Every year, Hanover Primary School takes its Year 6 pupils away for a week on a ‘back to basics’ residential camping experience on the edge of Epping Forest, where the focus is on living and working together as a community.
Jack Sloan, Deputy Headteacher at Hanover, describes here how volunteers are used to support their Year 6 camping residential – and have become an essential element of their ‘low cost’ model.
Volunteers are central to the model we have developed at Hanover. Our five-day camping trip costs £100 for each child, and this has to pay not only for site fees, food and transport, but also supply cover back at school. The high staff-ratio needed to take children camping in the ‘back to basics’ manner that we have developed puts a significant strain on staffing in a medium-sized primary school, and we could not run our camps without volunteers.
However, the input provided by these volunteers is not just a matter of ‘making up the numbers’. They contribute a wealth of skills, experience and energy, both to our children and to our school staff as well. We recruit volunteers from a number of places. Most significantly, we regularly get volunteers from an educational charity that takes children camping. The staff working for this organisation work in a similar way to the model we use on our trip, so these people have been vital in establishing our practice. They already subscribe to the philosophy of outdoor learning and are keen to help us.
Our volunteers have practical skills, an enthusiasm for the outdoors, and the knowledge that this sort of adventure has profound and long-lasting effects on children. They help us to set up before the children arrive, they work with members of school staff inexperienced in back to basics camping and they give those of us who are running the journey support too.
Large numbers of teachers, teaching assistants and support staff ask to come camping with Year 6 each year. In 2013, four years into the project, we had to turn down four members of staff who wanted to attend. This is an excellent development for us, and an indication that the residential is part of the culture at Hanover. Staff are highly skilled in their roles back at school, and are keen to develop their practice further. However, being an excellent class teacher does not necessarily mean having the skills to care for 45 children on a camping trip.
This is where volunteers are perhaps most useful to our model. These volunteers do not necessarily work with children in their jobs, but do have survival and camping skills. The transfer of skills between school staff and volunteers on our journey is significant and highly positive. It is one of the aspects of our journey that works best.
“When I got back home, I didn’t watch TV and such things as much, which was a nice surprise.”
Year 6 pupil, Hanover Primary School
Finding volunteers with the right skills and experience
Clearly we are lucky to have access to these highly-skilled volunteers, and recognise that not every school has this. However, we are increasingly making use of volunteers from other streams. In 2013, we brought two volunteers from Scout groups. We are working on establishing a working relationship with the Woodcraft Folk, who will in future borrow our camping equipment in return for maintaining it, and sending volunteers in future years.
Schools will find, when they start asking around, that there is a wealth of expertise and volunteering that they can tap into within their school communities. With a little bit of creative thinking and some arm-twisting, it is certainly possible to mobilise people who can enable your school residential to happen. With careful planning and the creation of working relationships with outside organisations, other schools may be able to generate the sort of CPD opportunities for staff that we have at Hanover.
Our aim has been to create a sustainable model where our school staff have the practical skills and motivation to come camping, and through a creative approach to the use of skilled volunteers, this is working for us.