Previous research by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation for Learning Futures suggests that deep learner engagement is learning that occurs when the learner

  • cares not just about the outcome, but also the development, of their learning
  • takes responsibility for their learning
  • brings discretionary energy to their learning task(s)
  • can locate the value of their learning beyond school, and wishes to prolong their learning beyond school hours.

This definition sees deep engagement as much more than ‘compliance’ or perceptions that deem young people to be engaged if, for example, they: attend regularly; conform to behavioural norms; complete work in the manner requested and on time; are ‘on-task’; and respond to questioning. Download the pamphlet ‘A vision for engaging schools’ for more information about Learning Futures.

Compared to traditional models of engagement, wider research shows that deep engagement is more likely to foster a long-term passion for learning and a commitment to learning beyond school.

Young people’s voices

As a result of their co-construction and co-design of the Learning Away residential, a group of students from the Walney schools partnership were invited to speak about their experience of ‘learners as leaders’ at a Leadership Conference. The quotes below are taken from their presentation.

‘It was really interesting being asked to be a leader, alongside our teachers, on Camp Junior 2 Senior. We were invited to take part even before the project was planned, because our ideas were really important. And, even though it was really scary right at the start, it built my confidence knowing that the teachers REALLY needed our help to come up with the ideas that would work with other children, and to communicate the whole plan back to our classes. I really enjoyed the teaching part! I can now explain what I think makes a good leader; such as friendliness and being helpful, being able to take responsibility and organising people and things properly.’ Gabriella, Year 6

‘While we were planning this presentation, we had lots of ideas about next steps. As members of the Steering Group, we have volunteered to meet back up again so that we can look back on the whole thing and ask what went well, what didn’t go well, so that we can recommend improvements for when the next Camp Junior 2 Senior happens, We thought we could also use our leadership skills to act as mentors to support the next student leadership team to plan the camp, passing on our leadership skills.’ Matthew, Year 6

‘So, finally, what is the point of involving young people in leadership? Whoever got us to do leadership is trying to give us a head start for the future. For example, we might need it in college or university. If you are training to be a teacher you will have to show leadership for your class or if you become a head teacher you will have to show leadership for the whole school even the staff!’ Cavan, Year 6

Curriculum design to maximise learner engagement

Outcomes from co-constructed residentials in the Walney schools clearly demonstrate that where learners are able to drive their own agenda, rather than always being led by teachers, they engage at a very different and very positive learning level.  This outcome now shapes curriculum design at the partnership schools, placing greater emphasis on young people selecting learning content and methods.  They now experience greater involvement as leaders of their own learning, making use of self and peer evaluation practices, requesting learning foci and inviting skilled members of the wider community into their lessons to support their learning.

The evaluation evidence for co-design and co-construction as a tool for planning residentials informed the prioritisation of Pupil Premium funding in at least one of the Walney partnership schools. Learning from their experiences has also supported this school’s work in meta-cognitive and self-regulation strategies.

Outcomes from Learning Away have also provided evidence to support a collaborative inter-disciplinary project that engages schools, health and the business sector in a co-constructed enterprise activity to help break intergenerational poverty in Cumbria.  The programme, ‘Children Leading Change’ directly supports several of the County Council’s Key Priorities:

  • To challenge poverty in all its forms.
  • To ensure that the most vulnerable people in our communities receive the support they need.
  • To improve the chances in life of the most disadvantaged in Cumbria.

The ability to test co-construction and co-design within a secure, structured yet informal residential setting strengthened schools’ understanding of how to positively affect young people’s engagement in their own education.  This frequently influenced partnership working between education, health and local businesses, enabling each sector to target – and share – their resources most effectively.

Walney school partnership’s learning away evaluation

Considering that less than a fifth of a young person’s waking time is spent in school, the opportunity to engage young people with the much more intensive, rich and deep learning experiences that residentials can offer is a compelling one.  Planning a progression of residential opportunities throughout young people’s school careers can really accelerate their development as successful learners, confident individuals and responsible citizens.

In Cumbria, the Walney partnership’s ‘big idea’ was to improve transition at all key stages in a young person’s school career by integrating learning beyond the classroom into the learning journeys of all young people.  This included taking learning into the school grounds, making the most of the opportunities available in the neighbourhoods close to the partnership schools, and of course learning through residential visits.

The Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education (CUREE) reviewed the approaches the partnership used to co-construct and co-design its initial residentials, and reported that they were:

“…successful in involving primary pupils in the process of co-design of their residential learning at a number of levels, including determining and assessing the skills they need for successful transition, and designing a residential that would support the development and assessment of these skills. 

Staff and pupils worked in parallel and together to construct a programme of activities that would take account of the needs of all pupil groups.  Core teams developed visual presentations of the initial planning process and co-coached each other to prepare other pupils and staff for the residential.  

Following the residential, the pupils are now taking more responsibility for their learning in school and being more proactive as learners.”

Walney partnership’s own evaluations raise thought-provoking questions about how the long-term impact of residentials can be monitored and measured.  A key issue is the ‘head start’ the transition residentials give to both adults and young people.  Teachers and teaching assistants are able to get to know young people before they arrive in Year 7, seeing beyond the ‘student’ to the ‘young person’ behind the learner.  Young people themselves meet peers from other schools in an informal, hierarchy- and baggage-free environment, enabling them to build better relationships, more quickly, once they join Year 7.

The co-construction and co-design aspect of residentials is key to these outcomes.  Co-construction prior to and during residentials highlights the wide and varied range of skills young people bring and which previously may not have been fully appreciated by their peers.  Walney partnership’s own evaluation states:

“Young people were keen to share each other’s successes and they were more supportive and positive towards each other post-residential.  Young people admired each others’ new found skills.  QUESTION: Should we as Year 7 teachers, reconsider curriculum priorities to capitalise on this?”

Read and download a copy of Walney partnership’s own programme evaluation, which includes comments from co-constructors, recommendations for further transition support and key questions to develop teaching and learning before, during and beyond residentials.