Using a new heritage venue – Canterbury Academy’s attainment residential at Chatham Historic Dockyard

Key features

  • Large scale, low-cost camping
  • Use of a new heritage venue
  • Attainment across a range of subject areas

For five days in July 2015, 100 students in Years 7, 8, 9 and 10 from the Canterbury Academy lived and worked in the grounds of the Historic Dockyard Chatham. The experience was a continuation of the school’s ongoing work following their participation in the five-year Paul Hamlyn Foundation Learning Away initiative. In this case study staff and students at the school describe the planning involved, the activities delivered and the residential’s many positive impacts.

Background

The three key aims of the school’s Learning Away programme are:

  • To enable learners to participate in high-quality residential experiences
  • To create a low-cost and sustainable residential model
  • To demonstrate academic progress and attainment across a wide range of subjects.

The school’s involvement in the initiative had already involved five previous residentials at a range of locations, including at Hampton Court Palace in 2013. Following the success of using an iconic heritage venue as the location for its attainment residentials, the school was keen to replicate this by finding a similar location for future residentials. Chatham Historic Dockyard provided the prefect venue with its amazing maritime history and three historic warships, along with its wide variety of exhibits and educational experiences.

The residential itself

During the week at the Chatham Historic Dockyard, the students were able to experience an overnight stay on HMS Cavalier with a tour from the Medway Sea Cadets, make rope in the ropery, experience something of what it would have been like to serve on HMS Ocelot and discover more about the history of ship building in the ‘Hearts of Oak’ exhibit. Alongside these experiences, they also had curriculum sessions from the Dockyard’s education team, which included rocket building and cannon firing. The students found these sessions invaluable and an alternative learning experience.

“During the cannon-firing session the staff let us do whatever we wanted to experiment with the different ratios of chemicals. That made it good.”

Year 7 student

The school has long been committed to providing high-quality residential experiences that enable the learners to improve academically in specific subject areas. As part of the programme each student attended English, maths and either history, geography, science or design technology lessons provided by the school staff. The curriculum was designed alongside the Dockyard’s education team to ensure there were direct links to the historic venue, with measurable attainment outcomes. For example the history group spent the week creating a walking trail around the site which involved working with the staff at the Dockyard and talking to the visitors. Their ideas for a trail are now being reviewed to be used in future by the Dockyard. This had direct links to the history curriculum; using knowledge and an understanding of how the site has changed over time. Not only did the students enjoy this approach, but they developed skills that they can transfer to their history lessons back at school.

“In history I was not good at using sources. Talking to people at Chatham and getting information was much better than looking online.”

Year 8 student

In addition to activities provided by the Dockyard and the school staff, the learners also look part in climbing, abseiling and circus skills.

Evidence of impact on subject teaching

The progress data from each subject collected after the residential shows how, within this positive residential learning environment, the students made significant progress in a short space of time.

Maths

The participating students were tested in four key areas that are common in both Key Stage 3 and 4 assessments. They were given the same exam questions before and after the residential and their progress calculated as a percentage. For example, during the lesson on volume, students were asked to calculate how long it would take to sink different sized ships. In the bearings lesson, they navigated their way around the site and for the sequences lesson they needed to use a variety of maths skills to break different codes.

The Key Stage 3 students showed the following rates of progress:

  • Volume lesson and exam question test – the students progressed by 55%
  • Scale drawings and bearings – by 63%
  • Sequences – by 64%

While the Key Stage 3 students showed:

  • Volume – by 42%
  • Scale drawings and bearings – by 51%
  • Sequences – by 52%

English

English lessons were focused on the experiences on HMS Cavalier and the students used their overnight stay to write diary entries describing what it would have been like on the ship during wartime. This model of directly linking the curriculum to the historic setting enabled them to make progress in this subject area by contextualising the learning, rather than it being theoretical and classroom-based.

“Looking round the ships and the places where people worked really helped us to write about it. I wrote three pages in about a minute in my English lesson.”

Year 8 student

The students’ levels were assessed at the beginning of the week and following a written piece of work they completed at the end of the residential. The English focus was on progress of levels over the course of the week and showed that:

  • 50% of participating Key Stage 3 students made one sub-level of progress across the week and three students made two sub-levels of progress.
  • 31% of Key Stage 4 students made one sub-grade of progress across the week and 20% made two sub-grades of progress.
  • Four Key Stage 4 students made a whole grade’s progress, exceeding the progress expected in a whole academic year.

Geography

The students were given an exam style question prior to the residential and again at the end of the week. They were asked to use a case study to explain how regeneration can have a positive impact on an area socially and economically. They focused on how the usage of the Dockyard has changed since its closure from a working dockyard to a multi-business site that encompasses a broad range of uses not just tourism. 100% of the learners improved their marks from less than half marks on the question before the residential to 60% of the learners achieving full marks following the residential.

Design technology

During the course of the week the students built a prototype water pump that could be used to pump out a damaged ship in a dry dock. They were tested before and after the residential and 100% of the learners improved their marks from less than half marks on the question before the residential to 81% of the learners achieving full marks following the residential. Most significantly, the design technology group is a disengaged group of boys which are now more engaged in learning back at school following their work on the residential with the design technology teacher.

Science

In their science work at the Dockyard, the students focused on how water corrodes a variety of metals in different conditions in order to decide the best materials for making boats. They designed and planned a coursework style investigation using this hypothesis and were tested before and at the end of the residential. Significantly 81%  of the Key Stage 4 students involved progressed by at least one grade over the course of the week and 36% made two grades of progress, while 81% of the Key Stage 3 students also showed improvement in their before and after test scores.

Sixth form

The Chef’s Academy students who attended the residential as the part of the catering team also completed their NVQ during the week, which they wouldn’t have managed in the same time back at school.

Other impacts

In addition to the curriculum outcomes, the residential has had other positive impacts on both staff and students.

Relationships

The whole experience has helped students to build positive relationships with school staff and each other, which have borne fruit back into school. Both staff and learners have shared experiences following the residential which then gives them a positive bond back at school and they can refer to the shared learning.

Confidence, resilience and engagement with learning

In addition the students involved have developed their confidence and resilience when completing activities such as climbing; skills that are then transferred to their curriculum subjects. When asked about their experience on the residential the students were very positive about their learning experiences, describing how both the place and what and how they learnt meant they were more engaged with their learning:

“It was more interesting being outside of the classroom learning. Lessons were practical and not just listening to a teacher.”

Year 9 student

Impacts on staff

The teachers and other staff involved also found the experience valuable in helping to develop their own practice.

“I learnt a lot from the other staff on the residential. It was really valuable having the opportunity to work together with staff I wouldn’t normally work with in school and also have the chance to watch them teach.”

Maths teacher

It has enabled them to work in a new way, by utilising their surroundings as part of their lessons. Skills can then be taken forward into their lessons within school, incorporating this learning outside the classroom.

“I loved teaching outside and making the learning real for my students.”

Science teacher

Conclusion

The whole experience of the residential at the Dockyard has been valuable for staff and students, both academically and personally. The learners have made significant progress in their curriculum subjects, while also developing confidence, team work skills and resilience. They are much more engaged with their learning as a result.

The staff have developed in their practice and formed positive relationships with students that will undoubtedly continue back in school.

“Miss X … I can ask her for help now. She understands how to help me like she never did before.”

Year 9 student

When asked to reflect on the residential the students were positive about their learning, their relationships with each other and with staff, and the overall experience.

“I would recommend this because there was so much to do. There was fun and lessons. You can be with all your mates and see another side of them because you are living with them for a week.”

Year 8 student

Finally … what next?

For Canterbury Academy, this model of creating a high-quality residential experience at an historic venue is set to continue. We are already making plans to return to Chatham Historic Dockyard in 2016 and are also discussing ways to roll this successful model out to other schools in Kent and the Medway area. To develop the programme further, the school and the Dockyard are working closely on the subsequent programmes. A main aim is to develop closer links between teachers and the education team when planning next year’s curriculum delivery in order to harness a broader range of the resources available at the Dockyard and to make more direct links to the curriculum.

In addition we hope to develop some additional physical activities at the Dockyard such as raft building and a gun run. To gain a broader understanding of the context of the Dockyard and its surrounding area, the plan is also to try to link up with other local ‘attractions’ and to integrate their venues as part of the experience.