Q I have recently taken a senior leadership role at a small, coastal academy school. For as long as most staff here can remember, it has been traditional to take students on an ‘activity’ day at the end of Y9 – it’s viewed as a fun way to round off KS3, before getting stuck into the serious business of KS4. This concerns me on a number of levels, not least the message we are sending to students about the relative importance of Years 7-9, and 10/11. I don’t want to get rid of the activity day – but can you suggest ways we could make it less of a simple ‘treat’, and more educational; a link between Key Stages, rather than an ‘end marker’?
A s with all school visits, it is important that visit leaders establish clear objectives, shared with all stakeholders, teachers, students and parents. There is a great opportunity to use this day as a platform to launch the transition from KS3 to KS4. There should be clear outcomes: developing life skills, experiencing new activities, working as a team, social interaction, motivation for learning and, of course, fun – celebrating the end of year and looking forward to new challenges ahead.
The educational outcomes for such activity days have been widely researched. A great resource highlighting benefits such as “progressive exposure to learning outdoors provides a route for young people to become more resilient“ can be found in High Quality Outdoor Learning, published by the English Outdoor Council (updated 2015). It is important that the activity day is not seen in isolation but as part of a whole school outdoor education programme embedded in the curriculum and contributing towards engagement, attainment, motivation and providing skills for life. The educational message will be clear if you focus on the outcomes noted in the High Quality Outdoor Learning guide. If you are unsure of which activities to undertake, talk to your Educational Visits Adviser or provider as they will be able to assist you in choosing activities which can clearly contribute towards your desired outcomes or areas of focus.
This will stengthen your message that this is an educational visit to assist the development of life skills needed in the transition from KS3 to KS4.
Q As head of pastoral care at an urban secondary school, serving an area with relatively high levels of deprivation and social exclusion, I am currently looking at new and innovative ways we can use our Pupil Premium funding to improve student outcomes. Academically, we are doing pretty well, with excellent value added progress being made across the board. In terms of social cohesion, and student self-esteem and well being, however, I am concerned that we are not yet achieving all we could, and I believe that a strong programme of opportunities for outdoor learning could help. What questions do you think I should bear in mind when putting such a programme together, bearing in mind that money is clearly an issue?
A The first question you should ask is, “What are the benefits Outdoor Education can achieve?“ The High Quality Outdoor Learning guide from the English Outdoor Council offers plenty of answers for this and will help you to identify your required outcomes. You should then look to questions such as “What can I use the Pupil Premium for?”. Ofsted accepts the use of the Pupil Premium to support Outdoor Education but you would need to link this to identified outcomes.
Having identified clear benefits and outcomes, you can then ask what is affordable and can school staff be trained to deliver local on-site or off-site outdoor learning? The Outdoor Education Adviser Panel (OEAP) deliver CPD for school staff via Outdoor Learning Cards. This training allows teachers to deliver outdoor learning throughout the curriculum in the school grounds and beyond, so could well provide a cost effective solution.
If you need to travel further afield to achieve your desired outcomes and are looking at providers/venues then also think about value for money, distance/ time to travel and transport costs. Finally, consider whether there are other funding sources available?
When planning, you should also look to free resources and guidance from research such as Learning Away (learningaway.org.uk) which has published reports and practical resources to help schools make the most of their residentials, including lower cost options and benefits for both learners and schools.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Richard Forbes is the manager of Essex Outdoors, Essex County Council’s outdoor education service, a leading provider of outdoor education in the Eastern region and London. You can contact him via essexoutdoors.com