The Bulwell partnership in Nottingham have concentrated on developing low cost, local one- and two-night camping residentials for primary children in order to make their residential experiences accessible for all. The programme is progressive, beginning in Year 2. In this case study, a Learning Away Coordinator from one of the primary schools describes how Learning Away teachers developed methods to evaluate residential experiences with children in the Early Years and at Key Stage 1, and how these were used by the Bulwell partnership.
As part of the Learning Away project, we were asked to evaluate the impact of our Key Stage 1 residential using focus groups and surveys. It soon became clear that, for Key Stage 1, these methods were not going to enable us to collect the type of data that we needed. The children were able to tell us what they did through words, pictures and actions, but they were unable to tell us why activities worked well or not, or what impact the activities had on them as individuals. We therefore had to create a new approach to evaluation that was relevant and accessible for Key Stage 1 children.
Developing the evaluation resource
I joined a group of Key Stage 1 and Early Years teachers working on Learning Away together with representatives from York Consulting (our evaluators) and an outdoor educationalist specialising in the Early Years. We worked for a day to explore different approaches to evaluation with children in Key Stage 1, and went on to develop a plan for evaluating future Key Stage 1 residentials. We developed two models: Model A and Model B. Model A is a simple model that enables members of staff to collect the minimum level of data that we felt was required to evaluate the residential. ‘Model B’, is a more in depth evaluation which uses aspects of the Mosaic Approach, and can be integrated into the curriculum around a residential. You can read more about these models in the Learning Away Early Years and Key Stage 1 resource.
Implementing the evaluation model: using Model B
Each year, we provide a residential experience for our Year 2 classes. 30 children attend the camp for one night and two days. The residential takes place in Wollaton Park in Nottingham.
We had previously decided that the overarching aim of the residentials would be to develop deeper relationships between the children taking part, which we hoped would impact on improved learner engagement and achievement.
I opted to use Model B when choosing how my school would evaluate our residential. Given time constraints, we were not able to integrate it as much as we would have liked into the curriculum and ethos of the school, but will do this in the future. Even so, it provided us with a good deal of information and gave the children a clear voice of their own.
Step 1: Before the residential
We identified a focus group of four children and collected some baseline data, including gender, eligibility for free school meals, any additional needs, attendance and attainment. This information was held alongside a pen portrait of each child written by the class teacher. In this pen portrait we chose to comment on things that were relevant to the aim of the residential: general background information; interaction with peers and adults; attitude to learning and school; personality traits; and preferred learning styles.
The staff involved in the residential ensured that they built in time for conversations with the children prior to going. This enabled us to build anticipation and talk through any worries. As the leader of the residential, I spent an hour with the children and involved them in the planning of the visit.
We began the session by pretending that we would get a magic carpet and visit the camp site. The children were able to engage in this imaginative activity and this provided us with an insight into what they already knew, what they wanted to find out and how they felt about the residential experience. When arriving at the imaginary site, we ran some circle-time activities. I passed a soft toy around the group and each child had the opportunity to talk about what they could visualise on the campsite. Their input enabled us to gain an understanding of their thoughts of what the residential and the site, in particular, would be like. We then went on to discuss how they felt about the residential. The children commented on any worries that they had and what they were excited about. I scribed the comments of each child including, in particular, the children in the focus group.
Next we ran an activity with the children to risk assess the residential. This is something that I had not done with children before and I was interested to see how they would take ownership of the task. In turn, we discussed any risks that might be present on the residential. We then decided what we could do to prevent these risks or what to do if one of them occurred. The children enjoyed this activity and I hoped that they would put theory into practice when they were on the residential.
After the circle-time activities, I gave the children the opportunity to draw a picture of what they thought the campsite would look like. Some of the children drew pictures of their friends and whom they thought they would be with on the residential. This provided us with an insight into current friendship groups and the children with whom they currently chose to interact.
Step 2: On the residential
Throughout the residential, various members of staff observed the focus group children in relation to the chosen aims of the residential. The evidence collected was in the form of written notes, photographs that we later annotated, plus audio and visual recordings. We were careful to record exactly what the children had said. I felt that this form of observation was similar to how we observe children within Early Years and Key Stage 1 already, therefore it was not difficult to prepare or execute.
We provided cameras throughout the residential for the focus group children to use. Their pictures enabled us to gain an insight into their perspective and what they felt was important about the residential. Some of the photographs they took linked directly with our aims, although this was not always the case.
We planned for the children to work in pairs to collect items for a journey stick. They discussed each item; we expected them to be able to talk about these items and why they felt they were important, for example, “This stone reminds me of a … because …”. The staff also took part in this activity and modelled the process. We focused particularly on evaluating communication and relationships during this activity.
At the end of the two days, the children sat around the fire circle and took part in a reflective discussion that provided them with the opportunity to comment upon the original ‘magic carpet’ session. They talked about what they had expected prior to attending the residential, their present feelings, what they enjoyed or didn’t enjoy about the residential, and the relationships that had changed or been created. We were able to link this evaluation activity directly to the residential’s aims for the focus group children. Having taken part in the discussion, the children then made a postcard, drawing a picture that they felt related to the residential.
Step 3: After the residential
On return to school, the children were given a few days to reflect upon how they felt prior to, during and after the residential. They then wrote a message on the postcard that encapsulated their feelings. We carried out another circle-time session which was used to evaluate the activities that were carried out, revisit the risk assessment and consider how we would carry the residential experience forward. Within two weeks of returning from the residential, we observed the focus group against the chosen outcomes and added to the original pen portrait.
When developing this evaluation model, we felt that it was necessary to evaluate the long-term effects on the focus group children. We therefore observed the focus group children two terms after the residential, again in relation to the aims of the residential. Due to the time of year, new class teachers completed these observations. These teachers added to the pen portrait and completed data for the current term to compare to the baseline data. As part of my role as the Learning Away Coordinator in school, I met with the class teacher to discuss the pen portrait and the impact of the Learning Away residential on them, particularly in relation to our aims of improving relationships, engagement and achievement.
Reflections on the evaluation process
This evaluation model enabled us to gain a greater understanding of the children, how the residential activities had impacted on them and the reasons for this impact. The approach used was time consuming; however, I believe that the benefits of gaining such formative evidence far outweighed the time spent. The guidelines that go alongside this evaluation model clearly state that schools should be as a creative as they would like to be within their own setting and within their capacity limits. This advice is something that I would consider when planning future evaluation activities.
Model B required more planning and ideally it would have been integrated into the school curriculum and ethos. Our Key Stage 1 residential took place in June and we felt that it was too late in the year to integrate this into our school ethos and curriculum. We therefore completed the evaluation in isolation, in this instance. We look forward to using a more integrated approach in the new academic year.