Boosting GCSE attainment at Hampton Court Palace

Key features

  • Teacher-planned, curriculum-focused activities
  • Inspiring, relevant heritage setting
  • Programme developed in partnership with provider

For five roastingly hot days in July, 80 year 10 students from the Canterbury Academy in Kent took part in a residential visit to Hampton Court Palace.

The aim of the visit was to enable disengaged students to learn and achieve in an inspirational setting and supportive environment, altering the way they interact with their GCSE subjects by taking them out of their normal school setting over an extended period of time.

Drawing on the historic Tudor setting, teachers from the academy planned a series of GCSE curriculum lessons and other activities based around the theme of Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn. All lessons made full use of the Palace’s buildings and grounds – English and drama lessons in the Base Court, PE in the Real Tennis courts, and science and art lessons in the Baroque Gardens.

The students and staff camped in a secluded part of the Palace’s grounds, adding to their experience and helping to keep down costs. Catering was done by students from the school’s Chef’s Academy (studying for NVQ hospitality and catering) who planned menus and ordered supplies as well as doing the cooking.

All of this made the five-day residential cost-effective, and the school supported the residential for students unable to afford the full cost by using their Pupil Premium fund.

Vice-principal Dominic Meehan explained: “It was an amazing opportunity for our students to be so deeply immersed in the history and culture of Britain, especially on a residential where there are also huge opportunities for more informal and incidental learning. Young people can learn so much about themselves on residential and have experiences that stay with them for life.”

This was also a unique experience for the Historic Royal Palaces education team, as the residential was the first of its kind at any of their sites, and all activities were planned jointly with the Canterbury teachers.

Enhancing attainment

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

Students were visibly engaged in lessons across the curriculum, exploring subjects as diverse as history, science and PSHE in the Great Hall, Chapel, Buttery and gardens – and teachers anticipate being able to draw on these shared experiences back in the classroom this academic year.

Maths

Teachers Matt Wright and Dave Costley came on the residential to build stronger relationships with students, while changing their attitudes towards maths and the maths faculty at Canterbury. Building on the success of Matt’s first residential with the academy in 2011 (“the best thing I have done as a teacher”), he and Dave jumped at the chance to plan a series of more context-based lessons, which made full use of the setting at the Palace.

Students developed their understanding of geometry, measurement and area through a range of practical activities in the Palace’s walled courtyards. They reinforced this learning in small groups through the academy’s informal al fresco classroom. Students saw the difference: “I didn’t really get it in class but when I went on that trip I got it straight away.”

English

The English department set up a fictional scenario in which Anne Boleyn had organised an assassination attempt on Henry VIII in the Palace’s Great Hall. Students were asked to imagine themselves in Henry VIII’s shoes following the attempt, and compose a speech to assembled nobles at Hampton Court.

They started off with a detailed tour by a member of staff. Once the speeches were written the students then had to deliver them as if they were Henry VIII – in front of their peers and interested members of the visiting public! The speech and its performance were assessed as part of the speaking and listening component of the students’ English GCSE.

One student with a history of being removed from English lessons for being disruptive said, “I think they’ve now realised that I haven’t got just that naughty little side of me, that I have got the fun, enjoyable and good side to me and I think that’s going to help me in lessons.”

The student managed to stay in all lessons for the rest of the term and, following the residential, vastly improved her punctuality to school.

Other outcomes

Being away together also enabled students to interact in different ways, developing relationships away from the pressures and constraints of the usual school timetable.

Working in teams to design and build siege catapults as part of an outdoor design and technology session, the students demonstrated strong communication and problem-solving skills, encouraging each other and giving and receiving constructive feedback.

The week culminated in a royal banquet in full costume, with food prepared by the student chefs and entertainment devised and rehearsed over the course of the week by GCSE drama students.  These contributions were met by all with respect and real enthusiasm for each other’s achievements.

In the words of one Canterbury student: “The trip’s made me realise that I need my education, I enjoy education, I enjoy learning.”