For five roastingly hot days in July, 80 year 10 students from the Canterbury Academy in Kent took part in a residential visit at Hampton Court Palace.
The main purpose of the visit was to enable disengaged students to learn and achieve in a more positive, supportive and inspirational environment – altering the way they interact with their subjects by taking them out of their normal school environment over an extended period of time.
The idea for this residential – believed to be the first of its kind at a historic site in the UK – emerged as a result of a new partnership between Historic Royal Palaces and the Learning Away initiative from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.
Drawing on the historic Tudor setting, teachers from the academy planned a series of GCSE curriculum lessons and other activities based around the theme of Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn.
All lessons made full use of the Palace’s buildings and grounds – English and drama lessons in the Base Court (pictured), PE in the “real” tennis courts, and science and art lessons in the Baroque Gardens.
The students and staff camped in a secluded part of the Palace’s grounds, adding to their experience and helping to keep down costs. The catering was carried out by students from the school’s Chef’s Academy (studying for NVQ hospitality and catering) who planned menus and ordered supplies as well as doing the cooking.
All of this made the five-day residential cost-effective, and the school supported the residential for students unable to afford the full cost by using their Pupil Premium fund.
Vice-principal Dominic Meehan explained: “It was an amazing opportunity for our students to be so deeply immersed in the history and culture of Britain, especially on a residential where there are also huge opportunities for more informal and incidental learning. Young people can learn so much about themselves on residential and have experiences that stay with them for life.”
This was also a unique experience for the Historic Royal Palaces education team, as the residential was the first of its kind at any of their sites, and all activities were planned jointly with the Canterbury teachers.
The subject teachers involved in the residential designed activities to directly enhance GCSE attainment, particularly for those students identified as borderline C/D.
They also hoped the experience would help to build better relationships between staff and students, and would enable staff to gain a better understanding of why some students struggle.
Students were visibly engaged in lessons across the curriculum, exploring subjects as diverse as history, science and PSHE in the Great Hall, Chapel, Buttery and gardens – and teachers anticipate being able to draw on these shared experiences back in the classroom this academic year.
Teacher Matt Wright came on the residential to build stronger relationships with students, while changing their attitudes towards maths and the maths faculty at Canterbury.
Building on the success of his first residential with the academy in 2011 (“the best thing I have done as a teacher”), he jumped at the chance to plan a series of more context-based “lessons” which made full use of the setting at the Palace.
Students developed their understanding of geometry, measurement and area through a range of practical activities in the Palace’s walled courtyards. They reinforced this learning in small groups through the academy’s informal “al fresco” classroom. Students saw the difference: “I didn’t really get it in class but when I went on that trip I got it straight away.”
The English department set up a fictional scenario in which Anne Boleyn had organised an assassination attempt on Henry VIII in the Palace’s Great Hall. Students were asked to imagine themselves in Henry VIII’s shoes following the attempt, and compose a speech to assembled nobles at Hampton Court.
They started off with a detailed tour by a member of staff. Once the speeches were written the students then had to deliver them as if they were Henry VIII – in front of their peers and members of the visiting public. The speech and its performance were assessed as part of the speaking and listening component of the students’ English GCSE.
One student with a history of being removed from English lessons for being disruptive said: “I think they’ve now realised that I haven’t got just that naughty little side of me, that I have got the fun, enjoyable and good side to me and I think that’s going to help me in lessons.”
The student managed to stay in all lessons for the rest of the term and, following the residential, arrived at school on time for the first time in year 10.
Being away together also enabled students to interact in different ways, developing relationships away from the pressures and constraints of the usual school timetable.
Working in teams to design and build siege catapults as part of an outdoor design and technology session, the students demonstrated strong communication and problem-solving skills, encouraging each other and giving and receiving constructive feedback.
The week culminated in a royal banquet in full costume, with food prepared by the student chefs, and entertainment devised and rehearsed over the course of the week by GCSE drama students. These contributions were met by all with respect and real enthusiasm for each other’s achievements.
What is Learning Away?
Learning Away is an initiative of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, working in partnership with a growing number of schools and residential providers across the UK.
Our research evidence shows that residentials have a huge effect on progress and attainment, as they boost pupils’ engagement with their learning and build high-trust relationships between them and staff that last way beyond the residential. This can so clearly be seen in Canterbury’s Hampton Court residential.
Learning Away aims to develop exemplary and compelling practice, demonstrate the positive impact that high-quality residential learning can have, and engage increasing numbers of primary and secondary schools in the development of their residential practice.
Learning Away’s initial five-year action research phase has involved a committed group of 60 schools, including the Canterbury Academy.
Learning Away is showing that residential visits do not need to be complicated or prohibitively expensive and we are helping to remove many of the biggest obstacles teachers see when they think about taking a group out of school overnight. It is fantastic to see organisations like Historic Royal Palaces getting involved, as it opens up a whole new world of brilliant residential venues that teachers could use.
In the words of one Canterbury student: “The trip’s made me realise that I need my education, I enjoy education, I enjoy learning.”
Peter Carne is Learning Away project director at the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.
CAPTION: Historic setting: A drama lesson taking place in Base Court at Hampton Court Palace. The students created a fictional scene from the life of Henry VIII and performed it publicly in the courtyard. Photo: Paul Hamlyn Foundation/Emile Holba