Canterbury High School have been keen to evaluate the impact of their Year 10 attainment residentials on attendance, behaviour and engagement. The teachers involved in planning and delivering these residentials have been attempting to test a ‘theory of change’ that suggests that their students’ involvement in these memorable experiences leads to enhanced motivation and engagement with learning, which in turn leads to improved behaviour and attendance on the return to school, as well as impacting on GCSE attainment.
At Canterbury High School, attendance and behaviour are quantitative indicators of the impact a residential experience has on our students as a cohort. We monitor behaviour and attendance data ten weeks before and ten and 20 weeks after residentials. We then compare this to a control group of students within the same year group who have similar patterns of attendance and behaviour, but did not attend the residential. Although results for individuals are mixed, we have seen a shift in the right direction for cohorts of students who attend residentials. For our residentials in November 2012 and July 2013 the average attendance 11 months after the residential of students who participated in the residential was 92.3%, compared to 85.5% for students who did not participate. For the same residentials, the average behaviour points (our way of measuring misconduct) of students who participated in the residentials was 11.5 compared to 15 for non-participating students.
In what ways do students with poor attendance and/or challenging behaviour identify that residentials support their engagement with learning?
Although this data has been useful in terms of showing that there is a positive trend in relation to behaviour and attendance, it has a limited use in telling us what the impact is on students’ engagement with their learning. Through a qualitative approach (questionnaires and focus groups), we have identified some key features of residentials that students with poor attendance and/or challenging behaviour tell us make a difference. These are:
1. An increase in confidence, self-esteem and motivation
These developments were evident in data related not only to the adventurous activities but also to lessons that took place on the residential and on return to school. As one staff member put it:
“Having done the academic stuff outside and achieved and done well at it that’s given them confidence that actually they can do it.”
2. Learning in a different environment, where the learning is more informal, is real and the setting is inspirational
We believe that our students respond more positively to the type of teaching and learning that takes place in a residential setting because it is so different to school:
“The young people respond better to a more informal kind of environment than they do in the classroom. They’re happier learning that way. Some young people that were there that normally go into a classroom, get angry and kick off actually sat down, took part and really engaged well.”
This response as been true for our residentials that have been in totally natural surroundings and those with a heritage focus.
3. The positive impact of the residential on relationships with peers and adults
Our students talk eloquently about the different types of relationship that develop on the residential and the ways that affects their attitude to learning:
“We’ve bonded more so we can get on with it easier in class. Everyone’s a lot more friendly and like they can just get on with each other and just do it instead of arguing or bantering.”
“We got on a lot better with the teachers when it came to the actual lessons – being in an environment that isn’t the classroom was really helpful in creating bonds.”
The students have also told us they feel more relaxed in class back at school when they have got to know the teacher through a residential, and that they feel more comfortable about participating in lessons. This has also been noticed by staff teaching them. Although this area is difficult to quantify, we do have some evidence that, particularly in maths, these relationships have contributed significantly to a shift in ethos within the department. You can read more about the Maths Department here.
4. Two individual case studies
In addition to trends picked up through focus groups, individual case studies have been important in telling the stories about confidence, relationships and engagement. Here are two examples of individual students’ stories about their residentials.
Student A was a Year 10 with the worst attendance in her year group and didn’t attend because “it was boring and I didn’t like it.” Staff worked incredibly hard to get Student A back into school and to participate in the forthcoming residential at an outdoor activity centre, focussing on core GCSE subjects. Her experience of her first couple of days back at school prior to the residential was challenging: “I was not understanding a single thing where I’d been away for so long.” She was also socially isolated having lost her friendship group through non-attendance. The residential gave Student A a chance to make new relationships with her peers, and with staff, and learn with them in a different environment. This gave her the kick-start that she needed both socially and academically:
“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.”
Getting to know her teachers was also big help for Student A, and vice versa. She found out that they weren’t as “stuck up” as she thought they were, and that if she had a problem, “I don’t have to be worried. I can go and find them and talk to them.” These changes meant that Student A felt more confident about returning to school following the residential:
“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 feel good because I’ve got something that I know how to do.”
Student A did return to school and left with five GCSE A-C grades in core subjects. She went on to study construction at college.
Student B also a Year 10 had struggled with both behaviour and attendance issues at school since Year 7:
“I’m not going to lie, my behaviour’s always been poor. I wouldn’t stay in the lessons because I wouldn’t be able to concentrate.”
Student B attended the school’s residential to Hampton Court Palace. The residential impacted on her in two main ways. Firstly, the new environment and its historic nature were very important as they gave her a different slant on learning:
“I mess about in lessons, but that’s because I’ve got nothing that helps me concentrate, there’s no inspiration. You see everything the same each day [in school], there’s no inspiration there, there’s nothing that helps you learn, but when I was at Hampton Court there was just loads of stuff to inspire me.”
Student B used this inspiration to take on a major role in the drama production that was central to the residential. This kind of engagement would not have been possible for her in school because of her poor concentration and participation in lessons.
The second factor for Student B was her relationships with staff, which had in the main been poor prior to the residential. She felt that staff had low expectations of her due to her poor behaviour, but spending time with them on the residential changed this view:
“I feel the teachers look at me and say ‘Oh that’s the naughty kid, she’s not going to get anywhere in life’. But now that I’ve been able to see what they’re like outside school and they’ve been able to see what I’m like outside school, I feel like I can interact with them now and get on with stuff.”
Post-residential, Student B’s feeling about getting on with learning persisted. As staff got to know her better on the residential, they were able to put a school-based personal learning plan in place for her that immersed her in experiential learning, linking her with staff that she had got to know on the residential wherever possible. Her attitude changed from one of disaffection to one where she was clear about what she wanted:
“I need my education, I enjoy education, I enjoy learning.”