we can guide you through the process. And for more thoughts on the importance of accelerator programmes, head over to our latest blog post.



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