Imagine seeing the sea, surfing or catching a fish, going to a big football match, eating curry or visiting a mosque … all for the very first time! This was the vision of two schools linked only by the career path of a teacher when he swapped inner city north Birmingham for rural north Cornwall.
The ambition of the staff of Twickenham and Goonhavern primary schools was to help their pupils to realise there is a bigger world outside of their local environment. They hoped that this would raise career aspirations, introduce them to other choices, give them the confidence to meet new people, tackle new environments and take on new challenges – and in the process develop social skills.
Going to the seaside
Twickenham Primary School bought group tents, hired a coach and headed to the Cornish seaside in June to camp on a field belonging to one of the families with children at the host school, Goonhavern. The content of the week long visit included studying in the school with the Year 6 pupils, time by the sea, visits to museums and the fish market, and a boat trip. The Learning Away coordinator reflected:
“I want to be involved in organising school visits. It’s such an amazing opportunity. The pupils enjoy it and they get a lot from it, but I don’t think they realise how amazing it is. When they come back after leaving school, which they do quite often, one of the things they still talk about is Cornwall. Out of everything that they remember it’s these residentials; it’s not the lessons, its not even the day trips, it’s the residentials that they talk about.”
The city visit
The return trip to Birmingham took place in the autumn and the group stayed in a self catering residential centre. For many, it was their first time in a city. The city centre, the canals, the multicultural atmosphere and the chance to go to a football stadium were as exciting as seeing the sea for the first time. An additional benefit was that the host school had spent Pupil Premium funding on resources the Cornish school could not afford. Staff made the most of the cookery classroom and on-site forest school facilities, as well as the different skill sets of the staff, learning to breakdance in PE for example.
The staff were enthusiastic about the outcomes, especially the confidence gained in new and challenging situations. They also valued the safe, informal time the children had at the centre to absorb these new experiences and apply the outcomes in their own class and friendship groups. They noticed an impact on staff too; teachers seeing all of this and being seen by the pupils so that it became shared knowledge. They found that new behaviours were established in relationships on the trip before the return to school.
Both schools encouraged staff from throughout their schools to take part in the residentials. Over the years most have been involved and have become enthusiasts. Staffing the visits has become easy and the impact on teaching and learning in the classrooms of all year groups is being felt. Going more than once also had benefits. During subsequent residentials, teachers reported being more relaxed and spontaneous; enjoying the informal time that has proved critical for developing stronger relationships and deepening learning.
“We took one member of staff last year who hated the thought of camping. She overcame her fear of spiders and all the other things that go with camping. She was enthused by the way the children were reacting to the experience. She’s already volunteered for next year!”
The residentials have supported staff development for teachers and TA’s; encouraging them to explore new ways of working and experimenting in and out of doors with teaching and learning strategies. The trips have introduced a note of excitement about the direction the schools are taking. This was also the case for the Learning Away coordinator:
“For me, as one of the school’s middle managers, I can now help people with their professional development because I’ve seen it, I’ve done it and I’ve organised it. It helps me to help the members of staff that I support in school. It’s quite an important thing for me really.”
Developments in school
For Twickenham Primary School their residentials in Cornwall have led to changes at home. A new PTA is fundraising for a minibus that will help reduce the main cost of the trip; making it more sustainable and inclusive. Residentials have been introduced in Years 4 and 5. This has already had an impact on the take up for the exchange visit. Even more ambitiously, the school is working with a cluster of local primary schools to take over a residential centre on the edge of Birmingham to support these and a host of new projects.
The cluster has weathered changes of headteacher and Learning Away coordinator and overcome cost issues, and is well on the way to expanding residential provision within the school and with neighbouring schools. The exchanges are embedded in the life of the school and have seen friendships between staff and pupils develop beyond the one teacher who moved to Cornwall. This link is designed to persist.