Form aims to enrich Shell pupils’ academic experience and help them explore beyond the confines of subject boundaries. The programme enables small groups of pupils to work with a Form teacher in the investigation of three combined Humanities subjects: English, History and Religious Studies. Just as boarding houses provide the basis for pupils’ social development and learning about community life, Form lessons aim to facilitate intellectual growth and the sharing of ideas.

Central to Form lessons is the common study of the development of human civilisation, enabling pupils to appreciate something of the chronology of that development as well as its ideas, cultures, events and beliefs. Underpinning the course is the truism that learning is not a passive process and, unlike examination subjects, Form is not taught. The teacher devises a scheme covering significant areas of history, religious belief, philosophy, sociology, literature and the arts, and then explores them with the pupils in ways that encourage independent learning, collaboration and discussion. Pupils take responsibility for their research and learning themselves, teaching each other and engaging in constructive debate. They give presentations and write projects; they go on visits and reflect on their responses and experiences. Everything in the area of human experience is potentially of interest and therefore relevant.

The curriculum covers a wide range of subject matter and is devised individually by each beak, appropriate to the academic level of their Form. In place of prescribed content, a list of 15 core skills establishes the basis for planning each Form’s scheme. These include promoting reading, use of the library and developing literacy and oral skills; engaging pupils with the historical concepts of cause and effect, and change over time; considering current affairs and notions of identity; encouraging pupils to reflect on fundamental questions, and to explore religious, philosophical and spiritual ideas.

Pupils are helped to see human experience as a complex, interconnected whole. Topics are explored in the round so that a significant moment in history, such as the French Revolution, will not only be studied for its narrative of events but considered as part of the broader development of Western democracy, for its philosophical impact and as a stimulus for Romanticism, for its representation in art and literature, and for its legacy to modern France and French national identity.

There is no examination for Form in the Summer Term, and pupils’ progress is assessed by an individual creative or research project on a topic of their choosing, accompanied by an oral presentation reflecting on what they have learnt from the experience.

All Forms have regular lessons set aside each fortnight for quiet reading in the Library and pupils take part in the Library’s Base Camp activity as part of the College’s Everest Reading Challenge. In October, all Forms are taken on a full-day trip to a place of interest, visiting sites of cultural or historical importance and enjoying a wide range of activities and events; for example, touring Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths before taking part in a drama workshop at the Theatre Royal. Other popular trips include exploring Oxford’s colleges and the Pitt Rivers and Ashmolean Museums, or spending a day discovering Bristol’s slave history and the engineering achievements of Brunel. Theatre trips and other small-scale excursions are also common.

The Old Marlburian Reading Competition engages pupils with the College’s literary heritage and the year ends with the Form Festival, lasting two days, when pupils are offered a wide choice of artistic, creative and scientific challenges, ranging from making a short film or designing a theatre costume to determining whether the spire of the College Chapel or the tower of St Peter’s is the higher, using only trigonometry.