One startling impact of Learning Away has been the difference residential experiences have made to children and young people with special educational needs. Nowhere is this more vivid than in the three special schools involved. Both Sanderson High School (part of the Calderglen Learning Away partnership) and Hallmoor School were actively involved in taking students on residentials prior to Learning Away. However both schools used the the Learning Away programme as an opportunity to integrate more fully their residentials into the curriculum and life of the school, create a progression of experiences and include students who were previously thought to have been too challenging.
Hallmoor School is a special educational needs school serving the East of Birmingham and is part of the Pilot Partnership. It is an all through school with pupils in Key Stages 1 to 5. An increasing number have complex educational and medical needs. When I interviewed the school’s Learning Away coordinator, John Weaving, he bombarded me with figures showing the impacts of Learning Away on progression, including:
- For the first time ever the whole of Year 6 had reached national curriculum level 1 (previously P8 or less)
- 11 out of 13 Year 6 pupils had reached National Curriculum standards in speaking and listening and reading and writing
- Progression in Citizenship equal to one whole level (previously 0.3).
John was clear that participation in the Year 4 and Year 6 residentials alongside the primary schools in the partnership were fundamental to the changes he was documenting. The change of scene and the eagerness to take part, motivated behaviour change after behaviour change; engaging pupils with their learning, with each other socially and with staff. His stories were endless, for example the elective mute who now won’t stop speaking, the timid pupil who now loves to take responsibility for others, the child on the verge of exclusion who is now a model pupil, the parents who have seen such a transformation in one of their children that they have asked for their second child to attend, and students now capable of independent travel to and from school.
The Pilot Partnership’s Learning Away programme has also been set up deliberately to encourage staff to work with teachers from the local primary schools. This has also had numerous benefits:
- Developing curriculum resources, planning tools and ideas for delivery
- Inspiring new approaches to teaching and learning e.g. using ICT to document and reflect on pupil progress
- Staff from ‘mainstream’ schools have learned how to work more effectively with pupils with special needs and now realise that small tweaks can be all that is needed to include pupils previously struggling with lesson plans
- Integrated working has increased with joint PE lessons, competitions and other events.
In addition the knowledge gained about their own pupils whilst away with them on residentials has encouraged staff to stretch them more (by setting greater challenges in the classroom) and to use new approaches to teaching and learning that have made it possible to sustain the progression begun by the residential experiences. The film script writing and movie making of the Year 6 residential has proved so popular that it has been brought into the school as a project.
John is also excited by the new data that shows pupils returning after the long summer break have sustained their earlier achievements and, even better, are continuing to progress at the enhanced post-residential rates despite the gap. He gave the example of music lessons in which the orchestra has come on in leaps and bounds, as pupils have learned on the residential the importance of taking turns. He believes that it is the progression of residentials, reinforcing new behaviours and moving them on into new applications, that is having such a vital impact on school life. He is especially pleased that the students in Key Stage 4 have asked, through the student council, for there to be a residential for them to keep this progression going. The school and he are only too happy to oblige!