Using student leaders on residentials can take the pressure off staff – they become a ‘bridge’ between staff and younger students, and can enhance the residential experience for all involved. The first phase of Learning Away also showed that student leaders benefit greatly themselves in terms of confidence, motivation, achievement and career direction.
Several Learning Away school partnerships have developed student leadership programmes that progressively train and support older students to work on residentials with younger students. Student leaders have been involved in setting up and striking camps, running sports activities, designing and running subject-specific activities, and supporting younger students during residential activities and informal time.
These programmes, over the course of the first phase Learning Away, became an integral and highly-valued part of these schools’ residentials. While staff could have viewed having extra students along as just additional work, this has proved simply not to be the case – student leaders have become integral to residential staff teams and are a crucial part of the residentials.
Three main factors have been central to the success of these schools’ student leader programmes:
- High quality training for student leaders: Schools have developed specific training programmes for their leaders to ensure that they have the right skills both to run activities and to work with younger students in an informal setting. Sometimes these training programmes have included a residential just for student leaders to immerse them in a similar experience to the younger students, and to give them intensive time together as a group.
- School staff provide committed, ongoing support for young leaders: Schools have identified one or two named members of staff who go through training with the young leaders, support them through their first residential experiences and prepare them for ‘solo’ experiences with less support as they become more confident. Student leaders have found this level of support and a high trust relationship with staff crucial in terms of their development and confidence as leaders.
- Negotiating clear expectations about staff and student leaders’ responsibilities: School staff and student leaders have sat down together and planned timetables and activities for the residential. The resulting clarity has meant that everyone knows who is doing what and when, and also has an understanding of how each other works with younger students – student leader style can be a bit more informal than teacher style, but each have become equally important and accepted on residentials. As time has gone on and staff and students have both become more experienced, their expectations about each other’s roles have become much clearer.
Experience and clear expectations have also meant that everyone is more relaxed on residentials, and relationships between student leaders and staff have flourished. Student leaders have really appreciated being treated like adults and staff have become increasingly impressed about the ability and attitude of student leaders.
Student leaders have also benefited in the long term. For some of them, the experience has been life-changing and has influenced their career paths, as well as heightening their aspirations around further study or employment.
Two of the Learning Away action research partnerships – Calderglen High School and Bulwell EAZ – have produced a resource to help other schools design student leader programmes for their residentials, which is available here.
In this short filmed interview, the school sports coordinator in charge of Bulwell Academy’s student leader programme describes how it works and the ways their student leaders support the Learning Away partnership’s primary school camping residentials.