The Christ Church partnership of three Merseyside primary schools has offered our pupils a comprehensive programme of residential visits for a number of years. Traditionally, these have taken place in the summer term when our academic programmes are near completion and we can be more assured of favourable weather. Through our involvement with Learning Away, however, we decided to amend our programme to spread the visits throughout the year. We were particularly interested in exploring the year-long impact that holding residentials at the start of the year would have on staff/pupil relationships.
Why did we decide to adopt this approach?
The rationale behind this lay in the fact that we had seen in the past, how staff/pupil relationships developed following our usual end of year residential visits and felt that we were missing out on some of the benefits brought about by this, as pupils then often moved classes. We felt that residentials at the beginning of the year would bring many new benefits for parents, pupils and staff in terms of building relationships, enhancing the curriculum for the rest of the year, reduced costs and greater flexibility of dates. We also knew that none of the existing benefits of our residential programme would be diminished i.e. broadening the pupils’ experience, raising aspirations, team building skills and developing pupils’ confidence and independence.
What did we do?
In 2013, we arranged for three of our four KS2 classes to undertake a residential visit during the first week of October. We chose the date carefully, so that class teachers would have four weeks at the beginning of term to begin to get to know the children in their new classes before the residential took place. When planning the residential, the children’s individual needs could then be taken into account.
The three KS2 classes, took part in an overnight visit to London. During their stay they had a sight seeing tour of famous London landmarks, discovered the wonders of the Natural History and Science museums and went on the Warner Bros. Studio Tour – The Making of Harry Potter. They also ate out in London’s Covent Garden and went to the theatre; for most their first live theatre event. Both of these were real broadening experiences for our pupils.
Impacts and benefits
1. Enhanced relationships – staff/pupil
Following the residential, teachers reported that they had a better understanding of the strengths of individual children which they could then build upon throughout the year.
2. Enhanced relationships – pupil/pupil
Children with additional needs, and in particular those with social and communication difficulties, found it easier to make and keep friends and join in with group activities upon their return. One child returning from the residential to London said of the visit,
“Not only did I get to see Buckingham Palace, but I was able to spend a night in a room with some new friends. Those children are now my best friends and I play with them every day”.
3. Enhanced relationships – staff/staff
“ I didn’t know that you could do that ….”.
All the staff involved in the visit, reported on the benefits too upon return. The benefits for staff appeared to be two-fold. Firstly, they commented on how they had learnt more about their colleagues and how for some, for the first time, they had become aware of their colleagues skills. These were skills and attributes that staff could draw upon as the year progressed.
Teaching and support staff relationships were also greatly enhanced during the residential as everyone worked together, regardless of role, to make the visit a success. These relationships continued into the classroom upon return, whereas in previous years, teachers returning from residential visits at the end of the year, may have found themselves working with a different TA in September.
4. Integrating the visit into the curriculum
Planning for residential visits at the beginning of the year enabled staff to integrate the planned curriculum into the visit. Our residential visit to London provided the ‘Wow’ factor experience to launch our historical and geographical studies for that term. In past years, our residentials were either stand alone visits, unrelated to what was being taught in class, or took place once the planned curriculum work for the year had been completed.
5. Flexibility with dates and reduced costs
In previous years, in common with most schools, we would have to compete for those dates that fell after the May half term when statutory tests had been completed. By bringing our residential to the beginning of the academic year, we immediately benefitted from a wider range of available dates.
Not only were a greater range of dates available to us, we also found that prices were cheaper too. For parents, this was a major benefit. It also meant that we could fundraise to support the cost of the visit at the end of the previous summer term. Our previous experience of offering end of year residentials had often proved problematic for parents who were paying for their own summer holidays and very often, for residential visits for siblings in other schools at the same time.