Developing low-cost living history residentials with two heritage centres

Key features

  • Low-cost camping model developed in partnership with the museum
  • 'Real life' activities co-constructed with the museum's education officer
  • Range of curriculum objectives - literacy, history, science and geography

This case study from the South Hetton partnership of three Durham schools describes two low-cost, living history residentials developed in conjunction and successfully piloted during 2014 with the nearby Beamish Open Air Museum. Amazingly the residential took place only three weeks after the first approach from the museum, which shows what can be achieved if a school values residential learning, is committed to a camping model and is prepared to respond at short notice to new opportunities.

Years 3 and 4 camped in a field provided by the heritage centre for the night. Over two mornings the centre put on a living history mystery. The pupils had to solve the case of the death of a boy who fell down the mine by investigating the incident. This involved interviewing actors in the roles of the various characters at the mine.

Year 5 undertook a similar project only this time the historical setting was a boy who had run away after being called up at the beginning of the war.

Both role-plays explored historical topics, used group problem solving approaches and engaged the pupils in major moral questions. The evenings round the campfire involved discussions about what they knew, what they thought the answers were and how to move forward with the enquiry. Notes were written up at camp and these were turned into stories and reports back in school. Teachers reported on the effort put into and the quality of the written work.

The development of investigative and problem solving skills was enhanced by the professionalism of the actors. Curriculum outcomes involved literacy, science and geography as well as history. Pupils had to be resilient and determined in the face of striking adult characters in role.

The camp was a pilot from which the education officer at Beamish will make a case for establishing a residential offer at the museum on a permanent basis. The residential cost per pupil for the schools involved in this pilot was £5 (which included coach travel, camp site costs, access to the museum all day and that night, the role-play activity and a fish supper). The schools provided their own camping equipment, bought collectively by the three schools to enable this kind of low-cost, inclusive residential experience.

Another pilot will be run next year at Killope Lead Mine. This will involve earning a wage by a morning’s work in the mine followed by deciding how to spend it to support the family.