Using learning outside the classroom to develop character

Blog post written by: Daniel Cibich, Head of Educational Partnerships at The Outward Bound Trust.

Following the launch of the DfE Character Education Framework Guidance in early November, I attended a Westminster Education Forum policy conference to hear from a line-up of speakers including educators and industry partners, and a session featuring case studies from “character education outside the classroom”.

Ahead of the event, I was reminded of a blog by Anita Kerwin Nye for Every Child Should about the position schools are in as a point of universal delivery. Do we just expect that schools will ‘teach’ character? Are we leaving it all to them – surely, we can’t just expect schools to carry this load alone?

Sitting alongside peers from the ‘learning outside the classroom’ sector including outdoors, sport, music, culture and social action amongst others, it was motivating to feel the passion in the room to support schools in providing opportunities and experiences that help develop character.
A lot is expected of our schools and the role they play in the rounded education of youth.

As I listened to the enthusiastic mix of speakers, I was struck by both the simplicity and complexity of character development in our modern society.

Sir Anthony Seldon spoke about making values in school organic, pupil-led by class, year level and whole school; and that “schools are preparing people for life, whatever they do, and building a better society.” No pressure then! But it’s right though isn’t it? Schools and communities working together to create future leaders filled with direction, moral purpose, empathy, grit and determination. What about exam results? Sir Anthony’s response simple: “the more character is lived, the more other KPI’s will increase.”

Gary Lewis, Chair of Association of Character Education went on to say that “the evidence is overwhelming, exam results have little impact on success determination.”

Could the structure and values of our society be underpinned by character? Seems logical, assuming we’re talking about good character – how do we define that? The framework guidance does not propose to define character, rather outline four keys aspects that schools can use to shape their provision.

Keynote speaker and Chair, Character Advisory Group to the Department of Education Ian Bauckham made the point that a “focus on building character is not an alternative to academic excellence”, but must be “and-both”.

Okay, where do we start? Gary Lewis suggested that “schools require a strong culture and ethos that is well defined and understood by staff, students, families and the local community.” I don’t think many head teachers would argue with this. “Character must not be left to chance; it should be threaded through all elements of the school.” Simple, but complex.

I’ve long been a believer in the using the outdoors to help support the development of character in young people. With The Outward Bound Trust I’ve championed the type 2 fun approach for many years, however it was the reintroduction of the term ‘character’ into the education agenda in recent years that prompted me to reflect a bit more deeply about the opportunities and experiences that really develop character.

As I listened to Ian Bauckham Chair, Character Advisory Group to the Department of Education walk the audience through the framework guidance I couldn’t help but try and answer (to myself!) the questions posed by the Six Character Benchmarks.

How are we (and our sector) supporting schools to work towards the benchmarks? And, if we were a school, how could we use these to respond and guide our practice?

The Six Character Benchmarks

What kind of school are we?
It’s pretty clear that on an Outward Bound course, like many learning outside the classroom experiences, we’re going to take a Learning By Doing approach. But we’re equally clear about our mission to help young people defy limitations and teach them to believe in themselves.
There are the small things that we and other quality providers in our space do when working with schools. The impact is greater when our aims are aligned, we’ll do our best to envelope a school ethos or mission into our delivery.
The Outward Bound tribe is a strong one. People speak positively and fondly of their experience’s years later.

What are our expectations of behaviour towards each other?
We’ve attempted to define our own organisational culture through our “Ways of Working Together”. Reading through this charter it’s easy to find links to character; responsibility, communication, leadership, determination, team, praise; and by living these values earning the right to challenge colleagues that do not (it reminds me of another point Gary Lewis made, how school leaders must “challenge teachers to show good character and to challenge parents if they undo what a school is trying to do.”)

How well do our curriculum and teaching develop resilience and confidence?
I’ll argue that this is our bread and butter! But our approach is just one of many that can be used to help develop character. I’ll use a progression analogy. Getting kids outside the classroom starts at Early Years, often play based. We connect with others, sometimes in and with nature. As we move through schooling this might progress in many ways. A trip to a museum, a local farm or community initiative. Hopefully it progresses to a residential experience creating opportunities to build independence and a broader horizon, fostering new relationships and building capacity to cope with change.

How good is our co-curriculum?
Our sector is measured by schools as to how well we can provide co-curricular or curricular enrichment. But I’ll ask the question more directly of us – how good is our co-curricular? The Council for Learning Outside the Classroom “believe every place is a learning space” so I considered what this means for us. We’ve taken a ‘work zone’ approach to the learning space that is our stores and equipment areas. Pupils are encouraged to adopt behaviours when entering the work zone so that being planned and organised, showing commercial awareness, communicating effectively and working as a team results in having the kit you need to maximise fun and adventure in the wilderness.
We know the value of the community and residential setting and we continue to look at how the findings from the Learning Away and Brilliant Residentials campaign can inform our practice to further increase impact in the social spaces and the time away from adventures.

How well do we promote the value of volunteering and service to others?
Many partners in the sector (youth social action, DofE Awards etc) are set up with a deliberate purpose to create the opportunity for service of others and many schools run their own outreach and community focused projects to introduce the value of these opportunities.
75+ years ago Kurt Hahn (who co-founded Outward Bound) wrote about service being one of four antidotes to the six declines of modern youth. Given our history, I wonder if this is an area Outward Bound could consider for more depth? Service has not been lost from our delivery – but could we more explicit about “promoting the value of service to others?” Linking to civic virtues perhaps?

How do we ensure all pupils benefit equally from what we offer?
We strive to progress all young people we work with, regardless of their starting point. It’s embedded in how we work with groups and common amongst outdoor learning practitioners; the level playing field, immersion, group success. But, consider the elephant in the room – how much does it cost? Have a read of this blog from Anita Kerwin Nye again, Has the extra in extra-curricular become exclusive?

The Outward Bound Trust are fortunate to have a network of like-minded donors that believe in the work we do and want as many young people as possible to have an outdoor adventure learning experience – so we have a bursary programme to off-set the cost of our courses.

Outdoor learning doesn’t have to come with a big cost. It might take a bit of courage and creativity to get started, but the sector is full of free resources and guidance to help. Everyone can get kids outside; we’ve just got to want to do it. The more we can, the more it will create habits that will benefit their wellbeing. With healthy happy young people society will flourish, and the rest of the KPI’s will take care of themselves.

About the author
Daniel Cibich is the Head of Educational Partnerships at The Outward Bound Trust where for the last nine years he has worked with schools to help teach young people the most important lesson they could ever learn: to believe in themselves.

Posted in Adventurous Activities, Health & Wellbeing, Natural Environment, Residentials | Tagged , | Leave a comment

So much more than just a History Tour Guide…

Blog post written by: Sophie Lamb, Graphic Designer at Rayburn Tours.

When most people think of a tour guide, they picture someone at the helm of a group of people, microphone and flag in tow, reciting ‘on your left…’ and ‘on your right…’.

That wasn’t the case for Brighton Hill Community School.

In the last week of October, I accompanied Brighton Hill on their history trip to the Belgian battlefields. Keen to get the most out of their students, party leader Ms Humphries opted for two of Rayburn’s History Tour Guides for their insightful, detailed knowledge – but ended up getting so much more.

After 3 days with tour guides Trevor and Richard, I am converted. But make your own mind up – would you enlist the support of a History Tour Guide on your next trip?

It was clear from the start of my trip with Brighton Hill Community School, whilst navigating the White Cliffs of Dover, that these tour guides were going to add more than just their in-depth historical knowledge.

It all started with a phone call. Trevor and Richard gave party leader Ms Humphries a call before the tour to have a chat and understand exactly what the kids needed to know, as well as what she wanted them to get out of it. A great way to feel like you know each other before they hop on your coach!

Right from our first excursion, I was in awe of Trevor and Richard. Their level of knowledge and the passion they exuded was infectious. As someone who’s never been too invested in history as a subject, this was eye-opening for me – and I could see it was really sinking in with the kids. The knowledge our guides bring to these tours is so in-depth and specific, that the kids get so much more out of it.

“We might be able to talk about the Battle of the Somme, but there’s no way we would be able to point out the tree line where the tanks came over, or exactly where the gas attack took place.”
– Ms Humphries, Brighton Hill

Trevor and Richard made sure that it was a hands-on experience for the kids, getting them involved with reading headstones, interacting with old weapons and modelling WWI’s finest attire. As an outsider looking in, it was clear that making sure the kids were involved was an important aspect of the tour, as it really helped to make things more real and kept everyone focused.

And it was evident that the friendly faces of our guides took a huge stress off the teachers. It meant they could focus on their primary job for the trip – looking after the kids – whilst also learning themselves and absorbing the invaluable information.

But it wasn’t just the excursions that Trevor (or as he later became known, Uncle Trevor) and Richard were there to help with. They went above and beyond for the group, doing all of those things make life on tour so much easier.
They knew the area and the people like the backs of their hand. And getting sorted in restaurants and navigating French roadworks seemed as if it was just part of their makeup. To quote one of the teachers, ‘it made the entire trip seamless’.

Before we arrived in Belgium, Trevor described the process of the tour to me: ‘all we’re doing is moving the classroom from Basingstoke to the trenches…’. Whilst this is true, throughout the tour I realised that having a History Tour Guide offered so much more than just moving the classroom and having a new teacher for the weekend. Our guides bring a level of passion and knowledge that make it more than just reciting information, but about passing on real life experiences that stay with you even after the trip.

“Our guides bring a level of passion and knowledge that make it more than just reciting information, but about passing on real life experiences that stay with you even after the trip.”
– Sophie Lamb, Rayburn Tours

Putting the educational aspect to one side, not only do they become an integral part of the tour, but it was clear from the swarm of kids wanting photos with them as a memento; the chants being made up for them on the coach; and the tears falling from some of their eyes when we had to leave, that these guides became their friends and people they really admire and look up to.

We forget what it’s like to be 13 years old and in complete awe of someone so knowledgeable. Well, being in the presence of Trevor and Richard on my trip to the battlefields certainly made me remember.

“If anyone was thinking of going on tour without a guide, I would recommend that you don’t. Definitely take a guide.”
– Ms Humphries, Brighton Hill

Group travel specialists since 1965, Rayburn Tours is dedicated to creating tailor-made tours to the UK, Europe and beyond.

About the Author
Sophie Lamb works as a Graphic Designer at Rayburn Tours. Based at Rayburn House in Derby, her role is to create designs that inspire young people to seek new adventures, embrace new cultures and learn new skills.
Rayburn Tours is an independent, family-run business that has been dedicated to providing tailor-made, international tours for groups since 1965; specialising in Educational Trips, Ski Trips and Sports Tours for schools, as well as Concert Tours for all types of youth and adult ensembles.

Posted in Study, Sports & Cultural Tours | Tagged , | Leave a comment

School trips for all


Blog post written by: Justine Lee, Communications and Fundraising Manager at the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom.

Educational trips offer a multitude of benefits for pupils of all abilities. They help motivate, raise attainment and expose students to new experiences. They can be especially valuable to pupils who are hard to reach or who do not respond well to traditional teaching methods, for whatever reason. Children with SEN or disabilities often learn best through doing; educational trips provide pupils with real life experiences and help them develop the necessary skills to enable them to lead an independent or semi-independent life in adulthood.

For children with SEN and disabilities, as with all children, having contact with different people and environments encourages them to adapt to new situations. Making these experiences a regular part of school life provides frequent opportunities to develop pupils’ confidence and social skills while expanding their horizons and becoming more aware of the world around them.

Stimulating development
Day trips can provide memorable, fun experiences for all pupils. The benefits of a residential visit are also just as relevant to young people with SEN as they are to any other young person. Overnight trips might present a unique set of challenges, but these need not be seen as barriers to involving students with SEN or disabilities. It is important that parents understand the value of residential experiences for their child.

Trips away from school provide opportunities for pupils with SEN to develop in a number of ways, from increasing their communication and social skills to taking additional responsibility and developing essential life skills, confidence and independence.

Increasingly, teachers are seeing that getting children out and about has huge social, emotional and educational benefits, and teachers are also reaping the rewards themselves. Relationships between teachers and young people improve through shared experiences, and many teachers find new ways to relate to their pupils during school trips.

When planning a residential trip, good preparation is crucial. It is important to help pupils understand and be ready for the things they will encounter during the visit, so they are not anxious or confused when they come up against something new.

Making the trip work for all pupils

Deciding where to go
Choosing when and where to go is crucial. Decide what you want to achieve through the school trip and what kind of environment will suit your pupils. The surroundings and environment can impact significantly on the trip’s success. Going on a visit during November or January could mean the destination or venue is quieter, which will help reduce sensory overload. Choosing a venue that is close to home will help reduce travel time and minimise unsettling changes, with no early starts or late finishes.

Talk to your pupils
Help your pupils to become familiar with the chosen destination by talking about it early on. Look at maps or use online programmes or apps to show pictures of the location and the kind of activities that they will be taking part in. Build a lesson plan around the visit and encourage students to research and find out as much as they can about the destination or venue.

Talk to your chosen venue or provider
Some school trip destinations and providers have programmes which have been specially devised to meet the needs of children with SEN and disabilities. These tailored programmes can help each child to get the most out of their school trip. Involving your visit provider or venue as early as possible in the planning process will help ensure the trip is a success. Many providers are keen to work with schools to develop a programme that meets pupils’ learning outcomes and needs.

Check staff qualifications and experience
Ask your chosen venue or visit provider if any staff have relevant experience or qualifications relating to SEN or disability. This will help ensure each child’s needs are met whilst on the trip. It also means appropriate levels of support and motivation can be provided. If the pupil has a learning support assistant whilst at school, make sure they are able to join the trip too, as this will help provide continuity in terms of care.

Ask about accessible facilities
Many venues and visit providers have accessible spaces and facilities, from wheelchair friendly loos and showers to different colour schemes to make it easier to navigate around the venue. List what needs your pupils have and talk to the venue or visit provider about how these needs can be accommodated.

Undertake a familiarisation visit
A familiarisation visit will mean you know the layout of the venue or destination – for example, where the nearest accessible loos or quiet spaces are – and how to get around before you arrive with your class. You will also get the opportunity to talk to the staff who will be leading or supporting your trip.

Many venues and visit providers offer free familiarisation visits for school teachers; this includes providers of trips overseas as well as those to UK destinations. As well as being an opportunity to check facilities and resources, a familiarisation visit will give you added confidence on your school trip which in turn will help your students feel more secure.

About the Author
Justine Lee is Communications and Fundraising Manager at the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom, which runs the LOtC Mark for schools, the LOtC Quality Badge for providers and venues, and CPD training for teachers.

Posted in Council for Learning Outside the Classroom, SEN | Leave a comment

Happy Birthday Council for Learning Outside the Classroom!

Blog post written by: Megan Deakin, Marketing Coordinator at Rayburn Tours.

Blow up the balloons, hang out the bunting and start the celebrations because the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom (CLOtC) turns 10 this year! To mark this special occasion, we take a look at what CLOtC stands for and the difference learning outside the classroom has made to the lives of pupils across the UK.

Advocating learning outside the classroom walls for all pupils as an integral part of their school career, CLOtC’s primary focus is to provide students with a rounded education.

“Over the last decade we’re delighted to have strengthened support for schools and given teachers the confidence to be more creative with the curriculum, creating life changing moments for children and young people across the UK.”
Kim Somerville, Chief Executive Officer, Council for Learning Outside the Classroom

Today there are 1,000 providers who have been awarded the LOtC Quality Badge who, together, have inspired more schools and teachers to take learning beyond the classroom environment. As a result, millions of students have been given opportunities to develop their learning in the real world – enhancing educational achievements, building character and improving wellbeing.

“We’ve also offered schools assurance about the quality of both learning and safety to a range of brilliant and exciting providers – from museums to galleries, farms to nature reserves, adventure centres to overseas expeditions. These places and spaces are creating brilliant moments of awe and wonder for young people, and we are committed to bringing more of these experiences to more children more of the time as we look to the future.”
Kim Somerville, Chief Executive Officer, Council for Learning Outside the Classroom

The purpose of the LOtC Quality Badge is to aid schools in identifying high quality and safe providers, as well as reducing the paperwork required when organising an educational visit.

When you see the LOtC Quality Badge symbol, you know that the educational provider:

  • Places emphasis on learning and skills outcomes
  • Operates in a healthy and safe environment
  • Can help to reduce or eliminate the amount of paperwork required by Local Authorities

Find out more about what CLOtC can do for you and your school by visiting www.lotc.org.uk

Rayburn Tours is a proud holder of the LOtC Quality Badge, meaning you can be confident in the quality of our educational experiences.

About the Author
Megan Deakin works as a Marketing Coordinator at Rayburn Tours. Based at Rayburn House in Derby, her role is to help inspire young people to seek new adventures, embrace new cultures and learn new skills.
Rayburn Tours is an independent, family-run business that has been dedicated to providing tailor-made, international tours for groups since 1965; specialising in Educational Trips, Ski Trips and Sports Tours for schools, as well as Concert Tours for all types of youth and adult ensembles.

Posted in Council for Learning Outside the Classroom, Expeditions | Tagged | Leave a comment

How to best plan for accident prevention and ensure the best claims defensibility

Blog post written by: Sophia Reed, Mutual Manager, Regis Mutual Management Limited.

Fortunately, the public and courts’ perception of adventurous activities being “dangerous” has changed over recent years and instead, we now appreciate and understand the fantastic benefits which exploring the outdoors and trying new activities provide. It’s critical that children are introduced to these opportunities and derive the benefits at an early age to encourage exploration and curiosity, to learn how to deal with challenges, and to endorse achievement. They also promote a healthy lifestyle and build confidence, as well as fostering a love for the outdoors and activities, and not just computer games!

But adventurous activities are exciting for all ages! That’s their whole appeal! They take you out of your usual habitat and sometimes out of your comfort zone. Many activities are designed to provide you with adrenalin-fueled fun, others provide a more leisurely pace but all can offer an outdoor learning experience which enhance the lives of the participants.

The most popular topics of discussion raised by our AIM Members who provide these activities are accident prevention and what to do in the event of an incident. If you believe the daytime television adverts, the term “accident” means it is someone’s fault and that there is a claim to be made! Whilst accidents do happen, this is of course not always the case. Health and safety concerns are obviously important, but they should not dominate to prevent provision of these activities. I spend a good proportion of my time advising Members on accident prevention, the documentation they need to hold and what to do in the event of an incident.

Accident Prevention
Obviously, prevention is the best approach: no one wants anyone to suffer any injury, whether this is at work or whilst enjoying an adventurous activity. Millions of people take part in these adventurous activities every year without incident. That’s because providers adhere to good safety and best practice. We see that all the time with our AIM Members.
For activity providers, what are our recommendations for best practice and the defensibility of a claim should the worst happen?

Prevention starts from good practice in-house with thorough risk assessments specific to each activity or outing, a regular inspection and maintenance procedure documented when the checks are carried out, and rigorous staff training with annual refreshers. Documentation is key. It’s the first thing I look for when considering the defensibility of a claim.

Documents such as risk assessments are crucial.
You need to look at each activity, identify the risks and demonstrate what you have done to make the activity as safe as possible. This will include checking equipment, procedures for the activity and the instruction given to participants. The risk assessment will ensure that you:

  • Eliminate the risks that you can, and
  • Minimise the remainder to the lowest possible level

My recommendation is to update your risk assessments annually, but additionally when there are any changes to the activity or its provision.

Keep the records!
Good housekeeping with regular inspection and maintenance of equipment is critical to ensure that the equipment and systems are safe and in good working condition. Defects or problems can be picked up immediately and actioned. Keep records of the checks as evidence of your system! Documents are the best way of showing that you have good practices in place and have done all you can to ensure the safety of your staff, all visitors to your site and those taking part in your activities.

If you don’t retain them, it’s only your word that you carried out the checks, inspections, repairs etc. This is obviously far less compelling as evidence than being able to produce the contemporaneous document. Training staff on how documents can be the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful defence helps them to appreciate and understand their importance, and hopefully ensures that they are an accurate record of events and are completed contemporaneously

Your staff are your ambassadors
Staff reflect your business and brand. You rely on them to ensure the correct procedures are followed, the terms and conditions are read, the instruction given is accurate, well informed and understood by those taking part in the activity. Participants will remember the staff as much as the activity. Therefore, it’s crucial to make sure that all staff receive the right level of training to deliver the activity correctly, are fully competent in assisting all the participants, and can cater for all abilities. Just because you’ve worked with them a long time or they come highly recommended, the onus is on you to ensure the correct training is observed. Spend time observing them; discuss any issues or near misses and use those to learn from.

Keep talking!
Encourage an open environment where any near misses or issues are discussed so that staff feel confident in reporting these to you and you can take action to avoid an accident from occurring.

What should you do if there is an incident?
Contemporaneous photos and statements are the best evidence of the actual site, conditions, equipment and weather at the time of the incident; some or all of which may be in dispute if a claim is made.

This checklist is what your cover provider or insurer will need you to send to them:

  • Risk assessment for the activity
  • Accident report form
  • CCTV cover of the incident (if available)
  • Name of the instructor/supervisor of the activity
  • A copy of the instructor’s training records and qualifications
  • The signed T&C form or acceptance of risk form
  • Inspection/maintenance records for the activity and any relevant equipment used
  • Photos of the site
  • Statements from the staff on duty and involved in the incident and aftermath
  • Statements from all witnesses to the incident

We also find it very useful to have the following:

  • A video of the activity showing the layout and equipment used
  • Details of the weather at the time, if relevant
  • Details of any previous similar incidents and near misses, and what action was taken as a result.

Why do we need to have these documents?
Unfortunately, we live in a litigious world where claims are increasingly frequent. However, the good news is that the courts no longer simply accept that these activities must be dangerous and are willing to balance the provision of safe activities with the massive social benefits they provide. The successful defensibility of a claim relies upon evidence of accident prevention and good practice.

I hope that this guidance has endorsed that you are following the best practices within your organisation or individually, to ensure accident prevention already.
For more information visit the AIM website www.activitiesindustrymutual.co.uk

About the Author
Sophia left private practice as a Partner at law firm, BLM to join AIM in January 2018 as Mutual Manager. With 24 years’ experience in personal injury litigation, she regularly defended Members’ interests and provided legal advice and risk management. A regular speaker at AIM Member events and conferences within the various sectors, she has a good understanding of the issues facing activity providers and the industry as a whole, and the importance of defending brand and reputation.

Posted in Adventurous Activities | Tagged , | Leave a comment