The South Hetton partnership of Learning Away schools is ten minutes from the coast with easy access to harbours, beaches and cliffs. They are used frequently for day visits, as well as for activities as part of local residentials. Each school in the partnership uses the sea or the coast as a term long curriculum theme in Year 5. Examples include ‘The Deadly Sea’ and ‘The Sea in our Lives’.
Linked to these themes and as part of the Year 5 two day/one night camping residential, pupils spend a day at the beach. The activities carried out cover geography, science and PE topics. In this case study the pupils spent time learning to body board, rock pooling, studying cliff erosion, working with a lifeguard and conducting a scientific experiment.
Before the residential
Before the visit pupils research the sea life they might find, developing notes or keys to help them identify creatures if they find them. In order to body board they also have to learn to swim 25m if they can’t already do so.
During the residential
During the residential the whole class go to the beach. External experts run the lifeguard, body boarding and rock pool sessions.
The rock pooling lasts most of half a day as the children are so determined to find as many creatures as possible and identify them. Also, a scientific experiment to find out the qualities of the best sand for building sand castles involves everyone. Pupils who still can’t swim 25m go to a local indoor pool during this period to develop their swimming skills. The lifeguard session includes instruction on how to help a person struggling to get clear of the surf, placing people in the recovery position and basic CPR. Having this exciting activity acts as a strong motivator both to come on the residential and to learn to swim the distance; overcoming anxieties about time away from home, deep water and being teased by friends.
After the visit
On their return to school pupils write reports on the experiment, the wildlife they’ve found and produce artwork of the cliffs.
When talking about the impact of these experiences, the teachers comment on the personal and study skills these activities and residentials support. As well as developing new friendships and collaborative skills, it is their growing confidence and resilience that comes in for most comment. Before the residential teachers report that it would be common for a pupil to give up on a new task; letting a teaching assistant or another pupil complete it for them. On the visit pupils learn to persist at problems and this transfers back to the classroom. They may still ask for help, but they will ask to be shown how to do something rather than let someone else do it for them. Staff feel that the reality of the outdoor situations and the sense that everyone is in it together and has to pull together, lead pupils to keep trying and to help each other wherever they can.
Teachers also notice that taking part in repeated visits and camps develops a range of practical competences. Significantly it is the pupils themselves who also talk about the ways that their skills have developed. The group tents were often mentioned in this respect. Pupils were taught to put them up in Year 3 but by Year 5 they are putting them up by themselves and helping younger pupils sort out their tents.
Another outcome the staff report is the enhanced respect pupils have for staff and especially each other. This leads to new friendships and greater willingness to work together with a wider range of children.
Both the resilience and this new found respect lead to a more collaborative and relaxed work ethic in the classroom, that adds to their persistence and focus during ongoing project work.