DfE & CHARACTER: WORKING TOWARD THE BENCHMARKS
Posted on 12th November 2019 at 10:12
Last week the DfE published guidance on developing pupils' resilience and character after compiling feedback from a group of teachers. An overnight residential experience could be part of a wider school strategy, so here's how it could help you work toward the benchmarks.
1. WHAT KIND OF SCHOOL ARE WE?
Schools are encouraged to ask "how effectively do we create a sense of pride, belonging and identity in our school?". There are 4 ways that we might help, or you could consider within your existing provision:
1. Staff development / away days. You're going to need a team of colleagues that live and breathe a shared set of values. Staff teams and businesses have spent highly effective days at our centres developing or embedding a set of values, and establishing common ways of working together. It's a brilliant shared experience creating points of reference in a neutral environment.
2. Family Learning Days. Family days are an active day which gently and creatively develop parental engagement through shared outdoor experiences and play. It gives parents, children and staff the opportunity to explore, discover, learn and have fun together. You can download a flyer HERE.
3. Learning outcomes & themes. When I first joined Sandwell's residential service I followed a group of Y7 to 10 pupils at Ingestre Hall. The stimulus for the week was the school motto: "Believe, Achieve, Succeed". They were given the time and space to explore what that actually meant to them, and worked collaboratively to create original music, art, dance and a dramatic performance which were all taken back to school. Whichever centre you visit, make sure that they work hard to understand your curriculum and ethos, and tailor the experience to maximise the value of the visit.
4. Sole occupancy at our centres. Our centres are relatively small, so you don't need to share our residential space with other groups. Meal times, social time, and activity sessions are all yours and we can adopt your way of working so that the visit translates directly to the pupils' experience of school. It CAN be great to share a residential centre of course, but we can give you the space and support you need to develop your own identity.
2. PROMOTING RESPECT AND CONSIDERATION TOWARD OTHERS
"Learning Away" has shown that a residential experience provides opportunities and benefits that cannot be achieved in any other educational context or setting. When you are at one of our centres, we always build in space around the formal activities for play or to socialise together as this is a perfect opportunity for relationships to develop.
84% of secondary pupils that took part in a residential experience said that relationships had improved. You can read more about Learning Away's action research and impact report HERE.
At any moment in our centres, pupils are being asked to work together - to negotiate, articulate, to listen and to think about the way that they give and receive feedback. They are expressing themselves artistically or challenging themselves physically and emotionally. Support for each other, and recognising how much we can achieve with the support of friends and trusted people around us is a core element of the programme.
3. EVALUATING THE CURRICULUM & CULTURAL CAPITAL
It's suggested that schools should evaluate how ambitious the curriculum is for pupils and whether it teaches "cultural capital" to progress within wider society.
Ok ok, we know that there's quite the debate about the plans to inspect cultural capital and the way that it's defined. We don't have the answer, but we do have some options and information that would help.
1. Use an evaluation toolkit. Regardless of whether it's to address cultural capital or not, evaluating your residential experience to better understand the impact and what can be improved should be an integral part of leading a well planned residential. Learning Away have a very helpful, free, Evaluation Toolkit which you can find HERE.
2. Use our thematic approach to learning. We'll always ask you "What do you want your group to achieve". Around our 4 centres there is an incredible capacity to incorporate a learning theme or story and bring it to life. As I write we have a group studying the Anglo Saxons and looking for a hoard; we have another group creating artwork based around Gothic Horror, and a group making Stone Age weapons and learning to build fires. We're good at making use of our local environments too, such as Lilleshall Abbey (great for getting dressed up as monks in our "Time Travel" session"), and the historic church in Ingestre village.
Ingestre Hall has been owned by many people since the 17th century. The contemporary portrait (left) by Emma Tooth shows its current custodians, the young people of Sandwell.
3. Supporting an ambitious curriculum. Carefully planned visits with clear learning outcomes supporting the school’s “ambitious curriculum” could prove invaluable in delivering experiences not readily achieved in school. A residential is not the whole answer, but should be considered as part of a wider strategy. It's been around a good while now, but Ofsted's report "Learning Outside the Classroom: How far should you go?" remains a helpful piece of work. It evaluates the importance of Learning Outside the Classroom in primary, secondary schools and colleges, identifying strengths and weaknesses in practice, and shows how schools and colleges overcome common barriers.
We believe that a residential programme is more impactful when it is progressive and threaded throughout the school life.
Some ideas for a progressive approach for primary schools can be found HERE.
4. EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES
This one is pretty straight forward on paper, and the guidance references opportunities such as DofE and NCS. Residential experiences and Day Visits would fall in to the category.
We would just strongly encourage that the visit is well planned in advance, that clear learning aims and themes have been established, and that the provider uses the environments and activities as "a vehicle for transforming the experience into knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours". This passage is lifted from The OEAP "Guide to High Quality Outdoor Learning and Residential Experiences"
It does go on however to consider whether there are opportunities to compete or perform, and whether their successes are celebrated. Be assured that we are good at catching people working hard, and certainly grasp the opportunity to celebrate!
5. MAKING A SOCIAL CONTRIBUTION
The fifth benchmark asks school leaders to consider whether volunteering opportunities are available, and whether pupils are ready to "make a social contribution".
This isn't a value that can simply be achieved or "ticked off" on a residential visit in isolation. However, it can be quite explicit in our delivery, and there's certainly a spirit of service which is particularly implicit in an outdoor learning context. There are all kinds of ways that we can promote the importance of this, or do something practical, or link to a project or ethos that they'll be familiar with at school.
1. Consider integrating The John Muir Award. This is a fantastic, free award to take part in that threads perfectly through a visit to one of our centres. It gives young people and adults alike the opportunity to discover a wild place, explore it, do something to conserve it, and share their experiences. The conservation element is all about taking some practical action and personal responsibility, either during the residential or back in the community. There will likely be lots that you are doing at school already that would go toward achieving the award, so do get in touch for more information. You can find an introduction, overview and film on their website HERE.
2. Incorporate the Sandwell Feelgood 6. The Feelgood 6 are actions that we can take to improve our wellbeing. We use them a lot in our delivery; they are all about helping people to feel good and do well in their day-to-day lives. One of the actions is to Give. Giving your time by doing something "nice" (teachers - can you think of a better word to use please!?) for someone else can help to make you feel great. You can read about the way we apply this HERE.
6. EQUALITY OF PROVISION
And finally, the sixth benchmark looks at equality of provision, and includes questions around whether the strategy enables "young people from all backgrounds to feel as if they belong and are valued."
There are two aspects to this; making sure that every young person has the chance to visit a centre regardless of circumstance, and secondly making sure that they feel like a valuable part of the group or experience when they are with us.
Keeping the cost down.
Cost is of course a barrier to attending a residential experience. As part of Sandwell Council our only target really, is to be sustainable and help as many children, young people and adults to lead happier and more successful lives as we can. That means that we can be pretty creative in the ways that we try to provide access to the centres and work hard to keep the price as low as practical.
Looked After Children (in Sandwell) come for free, and we encourage all schools to plan and launch a visit at the earliest opportunity so that as many families as possible can contribute. We would also encourage some level of fundraising that the pupils could get involved with before the visit.
Fundraising can foster a real sense of involvement or belonging, and it can help toward all manner of other outcomes such as managing money, being entrepreneurial by putting on events like bake sales each week, or marketing skills by promoting them, and all kinds of self-management techniques. Some schools have even said that time-keeping improved when children were involved in fundraising!
Valuing our visitors.
In terms of feeling valued and belonging, even the smallest groups can access our provision and have sole-occupancy. We've introduced a range of accommodation options, from glamping pods to small cottages and of course 90-bed centres. The cottages are particularly good venues for those who are vulnerable and / or have special educational needs; 3 of our centres have super access for those with limited mobility.
Linked to that and above all, we pride ourselves on our sense of community and commitment to everybody that comes to our centres. We are in the process of a service wide peer review so that we can truly understand what it feels like to visit a centre as a young person or member of staff. Our aspiration is that quality learning experiences are happening in warm, welcoming places that become your home for your stay.
And finally, we'd point out that none of these are solutions alone, but they do outline the way that some schools use us that could map toward the benchmarks.
We are already helping schools to deliver adventurous, creative learning experiences. We would be very pleased to discuss how you might get maximum value from your residential and educational visits programme.
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