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Outdoor learning


Christchurch Primary School and the Outward Bound Trust


Jakki Rogers, Headteacher, Christchurch Primary School, explains how the Outward Bound Trust is helping prepare her students for the 21st century. When I joined Christchurch school, Brixton, as Deputy Head four years ago, I knew I would be taking on a mighty challenge. Our school is in one of the fourteen most deprived wards of London, an ethnically diverse urban area with economic and social deprivation an overwhelming fact of life for almost all our pupils. Their parents, faced with an everyday struggle to get by, tend to be largely disengaged from education and imbue their children with an ethos of ‘fending for yourself’. This means that team work, collective responsibility and resilience are low. Disenfranchised and with little empathy for others, many children suffer from low self-esteem and lack of confidence and their academic achievements have been well below average. For these children, the urban milieu, the street, is their comfort zone, with little or no opportunity to experience anything else.


Coming from a background in Outdoor Pursuits and having grown up on the beaches of Wales, I was fortunate to experience at first hand the positive effects of the wild outdoors and feel passionately about what it can do to increase confidence, help people to grow and ultimately to transform lives.


The school was already responding to the National Curriculum’s aim “to enable pupils to respond positively to opportunities, challenges and responsibilities, to manage risk and to cope with change and adversity." (Source: DfES & QCA, The National Curriculum, 'Aims for the School Curriculum' 1999) by taking an innovative, multi- faceted approach to extra-curricular activities, but we wanted to ensure that hard to reach children and those with SEN were fully included, since it is these groups that often fall by the wayside due to financial and practical constraints.


It all came together in 2011 when we met with The Trust and resolved to offer our entire Year 6 pupils the experience of three separate Outward Bound® residential courses accompanied by five teachers and a learning mentor. The first was a three day weekend course at their Aberdovey centre in Wales, followed by another weekend at the Ullswater centre in The Lake District and finally a whole week, Sunday to Friday, at the Loch Eil centre, Scotland. The courses were


financed mainly by the school and The Trust’s Bursary scheme and partly by parents.


Pre-Course Preparation


As well as working with the children so they had an understanding of what to expect, it was vital that the parents or carers understood what we were trying to achieve. To begin this process we invited one of The Trust’s regional Education Team , to meet and present to the parents or carers the clearly outlined the aims and objectives of the course. During this same meeting school staff clearly outlined the place the courses had in the curriculum focusing on ‘learning to learn’ skills such as team work, developing empathy, becoming resilient and other similar attributes. Teachers unsure about what exactly to expect from the course prior to our first trip made use of the online Teacher resources available on The Trust’s website to prepare the children. The Trust’s vocabulary became part of our everyday language at school and vice versa. We began using ‘comfort zone’ and ‘stretch zone’ in our class based lessons. The staff at Outward Bound learnt our school pedagogies and methodology and collaboratively we tailored the programmes and approaches to each group’s needs.


Post-Course Results


The majority of the children had not been away from home before and we learned a lot from the first course as some of the children became over- excited, and took a while to settle down. By the next course, we had prepared the children more thoroughly and they were able to hit the ground running. They clearly loved the combined freedom and challenge of the activities they engaged in. Seeing a child with previously low levels of resilience literally throwing herself into cold water from a high jetty, was a fantastically gratifying and emotional experience. Since then she has been willing to ‘have a go’ at everything in school, including academic work. We were particularly gratified to see SEN and EBN children responding positively. One boy, on the autistic spectrum, disengaged and unwilling to read, became so changed by the course that on one occasion in Aberdovey, he held up his whole group while he read the town’s history on every plaque along the seafront – a jaw-dropping sight for his teachers. Another boy, with a sad history of being pushed from one family member to another, none of whom felt able to manage him, asked at 9 o’clock on a rainy night if he could go outside ‘to play’. He simply wanted to


18 www.education-today.co.uk


May 2014


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