'Helping children realise they are capable of more than they think'
Robert Blewitt, head of Lewes Old Grammar School, discusses how school trips can build pupils' confidence, strengthen stamina and help children realise they are capable of more than they might think.
Here at Lewes Old Grammar, school trips have always been a crucial part of our students’ educational journey. Whether it’s a curriculum-enhancing turn around deserts of Morocco or simply a day of fun at the end of exam season at our local lido, taking children out of the classroom never fails to refresh their outlook and cement relationships with teachers.
But in the past few years we have been looking at school trips in a different light. While of course we still run many trips that are linked to what the children are learning in school, we are also increasingly focussing on trips that are specifically aimed at building confidence, strengthening stamina and resolve and making children realise they are capable of an awful lot more than they think.
Last week, as we now do every year, we packed off a dozen or so students to Finland (weather forecast -15) where, as part of an arctic survival course, they learn how to build ( and spend all night in) their own snow shelter, plan and lead expeditions, navigate through dense forests and tundra, conduct search and rescue operations, ice-hole fish and develop first aid skills. This, on top of learning about the local geography, landscape, meteorology, flora and fauna.
Each year when the students return, we spot a subtle change in them. What they have experienced is bigger than their quotidian lives and there is self-reflection on how they coped – which is always better than they thought they would.
I can recall one pupil who had been suffering from mental health issues before the trip and there was concern about how she would cope with the environment. She had low self-esteem and was prone to giving up easily, throwing her hands in the air and declaring she was “useless”. After talking it through with her parents, she came along on the trip. When the students returned, the transformation in her was nothing short of remarkable. She adored tackling such new and challenging tasks and was filled with a sense of achievement. We saw her change from a timid young woman into someone an awful lot more determined in everything she did. As a headteacher, that has left a lasting impact on me about what these trips can do.
This summer we will be running a humanitarian aid trip to an island off Borneo with very poor infrastructure. Because of a dirty water supply, the child mortality rate is high and life chances are limited. The pupils will learn how to install a water filter and pump that will mean access to a clean supply – a transformational event for villagers in the area they will be visiting.
The students who travel out there will see life beyond the safe environs of the school and truly understand how moving outside your comfort zone to help others can be the most fulfilling thing you ever do.
In this era of 24/7 social media, and the pressure children feel to present their lives as 'Instagrammable' success stories, trips like these seem to me to make more sense than ever.