The importance of Learning Away at Park School

Key features

  • Building skills for independent living
  • Boosting self-esteem
  • Broadening horizons

At Park School, we are keen wherever possible for our pupils to experience learning in the real world. Being off campus is also a vital component in the transition to post school provision. In recent years we have used our senior school residential as a tool to prepare pupils for their future without us; building self-confidence, resilience and practical skills for the home. A former pupil recently said “My residential to Loch Lomond was the best week of my life, and it is because of it that I gained the confidence to join a college sports course, which I never felt good enough for before”. This pupil is now working for his HND in Sport! As our pupils are predominantly from low income families, this is often the first time they have been away from home. It is also the case that many parents never venture from their own community and these trips allow us to broaden pupils’ horizons and encourage ambition and an appreciation of the beauty of Scotland’s wild areas.

Park School is a school for children with Additional Support Needs aged from 5-18 in Kilmarnock, Scotland and is a Learning Away Champion School. In this case study, which describes their residential programme as a whole and the impact it has, staff at the school explain how they provide brilliant residential experiences for all their pupils. Their ethos is for every pupil to maximise their potential, and residential and other out-of-school experiences play a vital role in meeting this aim.

Pupils at Park School have a range of learning and physical difficulties including autism, Down’s Syndrome, Muscular Dystrophy, Cerebral Palsy, Epilepsy, Diabetes, ADHD, heart conditions and mobility issues, including wheelchair users as well as pupils with developmental delay. There are almost 120 children on the role, but this is constantly changing as more children are referred to us. Many are Looked-After and Accommodated Children, whilst others are from a chaotic home environment. As a result school provides many of the functions that a stable family would normally provide. Many of our pupils do not have any active social life out with school due to lack of confidence and in some cases being targeted in their local communities. Many of the parents of our pupils also have Additional Support Needs and do not have the financial or social wherewithal to provide the environment in which pupils can develop a social conscience and an awareness of others.

The majority of our pupils live in areas of multiple deprivation in and around Kilmarnock including Onthank, Shortlees, Drongan, New Cumnock and Dalmellington, all of which are in the top Scottish government deprivation index. Our catchment area is so extensive because we are the only school in East Ayrshire offering this provision.

How are your residentials integrated with the school curriculum and ethos?

Some of our residentials are part of a curricular course e.g. a European WWI battlefields tour and RME Auschwitz visit. Others are part of certificated award schemes, such as the Caledonian, Saltire and Duke of Edinburgh award schemes. Many also are recognised through SQA units such as Taking Part in an Outdoor Activity (Nat 2) and Taking Part in a Residential Experience (Nat 1). The school’s ethos is ambitious, inclusive and supportive. We have high expectations of all our young people, creating a learning culture where we promote the development of the whole child, nurturing the aspirations and talents of individuals. This is addressed in a wonderful way by the challenges and excitement of residential experiences.

How have you developed your residentials so that they are part of a progressive programme of experiences?

Working backwards from our senior residentials (S5 and S6), we have introduced a residential experience for earlier stages. Seniors also have opportunities to join the Duke of Edinburgh Gold and Silver Award scheme which include expeditions. S3 have a Bronze Duke of Edinburgh camping experience, S2 have a Caledonian Award residential and there is also a transition residential for our P7 into S1. As well as this we have a residential trip for pupils of all ages for a shinty tournament at Aviemore, and a whole school residential (this year to London). In addition to this there are ad hoc residentials tied in to specific curricular requirements. For example, following a very successful 12 week block learning to ski (at Newmilns dry ski slope) for the physical section of the silver DofE, the pupils took part in a skiing residential in Glencoe to further hone their skills on real snow. 

Members of the public and residential staff often comment on how well-behaved Park School pupils are while on residential. This is a direct consequence of the numerous residentials the pupils from Park School have access to throughout their school careers.

How have you designed your residentials so that they include a wide range of new and memorable experiences?

Our staff have very close working relationships with the pupils, which allows them to create bespoke residential programmes. Often this will be building on an existing skill e.g. coastal sea sailing on a large yacht following a 12 week training block learning to sail dinghies. As previously mentioned a ski trip to Glencoe was organised to further develop dry ski slope skills on real snow slopes. We have a number of partners who can offer a wide range of activities, and our staff are building up skills in horse riding, sailing, canoeing, hillwalking, etc. It is also good for pupils to realise that there is a world out there which does not depend on internet access and smartphones.

As the capabilities of our pupils can be very varied, we ensure there is a choice of residential between a cultural city break (Edinburgh, Stirling, Belfast, London, Paris) or more activity-based break (canoeing, sailing, archery, abseiling, cycling, mountain biking, hill walking, etc.).

Are your residentials inclusive and affordable for all your pupils? How do you ensure this happens?

All pupils attend our residentials irrespective of their level of need and support requirements. In some cases this involves considerable amendments to be made (such as special transportation, rooms with hoists and additional staffing). However it is vital that every one of our pupils is able to take part with their peers. To ensure that pupil payment is kept affordable, residential costs are met by grant applications (e.g. Awards for All, Glencoe Outdoor Centre, St. James Centre, Give Us a Break and East Ayrshire Opportunities for All), other fundraising, Parent Council support and school contributions.

Last year’s senior residential offered a fully catered activity break for five days at Glencoe for only £40 per pupil. Pupils can fund this from EMA payments over a period of months. We also endeavour to ensure our pupils have the same opportunities as their mainstream counterparts. This year, following a fortuitous meeting with the organiser while at a seminar on the Holocaust, we were able to get two pupils included in a weekend Celebrating Diversity in Corrymeela, Northern Ireland. This trip had run for the previous three years with participants from four local mainstream secondary schools. Unfortunately, Park School was not previously offered the opportunity to participate. However, the trip was hugely successful and we are doubling the number of pupils we are taking next year.

How are your residentials supported by your senior leadership team?

The leadership team encourages all staff to propose and plan trips, and assist with all aspects of the process. A member of the leadership team attends almost all residentials. Afterwards pupils share their experiences at assemblies. Our headteacher is also very good at finding funding opportunities.

How and why do you plan your residentials with learning objectives to meet students’ specific learning needs?

All our residentials are specifically designed to meet the learning outcomes of particular curriculum courses, units or award schemes. All members of staff have very good knowledge of each pupil. As an ASN school, we have small numbers and teachers are aware of individual learning plans which detail learning needs and physical restrictions. Pupils are also involved in planning activities and are able to contribute to final decisions.

How are your residentials led by teachers?

Teachers participate in all activities, demonstrating that pupils can attempt these safely (as many of our pupils are apprehensive about anything new). Pupils are often able to complete activities at a higher level than staff, building confidence and self-esteem, while showing their teachers are actually human. Staff model good practice in cooking, cleaning and hygiene. Many responsibilities are delegated to senior or more able students and housekeeping tasks are carried out by all on a rota system. Where possible external activity providers are used to allow pupils to undertake new and more challenging activities, while remaining safe. This is also an excellent opportunity for pupils to work and socialise with new adults in a safe, controlled and supervised environment. This can allow the teacher to be a participant alongside the pupils as the health and safety responsibilities are with the provider.

How do you involve your pupils in planning your residentials?

Students undertake an SQA unit in Planning a Residential, and are involved at all stages. They suggest possible locations and cost them. They write letters and send emails, and are involved in fundraising activities. Pupils debate and discuss possible activities before deciding on a programme that has majority approval, while ensuring every pupil has an activity of their choice. They plan meals, draw up budgets and shop for items. Pupils work out pupil groupings and room allocations.

How are your residentials designed to allow pupils to develop collaborative relationships with peers and staff?

Most of our residentials involve group activities and groupings change for each activity. There is also paired and group review sessions at the end of the day. Staff are involved in all activities. They take part with the pupils and support them through the review process. Staff act as models for pupils and will not ask pupils to attempt tasks they aren’t willing to try themselves. It also helps pupils with poor body image and self-confidence issues to see their teachers attempt a task (with various degrees of success!) as it shows that they are equally apprehensive, but are prepared to risk embarrassment.

How do you evaluate the impact of your residentials to ensure that they do meet those learning objectives?

Staff review all residentials with management on their return to school, to assess their effectiveness in delivering expected outcomes and to make suggestions for improvement. Many of our residentials are overviewed by other organisations (e.g. DofE, SQA) and feedback is given. End of activity reports are also required by grant awarding organisations and we review all trips on our Evolve system.

Monitoring of behaviour reports also takes place, which shows that incidents of poor behaviour on residentials are well below the school average. Demerits are issued in school for unacceptable behaviour, but are rarely required while on trips. Often a pupil’s behaviour will remain more positive for a considerable time after a residential, perhaps due to improved staff-pupil relationships.

We also get informal feedback from pupils and families. Some of our pupils are now regularly camping with parents as a result of attending school camping expeditions, that gave them the confidence to attempt this level of activity.

How do you try to embed and reinforce the learning once back in school?

At department meetings staff who were on a residential will share successful techniques that can be used across the school. There is a cascade of information from one group to the next group who will be participating (e.g. Bronze DofE award winners will teach campcraft to the next cohort). Success stories are shared with all at pupil-led assemblies and feedback sessions. This also helps improve literacy and ICT with motivated pupils.

Highlighting one specific residential

We recently had two hugely successful sailing expeditions for the Silver DofE Award. Sailing at this level is well beyond the financial capabilities of the vast majority of our pupils. However, thanks to a generous grant from Awards For All, we took four pupils on each expedition at a cost of £50 per pupil. This money was used for food, berthing and fuel costs. Prior to the expeditions pupils planned the daily menu and wrote a rota for day-to-day tasks. They had a budget to keep to when menu planning and their first task of the expedition was to do a week’s shopping for six people at Asda. The benefits of these expeditions are immeasurable. Skills from practically every area of the curriculum are called upon most notably from maths (budgeting, navigation, time-keeping, constant monitoring of depth, wind speed, knots), literacy (keeping the daily log, radio transmissions) health and wellbeing (house-keeping, cooking, outdoor activity, socialising with peers) Pupils and staff are forced to live in extremely close proximity, which encourages collaboration and tolerance. There is a sense of camaraderie and all-for-oneness which is hard to replicate in any other setting. Above all the expeditions were hugely exciting and enormous fun.