Boosting GCSE attainment at Carroty Wood Adventure Centre

Key features

  • GCSE attainment-focused
  • Negotiating a teacher-led programme with providers
  • Use of student chefs

For five days in November 2011, 49 Year 10 students from Canterbury High School in Kent took part in a residential visit to the Rock UK Carroty Wood Centre in Kent. The main purpose of the visit was to enable disengaged students to learn and achieve in a more positive, supportive and inspirational environment.

The subject teachers involved in the residential were aiming for the planned activities to directly enhance GCSE attainment in core subjects, particularly for those students identified as working at the C/D borderline. The school hoped that the experience would help to build better relationships between staff and students and would enable staff to gain a better understanding of why students struggle.

During the residential:

  • 14 students went from no grade to a grade C or above for their English speaking and listening individual coursework.
  • Of the 22 BTEC Biology pupils, 17 improved in Unit 3 P4 (Human effects on the environment) by one grade either from referral to pass or pass to merit.
  • In maths, students made significant progress in all four topic areas covered on the residential. Students took practice exam questions after the residential; in Pythagoras and Relative Frequency (both new topics to the group) 93% and 63% of students passed. In Speed, Distance, Time the pass rate moved from 12% to 90% of students. In Circles the pass rate moved from 4.9% to 83%.

The school negotiated with the centre to buy in centre staff to run some adventurous activities but school staff led the majority of activities,  making use of the centre grounds to plan curriculum-related lessons. The residential was self-catering, with students from the school’s Chef’s Academy (studying for NVQ Hospitality and Catering) planning menus, ordering supplies and doing the cooking.

How did staff plan to achieve their aims?

Maths

Matt Wright (Lead teacher KS3 maths) was hoping to build stronger relationships with students, while changing their attitudes towards maths and the maths faculty at Canterbury High. During the week he delivered a series of sessions linked to the outdoor activities, for example:

  • Archery – circles, circumference, area and probability
  • Abseiling – Pythagoras
  • Swimming – speed, distance and time

For Matt, the major highlight was “a student who had previously not liked maths and was potentially a troublesome student asking me at 8.30pm to check his work as he was so proud of what he had done!”

He felt that the students’ attitude towards maths during his four sessions had definitely changed. They had become more positive and confident, and he had started to build really strong relationships with a number of students who had been disruptive across the maths department back at school. On his return to school, Matt said: “The residential was the best thing I have done as a teacher and would do it again in a heartbeat.”

Science

Matt Harris (Head of KS3 Science) planned sessions linked to activities on the residential that covered environmental topics, specifically the human impact on the environment. The grounds at Carroty Wood were used to observe these changes. Students looked at the wildlife in Carroty Wood and created accurate food webs to demonstrate the delicate ecosystem that existed in the various habitats and linked this to human activity.

When asked what he felt were his main achievements, Matt said: “Developing solid relationships with the Year 10 cohort, witnessing a school refuser complete science work with a smile on her face and then helping her peers, and being part of a project that has resulted in a genuine change in attitudes towards learning.”

But his major highlight during the week was “seeing students who normally can’t stand science working hard, enjoying themselves and finding the work fun!”

English

Rehanna Tyrrell, an English Teacher on her first residential, was hoping to increase her students’ English Speaking and Listening module grades by teaching them in a more relevant way in this very different setting. She purposefully used the residential’s setting to encourage her students to consider, reflect and evaluate upon the day’s activities. Rehanna planned sessions that linked directly with the English GCSE Speaking and Listening module individual and group tasks, which were assessed during the residential.  She also set students a task that focused on specific reflection and evaluation skills, asking them to consider their initial impressions of Carroty Wood on arrival then, at the end of the week, whether these impressions had altered and – if so – the reasons why.

At the end of the week, Rehanna reflected on the impact of the residential on herself and the students:

“I was able to develop much stronger relationships with the students I teach and was also able to build new relationships with students who I did not know before the trip.

“My major highlight was seeing students overcome their fears and support each other. This was then reflected in their speaking and listening presentation assessment where they discussed what activities they had enjoyed and what they had got out of completing each activity. It was amazing to see some of them increase by a whole grade.

I felt that the residential was hugely beneficial. I was able to see students overcome their fear, build new friendships and work together, collaboratively supporting one another. Students also gained knowledge and understanding with regards to life skills such as team work, organisation and effective time management.

Upon reflection, I also felt that the residential encouraged students to be motivated, engaged and interested in their core subjects. Students have since applied aspects of lessons that were taught at Carroty Wood to lessons taught in school. I have also had several students come and find me to know their Speaking and Listening grades.”

What were some of the other outcomes?

Lou McMahan (Ethos and Engagement Manager) also had a key part to play on the residential. It was important because of her role at school that she was able to spend time with students in an environment where they weren’t just reflecting on poor behaviour, but on very positive behaviour. Lou spoke passionately about watching the students conquer their fears.

“Not just those that were scared of heights or water, but those who don’t look forward to their everyday Maths, English or Science lessons. It was fantastic seeing their faces when they realised they could do the tasks set.

Carroty Wood was fantastic opportunity for both staff and young people to build a solid foundation to learning and working relationships. I think they now see me (and other staff) as human beings. We all overcame challenging situations and helped each other through them. I think that seeing me vulnerable at times has made them realise I am human as well.”

Dominic Meehan, Vice Principal for Extended Education and Learning Away Coordinator at the school, reflecting on the week and its various successes:

“Every piece of individual Speaking and Listening coursework that has been assessed has been an improvement on previous grades.

We’ve got new staff converts to the concept of residential as a valuable method of delivering education [who] are absolutely convinced that this is a very relevant way of delivering educational outcomes for children and young people.”

Students’ views

Student A 

“I didn’t come to school for about a year because it was boring and I didn’t like it. I’ve started coming back and I’ve been in a couple of days and they offered me to go on this trip. I said I’d give it a go but when I was in school those few days I was not understanding a single thing where I’d been away for so long. But since I’ve come here, when in maths this morning we had to do things around archery, it really helped me and I could do it by myself with no help – and part of it without a calculator.

It’s better. I was going to start going to school before, but I was worried I wouldn’t be able to catch up it kind of put me off. But now I’ll give it a go. I actually understand things that I didn’t understand before. It’s going to help, because everyone’s doing stuff that helps them in their GCSEs – now, it’s going to give me 10% of my GCSE. I feel good [about going to school on Monday] because I’ve got something that I know how to do. If I just base everything around everything back here I might be able to get it done.

[I’ll go to school more now] because I’ve understood things. You get to know the teachers more – they’re not so stuck up. When they come here they’ve come out of their shell a bit and you get to know them and they get to know you. I can talk to [them], I don’t have to be worried. I can go and find them and talk to them.”

Student B

“I don’t normally socialise with many people. I stick to a certain group of people and now I’m talking to more and more people that I don’t really talk to and we’re having more and more fun. [At school] I’ll probably stop hanging around with the wrong people and start enjoying it. [Here] I’m sitting with different people, not messing around as much and getting the work done. Today I sat with people who are better in drama for the activity – and now we know what we’re doing so I should find it easy.”

Student C

“Since we’ve been doing Maths and English here I’ve got a lot more confident. I didn’t think I’d learn that much here, but I’ve actually learned loads. The stuff we were doing yesterday in maths – I didn’t know any of that – but now I can do it without any help. The people you’ve bonded with over the week, so it’s not as embarrassing to do the stuff in the class.”