3: Getting started

Bulwell and Calderglen Learning Away partnerships developed a number of tools to simplify the collaborative process that staff and student leaders follow when creating and delivering high-quality residentials.

Integrated into successful camps involving its feeder primary schools, Bulwell created its own ‘Sports Leadership’ programme giving young leaders the opportunity to develop specific skills and attributes, for which they are accredited, whilst participating in these camps.

Calderglen developed a series of subject-based residentials, each with a vertical age structure crossing three year groups. This offers a range of student leadership opportunities that the partnership has built on both in and out of school.

Linda Abbott, Bulwell EAZ Manager, and Tony McDaid of the Calderglen partnership recommend a focussed and transparent process of recruitment to student leadership programmes, including being explicit about the benefits of leadership opportunities, outlined in the previous section.

Life at school provides young people with many opportunities to develop leadership skills, and participating in a residential camp with younger children is not for everyone. Young people will need to demonstrate patience and resilience themselves, in order to support younger children and enhance their residential experience.   Creating a ‘person specification’ for the role of Learning Away Young Leader is a helpful way to clarify the skills and attributes young people will need to bring with them, as well as the skills they might expect to acquire or develop once there.

At Bulwell Academy, young people formally apply to join the Sports Leadership programme and during the recruitment process are asked to consider and elaborate on the valuable skills they feel they can bring to the leadership team. An example of Bulwell Academy’s application form can be seen here.

Linda Abbot and Tony McDaid’s top tips for student recruitment include:

  • Seek recommendations and nominations from teachers/tutors regarding potential student leaders.
  • Implement a structured and transparent application process that suits the leadership programme and its potential candidates. This process is more effective when it includes an application form and a formal or informal interview.
  • At the interview stage, emphasise the levels of responsibility required, but balance this by asserting confidence in the prospective student leaders.
  • Be prepared for ‘natural wastage’; it’s almost inevitable that some individuals will struggle to meet the demands of the process and will drop out.
  • As with any recruitment process, ensure the candidates know the assessment criteria; informal assessment sheets for each candidate will prove invaluable at a later date if more challenging opportunities are offered to higher-performing individuals.

Involving previous or current student leaders in recruitment can make a significant difference to whether potential candidates decide to join a student leadership programme. Make use of their own evaluations to promote the benefits of volunteering for a student leadership role, focusing on the benefits to students themselves as well as the wider community. Student leadership programmes at Bulwell and Calderglen partnerships make the most of evaluation quotes such as:

“Student leadership makes you more confident, it makes you able to adapt.”

“It made me more independent outside school and in school.”

“The experience has helped with my career choice of working with children. I’ve gone out and got further experience and now applied for primary education at university.”

“A lot of the skills you learn here you wouldn’t be able to learn in a classroom, so you take a lot away from it.”

Student leaders on residential visits are subject to the same legal and logistical requirements as any other participating young person. The Learning Away resource library contains a range of downloadable planning templates, including this parents’ consent form, packing list and risk benefit assessment guidance.

Student leaders on residentials need to feel confident and strong, individually and as a team; ongoing support and thorough preparation are key to their success. A leadership development programme is an integral part of enabling young people to volunteer for leadership roles on residentials and within the Bulwell and Calderglen partnerships, progression of skills is a cornerstone of the approach.

  • Student leaders participate in residentials with children from Year 2 through to Year 13. In Reception, residentials are school led and take place on the school site.
  • Pre-residential training takes place in the months leading up the trip and explores lines of responsibility, behaviour management and subject- or activity-specific knowledge. Young people are given opportunities to listen, learn and develop as a student leadership team, but self-directed learning is equally important, demostrating a commitment to high-quality participation in the residentials. At Bulwell, pre-residential training is enhanced by involving their student leaders in sports festivals in which all of the local primary schools take part; leaders, with the support of their teachers, plan and deliver a variety of structures sports activities to primary school children throughout the day.
  • Older students use their experiences of leadership on residentials to work towards their Level 2 and Level 3 Sport Leaders awards; student leaders also have the opportunity to work on school grounds based activity programmes during school holidays, and in Bulwell they partner with local primary schools to offer after-school/lunchtime activities. This ‘Learning Away Progression Chart’ shows how young people can expect to build on their Learning Away experiences throughout their time at schools within the Bulwell partnership.

There’s more to preparing for residentials than training for leadership during the trip; strategies for involving young people in the design of residentials is explored in detail in our Co-construction suite of resources, with this role providing young people with tangible and transferrable skills as well as increased self-esteem. Thomas Tallis School in a new window uses residentials as team building and leadership development exercises for its school council.

PRIMARY STUDENTS AS LEADERS

The South Hetton Learning Away partnership pioneered the concept of primary students as leaders, using residentials as a tool for developing gifted and talented (G&T) children. The unique aspect of this G&T programme, however, is that the young people recruited to it are not necessarily those recognised as G&T in the classroom. Instead, the young leaders are those whom teachers recognise as having leadership potential and a genuine interest and aptitude for learning beyond the classroom. Two young people from Years 2 – 6 in each of the three partnership schools are selected to participate, and attend a partnership residential to develop their leadership and practical outdoor skills. Learning how to work and play alongside young people of various ages (and from different schools) is a key element of the programme and these skills are put into practice back at school as the young leaders adopt new roles as Playground Leaders.

Read more about the South Hetton partnership in this fascinating case study.

There is much to recommend the idea of placing secondary school student leaders on primary school residentials. Young people are energetic and creative and embrace the opportunity to take responsibility for ‘real life’ programmes. Several Learning Away partnership schools used cross- phase residentials to support and enrich residential experiences for Years 2 to 6 as well as to develop leadership skills in older students.

Successful placement of student leaders on primary residentials relies on several key factors:

  • recruitment of good quality student leaders
  • support and development for student leaders and primary school colleagues
  • mutual trust and shared objectives.

Two months before the primary school camps in Bulwell, requests for student volunteers from the Sports Leadership programme are circulated around the school – an example of the recruitment poster can be viewed here.

It’s important that the student leaders recruited to participate are already confident and mature, and they should be introduced into the primary school before the residential takes place. Good opportunities for this might include supporting PE or sports events, assisting with assemblies or performances, or participating in single day educational visits. These structured introductory visits will allow primary school staff to observe and appreciate the energy and enthusiasm students leaders can bring to learning beyond the classroom. The relationship built up between primary staff and the student leaders at this point is significant to the success (or otherwise) of the student leaders’ role in the residential. Bulwell staff and student leaders have found that planning residential activities together has been really beneficial.

Some students will thrive if placed on a residential with the primary school they attended, but others prefer to partner with schools unfamiliar to them. Matching student leaders and primary schools should be a collaborative, open and honest process, taking into account the student’s experience of primary school, their current interests and skills as well as any practical issues (such as distance from the primary school itself).

Once student leaders have been recruited, a discussion session covering key aspects of leadership is a great introduction to the practicalities of residentials and gives young people the opportunity to explore the issues in a supportive environment. Bulwell partnership’s discussion points include:

  • Speak and act appropriately. Think about what’s appropriate behaviour; no swearing, chewing, drugs, alcohol, playing pranks or using mobiles/iPods whilst you are working with children.
  • Keep it fun and be friendly, but don’t try to be too ‘matey’ with the children; you are attending in a leadership capacity, and need to strike a balance between gaining the children’s trust and being over friendly.
  • Don’t be cliquey with other student leaders. Try to avoid ‘grouping together’ as young leaders – children may find this intimidating and think you are unapproachable.
  • Work with your student leader buddy. Don’t put yourself in a position of being alone with a child; where possible work in pairs as student leaders, or with a member of school or venue staff.
  • Take part in all activities you’re asked to help with. If you are asked to do something you don’t fancy doing, please just do it anyway! It’s important that the children see you participating with enthusiasm. If you are asked to do something you are genuinely uncomfortable about, speak to the lead staff member.

Download a complete list of Bulwell partnership’s discussion points in this Top Tips document.

Training for student leaders should be created in collaboration with primary colleagues, so that a mutually beneficial, progressive model can be developed. Successful models promote trust between primary staff and those leading student leadership programmes at secondary level. For example, in the Bulwell partnership, primary and secondary staff initially work together on residentials with new student leaders. This collaboration allows primary staff to provide honest feedback (positive and negative) to secondary colleagues and enables them to benefit from advice and guidance from secondary colleagues, who know the student leaders well. Gradually, secondary staff withdraw as the relationship between the primary staff and student leaders becomes more established, until the student leaders plan and deliver residential activities solely with primary staff. In Bulwell, this process happens over three residentials in one academic year.

From the start of the relationship, clear lines of responsibility should be maintained. Student leaders and primary school staff should know who is accountable for student leaders once the residential is underway, and be aware of what individual responsibilities are – including for planning, participating in and evaluating residential sessions. The ‘Top Tips’ below offer more advice on this aspect of planning for student leaders.

Bulwell Learning Away partnership’s residentials focus on teamwork, community-building and life skills, and make excellent use of secondary school student leaders who work alongside primary school staff. Feedback suggests that primary colleagues appreciate the energy and enthusiasm of student leaders, and that the presence of an adult leader from the secondary school is also beneficial:

“Young leader delivery was good – the School Sport Coordinator coming along and accompanying the students worked really well.”

“The energy [young leaders] bought when we were tired was brilliant.”

“They were creative and adapted to different situations well.”

As well as feedback from primary school staff, more concrete evaluation of student leadership skills development can be undertaken. See here for an assessment model used by the Calderglen partnership.

Celebrating the success of student leaders is crucial – not only to their own self-esteem and personal development but also in order to recruit future student leaders to primary residentials. Primary staff within the Bulwell Learning Away partnership became ‘champions’ of the benefits of student leaders on residentials and now speak to other local schools about the value – to primary and secondary schools – of engaging young people in this way.

Bulwell Academy produced useful guidance to help their adult staff build strong and trusting relationships with student leaders. Download a copy of the guidance as a PDF here.

  • Use words and actions to make student leaders feel welcome.
  • Clarify names. Make it clear what student leaders should call the other adults on the residential, and what other young people on the residential should call the student leaders.
  • Clarify appropriate behaviours. Encourage adult and student leaders to maintain a friendly communication style between one another and with the young people participating in the residential. Leaders should nevertheless take care not to cross the line into ‘mateyness’ – this is a tricky balance to maintain for inexperienced student leaders, so be ready to advise and guide.
  • Role model good leadership to the student leaders. This is the ideal opportunity for young people to learn how to act appropriately in a place of work; don’t underestimate the power of this ‘real life’ experience for them.
  • Give clear instructions to student leaders and ensure they have purposeful tasks for each individual session they are participating in. Be clear about who student leaders are taking instructions from and what they should do if they are unsure about particular aspects of the residential (e.g. is it a curriculum or pastoral issue?).
  • Recap and acknowledge progress. Once student leaders are on task, re-visit them throughout the session and acknowledge the good work taking place. If further explanation or a recap of expectations is required then share these with the leaders, taking care to be considerate to avoid knocking their confidence.
  • Be aware of student leaders’ needs. Keep completed consent forms for student leaders with those of other participants and be aware of any additional requirements they may have e.g. special needs, dietary requirements or home circumstances.
  • Plan down-time for student leaders. Ultimately, the adult leaders are responsible for the care and well being of all young people on the residential, including the student leaders. Discuss and agree when student leaders will have free time and what they can or cannot do during this time.
  • Clarify who concerns should be escalated to, should the conduct of student leaders require additional support e.g. educational visit coordinator, Headteacher.

Reflect and evaluate

Reflecting and evaluating helps establish the ways in which the residential met its objectives. Student leaders should play a central role in monitoring during the residential, and evaluating afterwards. The Learning Away partnership schools developed a range of evaluation tools, including these best practice suggestions:

  • Choose the right evaluation tools. The purpose of evaluation is to establish how effective the residential learning programme was in meeting its intended outcomes. Tools that could provide evidence of outcomes include journals, photos, leaflets etc. gathered by student leaders and participants; questionnaires and focus groups with young people, student leaders and staff; and school data e.g. attendance, progress and attainment statistics.
  • Use qualitative as well as quantitative data. The opinions of staff, participants, student leaders and parents are immensely valuable in identifying the parts of the programme that could be improved and those that could be left out.
  • Set realistic timescales. Be clear about when it will be possible to provide robust evidence for intended outputs and outcomes. Some may be quickly apparent; others may take many months to be successfully measured. Student leaders will appreciate timely feedback on their own performance and the longer term outcomes for the younger participants on the residential.
  • Recognise other contributing factors. However successful the residential was in meeting its intended outcomes, it’s likely that other factors may have contributed to the changes. Explore what else may have affected the outcomes.

Bulwell partnership developed an evaluation cycle diagram for student leaders, helping them clarify the tasks associated with purposeful evaluation. It uses the ‘plan, do, review’ process with which young people are already familiar and encourages them to start by making use of feedback from previous residentials.

In this short film, Bulwell partnership staff and two students describe how student leaders are recruited and trained and how the schools work with and support these young leaders.

The Charities Evaluation Service (CES) publishes a useful guide to using a ‘Theory of Change’ approach to planning and evaluation, which was used by a number of the Learning Away partnerships when planning their residentials. Visit the CES website to download the guide.