Working with an external provider to deliver a brilliant residential at Hampton Court Palace

Key features

  • Working with the heritage sector
  • The logistics of working with an external provider
  • Planning an off-site camping residential

In July 2013 Canterbury High ran the first ever residential at Hampton Court Palace, camping in its grounds with 80 Year 10 students for five days.  They worked with the Hampton Court education team to develop a multi-subject integrated curriculum using the palace and its grounds, with the marriage of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn as a stimulus. This case study outlines in detail the communication, planning and preparation involved, and describes the shared roles played by school staff and the Palace’s education team.

This meticulous planning and the challenge involved in using a new and iconic heritage venue undoubtedly paid off. At the end of the week, the impact of the residential on learning, engagement and relationships was obvious, as these two Year 10 students made clear:

“When I was at Hampton Court there was just loads of stuff to inspire me. I probably did more hours of work in that one week than I did in the whole of this term, I just had so much inspiration from it.”

“The teachers, they’re actually human, not just some people standing in front of you teaching you.”

Having enthusiastic, committed staff members who were willing to take part in residentials and make these more informal learning relationships with students was undoubtedly a huge part of the success of the Hampton Court Palace (HCP) experience.  However, there was also an enormous amount of behind-the-scenes planning and communication that went on for many months before the residential.  This took place between the school’s educational visits coordinator (EVC), who coordinated the logistics side of Learning Away at the school and led the planning process, and various HCP staff.  As this was the first ever residential that HCP had provided, there was a great deal to discuss and get right.

Starting out – February 2013

Canterbury High School’s deputy head with responsibility for residential learning and their EVC were key in establishing the relationship with HCP.  They started in February 2013 (five months before the residential) by visiting key staff at the site in order to develop, as the EVC described, “a shared vision with clear outlines of responsibilities and expectations”.  Scale was an important topic of conversation at this initial visit.  HCP staff had been anticipating a camp for 20-30 young people, so had quite a bit to think about when Canterbury said they would like to bring between 80 and 100 students!  This visit also enabled them to talk about initial ideas for the activity programme and the accommodation arrangements.  Establishing some clarity around these areas was particularly important given the unique and historic nature of the HCP site.  The EVC’s advice on achieving this clarity is to:

“Think the residential through from get-up in the morning – breakfast, showers, toilets – right through until bed time, and plan carefully how each event within the day will work between you and the provider.”

An important part of the initial visit was a tour of the HCP site with Palace staff, so that the school staff could start to see the possibilities for learning on the site as well as to begin the risk management process, with help from HCP’s risk assessments.

This joint thinking enabled the Canterbury and the HCP staff to begin drafting a contract for the residential that satisfied the needs of both organisations.

Developing relationships – March to May 2013

The next step for Canterbury was to go back and share the outcomes of this meeting with their wider residential staff team, and put these staff in touch with the HCP education team, so that they could start to co-develop the residential curriculum.  The school also arranged for their staff to visit the Palace to meet the HCP team, which helped them, as the school’s EVC made clear, “visualise the residential experience and plan their activities effectively” and made sure that the “whole experience wasn’t a surprise to them when they turned up on site with pupils”.  This visit also meant that the staff forged their own individual relationships with Palace staff, enabling them to ask specific questions over the coming months whilst they were planning the residential.

In terms of logistics, dialogue between the school’s EVC and HCP staff continued during these months, covering major issues such as:

  • public liability insurance
  • financial arrangements
  • security and site access for both the school and their additional external providers
  • the set-up (which coincided with the end of the HCP Flower Show) and striking of camp
  • toilets, showers and catering equipment
  • catering arrangements (Canterbury brings its own catering students and staff to residentials)
  • electricity, gas and water supply
  • on-site activities (where, who, how and when?)
  • first aid arrangements
  • emergency procedures.

Minor problems were also discussed and compromises agreed as the EVC noted,

“There was no question too small and there were often small details to be finalised. ”  

“The Palace had their own assets to protect and health and safety legislation to follow, at the same time as the school needed to meet our priorities around learning outcomes for our students as well as their safety.”

This period of negotiation meant both sides had to be aware that much of their own thinking and planning was provisional.  Ongoing discussions meant that occasionally initial arrangements changed; for example, Canterbury High had to compromise on one of their big features of camping, the camp fire, as this was seen as just too risky on the site of a centuries-old royal palace!  The final plans and contract developed organically over a period of six months.

Moving towards the start date – May to July 2013

As the residential grew closer, Canterbury High School produced a final draft programme of activities and communication now focused on pinning down smaller, but crucial, details about this, as well as more general logistics.  At this point the school’s planning team arranged a second meeting with HCP staff at the end of May, realising that this would be more effective than large numbers of emails for ironing out detail.  This meeting further cemented relationships between key school and Palace staff, which meant that the final planning happened more smoothly. This was particularly important as the EVC was not able to attend the entire residential.

The final weeks before the residential saw a lot of email traffic between the school and HCP staff to pin down:

  • final lesson and activity plans
  • final administrative paperwork including the contract
  • contact details for key staff during the residential
  • site access
  • set-up arrangements.

At this point HCP sent their entire on-site staff a series of plans for the visit, copying the school into the email.  This enabled the EVC to see exactly what they were expecting and to communicate any last minute changes or corrections.

On the residential

At this point the meticulous planning started to pay off!  For example, as this was such a big camping residential, Canterbury staff wanted to set the accommodation and catering areas set up prior to the students arriving.  Given that this process coincided with the end of the HCP Flower Show, vehicular access was restricted to two hours (starting at 8.00am, which meant a 6.00am start for Canterbury staff) and personnel access to four hours.  HCP had been very clear about this with the school beforehand, which meant the set-up team – including both the school and other external providers/contractors – was able to plan within these parameters and stick to them.  A successful set-up meant that a core group of staff were more relaxed about students arriving the following day and could get to know on-site staff before the group grew to over a hundred.

The level of detail shared between the school and HCP meant that the entire HCP staff were well prepared for the residential.  They were very welcoming to both staff and students and really enthusiastic about what the school was trying to achieve.  This positive start meant that constant communication between school and HCP staff on the ground was easy, and that lesson plans/activities could again be changed to accommodate further learning and teaching opportunities that came to light as the residential progressed.  School staff commented after the residential that they would advise other school staff to try and communicate even more than they had with site staff in order to maximise learning opportunities.  The welcoming nature of the staff also made the students feel well looked after and they quickly relaxed into their environment having initially found staying at the palace, as one Year 10 student remarked, “weird”.

It was undoubtedly the enormous amount of behind-the-scenes planning between Canterbury and HCP staff that laid solid foundations for the good relationships that characterised the week and made it possible for all staff to focus on the students’ learning and wellbeing.  Without it, much more time would have been spent on reactive planning during the residential, which would have caused higher levels of stress and impacted negatively on relationships and opportunities.

The fact that Canterbury received their hefty deposit back from HCP in its entirety speaks volumes about the amount of work that was put into planning on both sides.  The impact of it on students is summed up nicely by one of the Year 10 students:

“It was a once in a lifetime opportunity, we made history, we were the first school in 500 years to stay at the palace, so I felt privileged to be part of that.”