Spotlight On: Outdoor Education Days at Wellington College
Paul Jennings, head of educational developments and partnerships at Wellington College in Berkshire, explains how a day in the great outdoors helped students who had been struggling after the pandemic and improved attendance.
Earlier this year, we became aware that some students in our partner schools were finding it difficult to return to school after months of disruption caused by the COVID pandemic. In some cases, if they made it to school, they couldn’t necessarily make it to every lesson.
We put our heads together to see what we could do. We have been in partnership with local state schools since 2008 as part of the Wellington College Learning Alliance, and before the pandemic we had offered many events and opportunities to students as well as teaming up with their teachers to share best practice and knowledge.
Knowing that part of the problem was being cooped up inside again in the four walls of school, and drawing on the proven benefits of fresh air and exercise, we decided to offer a day on the fantastic low ropes and high ropes courses that we are lucky to have here. We also called on the expertise of our outdoor education professional Simon Waller.
The first school to join us was Tomlinscote School in Frimley, Surrey, who spent the day with us first in March and then again in May. After the first day, attendance for nine out of the 12 pupils improved, with one going from 80% to 95%.
Teacher Alban Daniel said: “The impact on attendance at school and attendance at lessons was immediately noticeable.
“Students who we really suspected struggled in terms of interactions with others, were worried about working with others, or being seen to make mistakes, found it helpful to be in a different context away from their peers.
“Some from years 7, 8 and 9, who we knew were not friends before that, had the opportunity to work as a team and by the end of the day it felt like it was happening naturally.
“Simon built the level of challenge through the day so that even those students who didn’t feel they could meet that level of expectation were able to do so.”
We also asked the students what they got out of the day. One told us: “I learned that patience is key when working with other people and you have to build up the courage to speak up and share your ideas.” Another said: “I learnt that if we all make a plan and think it through and work together then it makes the job easier.”
Collingwood College in Camberley also enjoyed a pilot day in April this year, with one of their students saying afterwards: “It was a really good day and it made me feel more confident and believe more in myself.” Another added: “It has made me realise it is okay to get things wrong and contribute in class.”
As a result of these outcomes, this year we are offering 10 ‘Outdoor Education Days’ to the 26 schools that have signed up to our Student Alliance. The first school to take up the offer for this year will be The Winston Churchill School from Woking who will visit in December, followed by two schools visiting in early spring 2023.
Wellington College Learning Alliance is split into two strands – the Student Alliance and the Teaching Alliance.
The key aims of the Student Alliance are to raise aspirations among able pupils within partner schools, raise their awareness of their own potential, support ambitious university applications and the take-up of enrichment opportunities.
It benefits students by opening their eyes to a different educational environment and gives them the opportunity to engage with students from other schools. They also get to explore subjects and topics beyond the standard curriculum which can help stretch their knowledge and understanding of the world.
There is a nominal membership fee which allows the partner schools to take advantage of the full programme. The Teaching Alliance exists to provide the same opportunities for teachers and support staff.
With meaningful relationships established with our partner schools, powerful collaboration has been made possible, and teachers are given the chance to meet up and share their ideas for great lessons, pastoral work and academic success. This is achieved through subject specific support groups, TeachMeets and training courses.
The mission of the Learning Alliance is to help shape a better and more equitable world. Hopefully, for the students – and teachers – who come to any of our events, we go a little way towards achieving that.
For more information about us, please visit Wellington College Learning Alliance.