Outdoor learning with Stamford Welland
Dominic Brister, Leader of Parallel Curriculum and Teacher of PE and Outdoor Education at Stamford Welland Academy, Lincolnshire, explores the benefits of outdoor residential programmes on student behaviour, engagement and attainment.
Tell us about your school:
Stamford Welland Academy, Lincolnshire, is a coeducational state secondary school which nurtures 380 students.
We provide a complete and rounded education for a diverse rural population. Our values based education provided to our students is based on the principles of excellence and opportunity for all and aims to deliver them from our care as responsible, cultured and employable young people.
Since September 2014, the school has been sponsored and supported by the Cambridge Meridian Academies Trust (CMAT), which was founded by Swavesey Village College, Cambridgeshire. CMAT exists to provide, support and champion high-quality education at the heart of local communities.
Our core values include; achievement for all, valuing people, providing a high quality learning environment, the pursuit of excellence and extending the boundaries of learning.
Have you run outdoor learning trips before?
I joined the school in 2005, to help out for a couple of weeks whilst they found a full time PE teacher. Eleven years on my role has developed into Parallel Curriculum Leader. For the past 10 years I've been responsible for running outdoor education visits.
How did you become aware of The Outward Bound Trust's offering?
Initially I provided my own outdoor learning experiences at the school. In 2009 I was given the green light by the school to pursue a provider who could deliver outdoor learning on a larger scale to fully immerse our students, with a focus on longer expedition based activities to get them engaged. Whilst searching for new providers via the internet I came across The Outward Bound Trust’s Ullswater Centre. I've always enjoyed my time in the lakes so I thought it would provide the perfect wilderness location for outdoor learning for the school.
We initially targeted students who were struggling in the classroom with the aim to show them that teamwork, leadership and self-confidence could increase their motivation and break the cycle of negative thoughts.
How easy is it to fund a trip like this?
Funding is the trickiest aspect for us. We are not a wealthy academy and so parents often foot the bill for additional opportunities offered by the school. The Outward Bound Trust provides financial assistance to our students through their bursary scheme. This support from The Trust has enabled us to continue to attend their outdoor residentials programmes and send more students each year.
What criteria did you use to ensure the trip was a success educationally?
Outward Bound instructors are dual-qualified in the technical skills needed to operate within challenging wilderness environments, as well as in facilitation and teaching techniques. They use well-established educational theories such as Kohl’s Learning Cycle, Adair’s Leadership model and Dweck’s Growth Mindset so that students are taken on a learning journey through a series of experiential exercises.
We run a variety of residential programmes with Outward Bound®, targeting different groups and learning outcomes with each trip. This can range from 3 day transition programmes for year 7’s through to 5 day leadership challenge courses for year 11’s.
In December 2015, for example, we took groups of year 10 and 11 students from three CMAT schools (12 from Stamford Welland, 12 from Nene Park Academy and 12 from Sawtry Village Academy) to The Trust’s newest centre, Ogwen Cottage in Snowdonia for a leadership and team building challenge programme. The course was designed to enable students and teachers from the schools to work together as ‘link schools’.
The Ogwen Cottage centre was the perfect environment for this work as it is a small, intimate exclusive use centre with facilities for up to 36 students, plus four school staff members. My target was not only to develop the students but get the accompanying school staff to see the incredible work carried out by The Trust’s Instructors, the locations in which they imbed learning and the resulting outcomes.
What was your first programme with The Trust designed to achieve?
In September 2009 Stamford Welland Academy took the first group of 12 students from years 9, 10 and 11 to the Ullswater Centre for a weekend course. These young people had never been outside Lincolnshire before this residential. The main objectives of this programme was to broaden the students’ horizons and by using the Mindset theory through experiential outdoor activity to develop a growth mindset in our students.
The basic idea for the Mindset theory is that children who believe their ability is innate, are less willing to challenge themselves, for fear of proving themselves inadequate through failing. A fixed mindset. Those who believe they can succeed through hard work and practice on the other hand are much more likely to ‘have a go’ and this approach actually helps them to learn and experience success. A growth mindset. The Trust uses this theory to challenge and change the mindset of students from fixed to growth, so that they can exceed their own expectations and go on to fulfil their potential.
What impact did the Mindsets programme have on your students?
This programme had a lasting impact on our 12 students. Many more of our students have attended and benefitted from a mindset course since this initial programme.
All students were able to develop their abilities, resilience and productivity through initially failing and by being encouraged by the Outward Bound instructors to try again through hard work and practice. This motivated them and gave them confidence. They learnt the link between effort and reward and instead of being inhibited by the challenges they faced, such as a challenging rock climb or gorge scramble, they had the chance to experience and practice what it feels like to push past feelings of uncertainty and emerge from difficulty as stronger individuals.
We have had students who had been steady C grade coasters and who have returned to school after their residential with a new found vigour and determination. One year 10 student, raised her aspirations, gained A*s and A’s at GCSE and following A levels went on to study media at Lincoln university and is currently presenting and producing local news reports for the Counties own TV news online channel.
One timid male student, Joe, was initially frightened to do the activities on his residential. He overcame his fear and gained so much confidence and self-belief during his week away that he has gone on to become a grenadier guard protecting the Queen. Something he would never have expected he would be able to achieve before the programme.
Clio was struggling with engagement and displayed behavioural problems within the classroom before her course. Her residential and the mindsets theory has had a positive impact on her attitude, behaviour and outlook to learning.
How have staff responded?
The staff at Stamford Welland Academy, as well as the other academies within CMAT, have witnessed a noticeable increase in confidence, engagement and attainment in students once they return from a residential programme at The Trust. Future Outward Bound® residentials are now oversubscribed with staff wanting to see the Mindset theory in action.
Did you receive feedback from parents?
I have regular emails from parents commenting on the progress their children are making in school as a result of my intervention to encourage outdoor educational programmes and the residential programmes with Outward Bound.
One single parent who struggled to fund the trip for her daughter in 2011 contacted Stamford Young Peoples Charity for help, as well as using the Outward Bound bursary to enable her daughter to go. She was experiencing troubles with her family and home life as well as behavioural issues within school and the local community and was at risk of being removed from our school. She reacted incredibly to the teaching and amazing challenges set by her Outward Bound instructor during her week away at Ullswater. Learning the importance of self-awareness, team work and leadership, she returned to the school a different student. She became a prefect, represented the school in a number of sports competitions and went on to achieve strong GCSE grades that two years previously would have been unheard of for her.
Do you have any tips or pointers for schools thinking of embarking on similar trips?
Our work with The Trust has grown over these past years because we see the long lasting and remarkable difference in increased confidence levels, team working skills and resilience in our students.
In 2009 we initially saw 12 students benefit from their residential programme. In 2015, 120 young people attended the Ullswater Centre; 12 went to the Loch Eil Centre in Scotland and 36 attended the Ogwen Cottage Centre. What a turnaround! 12 students to 168 per year.
My advice is take advantage of The Trust’s bursary funding, they are an educational charity who want as many young people as possible to benefit from outdoor experiential learning.
If your school is considering outdoor learning, feel free to contact me or The Outward Bound Trust directly for some advice. I’m happy to share our schools experiences and can provide videos, images and testimonials from our staff, students and their parents.
To find out more contact: Dominic Brister: DBrister@stamfordwellandacademy.org
Original interview featured in Education Today Magazine – May 2016 issue