Ogwen Cottage - Widening horizons for Flixton Girls School 6th formers

Flixton1By Julie Hazeldine, Head Teacher

After I joined the Manchester based school in 2007 as Head Teacher I put in place a series of programmes* with The Outward Bound Trust to help realise the schools vision: "Inspiring girls to discover their talents and fulfil their potential through our founding principles of aspiration, empowerment and excellence." 

Back in 2007, only 39% of the school's Year 11 students achieved 5+ GCSE's (including a C or higher in English and Maths).  This was well below the national average being achieved in state schools at the time.  So when I joined, a key objective was to address these falling standards.  When we did a curriculum review, which involved surveying all students, we found that a common thread for the girls who were under-achieving, was a lack of self-esteem, self-belief and confidence.  So it was clear that in order to try and tackle this, we needed to do something really fundamentally different and address these social, emotional and behavioural issues in a much more creative way.

When we converted to become an Academy we developed a new vision for the school sought to create a culture that gave the girls an opportunity to discover hidden talents, let them know what’s out there in the world and really widen their horizons.  And that’s where our work with The Outward Bound Trust has produced staggering results. 

Flixton3Although we have worked with The Trust for over 30 years with very small groups, for the past 7 years we’ve delivered an entitlement to Outward Bound® programmes for all students from Year 7, right through to Sixth Form developing their character and personal skills, supporting them in their journey from primary school to A Levels. 

These programmes have had a significant impact on helping the school to improve GCSE exam results which now stands at 74% 5 or more A* to C grades including English and Maths in 2015, which has put Flixton Girls School in the top 7% of schools in the North West.

But it doesn’t stop there and our programme is evolving further.  This year we were invited by The Trust to be the first school to bring its sixth formers to take part in a new and highly challenging outdoor learning programme at its newly opened Ogwen Cottage centre in Snowdonia.  From 14th to 18th September, twenty two of our students aged 16 and 17 years, four teachers, myself included, used the spectacular and challenging environment of Snowdonia’s rugged mountain ranges and Wales' first National Nature Reserve as a conduit to embed learning.

The programme provided key life skills the students need as they prepare for sixth form life, future employment or further education such as confidence, resilience, time management, problem solving and team work.   We were all challenged and pushed out of our comfort zones during the week and this helped to instil in all of us what we are truly capable of achieving, more so than ever before. 

We had the centre to ourselves which is small and intimate and I feel this helped to create a focused and impactful learning environment for our sixth formers during the week.  I’m told the centre accommodates up to 36 young people and 4 members of staff in rooms of 1-8 people, all of which are functional and comfortable.

Flixton2A major factor in the success of the programmes is the fact that our own staff also accompany the girls and the instructors and take part in all the activities from ‘Jog and Dip’ to overnight camping, fell walking, climbing, canoeing and a wide range of teamwork challenges.  Standing in the sea at Aberdovey in a wet suit in February promising to catch the girls as they jump off the boat really has done wonders for my relationships with the girls!  The staff and the instructors also use every opportunity to teach the girls new facts and give them new experiences from picking blackberries and eating them, to learning about glaciation and U shaped valleys from the side of a mountain, the opportunities are endless. The staff and the girls really do develop a much greater understanding and empathy during the programmes and this has a huge benefit back in school.

I’d encourage any head teacher to explore the potential benefits that outdoor learning programmes can have on their school.  Especially, if like Flixton when I joined all those years ago, if there are any underlying issues of under-achieving, lack of self-belief and self-esteem.  Students are pushed and challenged during their time with The Trust and come back to the academic environment with their sights set firmly on new horizons and a willingness to achieve.