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    Building student character through residential trips

    Education for character

    The 2019 Ofsted Inspection Framework formalised recommendations to schools to consider as part of the curriculum character education and development for pupils, stating, “Schools have a statutory duty, as part of a broad and balanced curriculum, to promote the spiritual, moral, social, and cultural (SMSC) development of pupils and prepare them for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life”.

    This guidance reflected recommendations from stakeholders including headteachers, teaching unions, parents and students to consider wider aspects of personal development as integral to children’s learning and development. A focus on the whole person learning journey, and ‘education for character’ as a priority for primary schools through to secondary and into adulthood.

    As part of the education curriculum schools, according to the new framework, have “an important role in the fostering of good mental wellbeing among young people so that they can fulfil their potential at school and are well prepared for adult life.”

    Residential trips and the six character benchmarks

    Ofsted’s six character benchmarks summarise the key features of a school offering good character education provision, and provide schools with a framework around which to plan, implement and evaluate their curriculum. School residentials, and primary school trips in particular, have long been commended for their character building benefits, providing pupils with an invaluable opportunity to build confidence, resilience and independence as they prepare for the transition to secondary school.

    Here we consider the impact of school residentials and how they can support character education provision within the framework of each of the six character benchmarks.

    A: What kind of school are we?

    The first benchmark invites schools to consider the kind of education provided, and how effectively pride, belonging and identity is created within the school community. Schools offering an effective character education provision will clearly communicate and collaborate with stakeholders to create and work towards values considered as key to the education of its pupils, integrating those values into the school curriculum.

    Primary school trips offer that first all-important opportunity for pupils to understand how the values promoted through their day-to-day school learning shape their character and behaviour outside of the classroom. An opportunity for students to consider who they are as a collective representing their school, and to take pride in conveying that sense of identity to those they meet while on their trip – the activity provider’s team running the activities, and potentially staff and students from other schools.

    For schools the residential trip offers an opportunity to plan activities that encapsulate and demonstrate the values you have only, until now, been able to teach within the school environment. Values like trust, honesty, pride and a commitment to achievement take on a whole new meaning when they’re used as a basis for attempting activities and challenges in a new, perhaps daunting environment.

    B: What are our expectations of behaviour towards each other?

    One of the key benefits of a school trip is the opportunity for pupils to forge new friendships and start to identify their own character as they navigate new environments and activities. It provides the ideal opportunity for teachers to show pupils how their school behaviour policy promoting consideration, good manners and respect for others translates to making positive first impressions, being a good team member and building new friendships outside of the school environment.

    School residentials are most popular for the plethora of teambuilding opportunities they offer, so school leaders can tailor programmes to encourage the development of character traits that are more difficult to teach within the school confines – like overcoming obstacles, learning to adapt to new environments, independence building and leadership.

    At Wildchild we always ask our visiting students to let us know what they will most remember about their trip, and invariably the answer relates to either self-discovery – finding out something about themselves they didn’t know before – or a discovery about someone else – a new friendship forged, or a newfound appreciation for a classmate. Often it’s a combination of the two!

    C: How well do our curriculum and teaching develop resilience and confidence?

    This benchmark, promoting the teaching of ‘knowledge and cultural capital’ giving students ‘confidence in wider society’ is where school residentials really come into their own, because these are the elements that simply cannot be taught effectively purely within the classroom, no matter how creative your curriculum planning.

    The only way to build confidence in students engaging with wider society is to get them engaging with that society in a safe, positive and structured way. The confidence that comes from getting to the end of the finish line that seemed a million miles away at the start, the resilience built from reaching the top of the abseiling tower despite a fear of heights – these are unparalleled character-building moments made all the more powerful and distinctive because they occurred in an environment outside of their comfort zone.

    D: How good is our co-curriculum?

    Here schools are asked to consider their curriculum provision and its effectiveness across a number of categories including diversity of initiatives – creative, sporting, artistic, debating, performance, team and individual. A good character education will include opportunities for students to explore all these different elements of their character and engage in activities that develop them. School staff can work with residential providers to create engaging activity programmes that include elements of these initiatives, encouraging both teamwork and independent working across the activities.

    Another category Ofsted considers vital to a good curriculum is the promotion of local, national or international programmes – e.g. Duke of Edinburgh, National Citizenship etc. The sense of community combined with the physical and skills building element of these initiatives encourages the promotion of the ‘whole self’ in students as they move through secondary school and consider themselves as part of the wider and global community they live in.

    When it comes to offering high quality provision that builds expertise, education providers with a proven track record offering a diverse range of activities that offer the opportunity to learn new skills can be utilised to meet this all-important requirement. Residentials that take place in Year 6 and beyond are most often offered as 5-day trips to offer the sustained participation that is necessary for effective skills building.

    Finally the co-curriculum is considered in its capacity to offer students the opportunity to compete and perform and to have efforts rewarded and celebrated. Regardless of how long the trip, whether it’s a day or a week, it’s vital to build in an opportunity to celebrate achievements. At Wildchild our evening campfire is cited by most of our visitors as the most enjoyable element of the trip. While the delicious smores might be a contributing factor, it’s the celebratory atmosphere that makes it so special. After a day spent overcoming personal obstacles, pushing themselves physically and mentally, and challenging themselves to take on new activities, it’s important for students to have these pivotal moments recognised and rewarded.

    E: How well do we promote volunteering and service to others?

    Going hand in hand with civic-mindedness is a global understanding of our impact on the environment and steps we should be taking to protect it. Outdoor adventure residentials give young people the opportunity to engage with, learn about and appreciate the natural world we live in. For pupils living in urban areas, this may well be their first time in a sustained outdoor environment, and as such it’s a formative experience that adds a vital component to classroom learning on our world and the environment.

    The breadth of activities and new surroundings makes the outdoor school trip the ideal environment for breaking down barriers, allowing children – particularly those who may not enjoy the structured sports and activities offered in schools – the opportunity to shine as they discover new talents, skills and passions. Working in teams, supporting each other to overcome obstacles and cheering on team mates for their achievements – these are vital character-building moments that solidify our sense of purpose, of belonging and of achievement.

    F: How do we ensure that all our pupils benefit equally from what we offer?

    Inclusivity and accessibility is key to offering a high impact, high quality school trip for both primary and secondary schools, ensuring every pupil can participate, and every pupil can get something positive from the experience. This is easily achieved by:

    • Planning your trip well in advance. Schedule it into the school calendar early to ensure buy-in and support from within your school community, and to give parents time to spread out the cost over manageable payments, making this an affordable option for families.
    • Doing your research. Choose an activity provider that understands your school ethos and the objectives of your trip and can work with you to plan an activity programme that meets them. Look at testimonials from other schools and students, and where possible choose a location that is within easy reach to avoid high travel costs and wasting time on a coach, and to allow you to visit the centre before your trip, to help you prepare your team and your students for maximum impact and enjoyment.

    Long gone are the days where the school trip was an optional extra enjoyed by the few. We now recognise the significance of this experience not only as a way of enhancing the classroom curriculum but as an integral, formative exercise that shapes children’s personal and social development. So make the most of the diverse range of locations, terrains, activities and activity providers in the UK delivering high-quality, affordable primary and secondary school residential trips, and offer your students the benefit of a character-building adventure of a lifetime.

    Character-building residential adventures at Wildchild

    At Wildchild we specialise in outdoor adventure teambuilding adventures tailored for your needs. So whatever the age of your students or the objective of your trip we can create an unforgettable experience your students will reap the benefits of for years to come. Contact us and arrange to visit one of our centres we’d love to tell you more!



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