Adventurous journeys, a Learning Away Case Study

A secondary school case study from Scotland shows the relationship between adventurous journeys, student leadership and school transformation developed over time and as a result of flexible and responsive staff leadership. This is a case study from the Paul Hamlyn Initiative, Learning Away written for the Natural Connections blog by Chris Loynes, a Learning Away advisor.

Adventurous journeys developing student leaders at Calderglen High School

Although having an impact on student leadership in the school was part of Calderglen High School’s original proposal, when it came about it was not by design. Fortunately, the flexible and responsive approach to Learning Away adopted by the school allowed them to make the most of it. From then on things have really taken off, as this teacher in the school makes clear:

“Initially we focused our leadership ideas on our 5th and 6th form students first, but we’re now doing it in the 3rd year. We’ve introduced the Sports Leader Award for example. So we have a much greater cohort of kids who have been involved (in leadership) from a young age.”

The drama department started it

The story began in the Drama Department when, after a residential weekend with a vertical age structure of students studying or interested in studying drama, the young people returned fired up to put the subject back on the map in the school. They formed and led a drama club for younger students and relaunched the moribund school play. The impact in the department was a significant upturn in recruitment to the subject as an exam course. Its impact is described by one S6 student:

“Drama has opened up so many opportunities within and around the school such as film projects I’ve done, which I took to the Scottish Parliament and got an education award, and my internship with the local SNP candidate.”

PE get on board

As described in another case study ( the PE Department quickly followed their lead. This time students, now in S4, who had enjoyed the PE masterclass in S3, wanted more and took up some empty spaces in the next S3 trip. Instead of simply experiencing the intensive coaching again, the students found themselves assisting in the coaching of the S3 students and using leadership skills during the informal evening time.

Student leadership in and beyond the school takes off

This set a tradition for S4 and S5 students who also started coaching on after-school clubs and in the feeder primary school PE lessons. New clubs were also started by the students to cater for new interests.

“Going in to P7 classes and helping, I was able to get a girl from there to come up to club level who’s probably going to go up to district level. She’s such a good player and if I wasn’t there she would never have gone up to club level.”

“I teach a range of ages in my club from three to adult. I think it shows that I can put myself in situations with people ranging in age and I can adapt to it and become comfortable with it which I have been doing. I became comfortable talking to even the parents as well as talking to the over-energetic and the shy child.” S6 student: Calderglen High School

The relationships formed with the primary pupils came to the fore again when they made the transition to the high school and sort out the students who had coached them for reassurance and support.

“It gives them (P7 primary pupils) a friend that’s not their buddy that they can just come up and talk to. There’s like a year of friendship before they come here and they’re in a situation where they don’t know anyone.”

Of course, it was no surprise that these two groups of drama and PE students featured highly in the appointment of prefects for the school. What’s more the school was selected to take part in the London 2012 Olympics, offering activities and games in the Olympic Park for visitors; a very different kind of residential experience! In return this group found themselves in the stadium on super Saturday.

“Becoming a prefect is not like a new role. I’ve always helped out in school, the Council and stuff like that. It’s more like giving back. I’ve had so many opportunities so it’s only fair to like help out.” Student, Calderglen High School

Expeditions and helping others becomes a theme

The PE students, now in the upper school and buoyed up by their London experience, undertook to plan, raise funds and lead a trip to a partner school in South Africa to bring them sports equipment and much needed coaching and leadership skills for their staff and students. This placed a challenging residential at the centre of their educational lives.

Many other leadership actions have taken place; during the Scottish referendum and the recent general election, as volunteers during the Commonwealth Games held in Scotland, in local primary schools, on community projects, volunteering on P7, S1 and S2 residentials and as part of everyday school life.

“I’ve done a lot outside of school with Active Schools starting up clubs to promote sport and healthy eating. I’m going away to Edinburgh tomorrow to talk to people about Active Schools and about coaching.” S6 student: Calderglen High School

Adventure residentials and their impact

Adventure is an aspect of many residential experiences, both during the formal activities and the informal social time. It can take the form of classic outdoor challenges, being away from home for the first time or making new friends. In this case study the impact of adventurous residentials on students from a secondary school is examined. In both the cases discussed, the ‘residentials’ are more unusual for Learning Away as they involved making journeys from three days to a week in length.

Calderglen High School is the lead school in our only Scottish Learning Away partnership. The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme and the John Muir Award were introduced as an extension to the timetable for S3 upwards. Staff valued them for the life skills and external qualifications gained and for their progressive nature.

A canoe trip down the Clyde

At the same time as Learning Away was introduced at Calderglen as a whole school strategy, a series of master classes were introduced in S3 to provide a general education for all students. Subjects were diverse and included song writing, photography and electronics. It was not long before the possibility of offering a residential as part of the programme came to the mind of some teachers. This idea proved popular with students too. The John Muir Award provided a structure for classes before, during and after the canoe trip. Lessons beforehand involved learning the camping and navigation skills needed, whilst conservation work became the focus of the follow-up classes. The canoe trip was organised by external providers on the nearby River Clyde; nearby but ‘a million miles away from East Kilbride’. The trip was low budget and high impact.

“Taking them out of their natural environment and doing things they would not normally have done gives a sense of achievement. They rally around to work together as a team. As a result they become much more focussed during their studies.” Teacher, Calderglen High School

Taking to the ocean

The success of the canoe trip, and especially the impact of enhanced responsibility and engagement and a willingness amongst the students to take on leadership roles, gave the staff confidence in the value of adventurous experiences. An introductory offer from the Ocean Youth Trust Scotland provided an opportunity. This time the Duke of Edinburgh’s bronze and silver awards provided the structure as two groups of students took to the ocean in the Trust’s 72 foot yachts. The voyage was from Oban, round the Mull of Kintyre and back to the Clyde, with the students taking increasing responsibility for all the tasks of sailing the boats as the week went on. This video on YouTube gives some idea of the kind of impact a voyage can have. There are more videos on the OYT Scotland website. Following the residential, one Calderglen student won a national prize for an essay about his sailing experience. So its impact was also felt in the classroom and on attainment.

Sailing provided endless opportunities for teamwork and leadership both in sailing the yacht and in getting along and living together. One teacher commented:

“When you’re helming a 72 foot yacht and it’s only you holding the wheel and the boat’s doing 10 or 15 knots into a bouncy sea leaning over at 10 degrees in a stiff breeze, it gives you a completely different idea of yourself and what’s possible. I saw everyone of these students grow by several degrees after their turn at the helm. And the feeling that you are something more than you thought doesn’t go away.”

“I saw everyone of these students grow by several degrees after their turn at the helm. And the feeling that you are something more than you thought doesn’t go away.” Teacher, Calderglen High School

The school has tracked the biographies of the students taking part in both these trips, as well as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (which also includes an overnight expedition as part of the programme). They have been impressed by two things:

  • The correlation between those taking part in these adventures and those who later on become student leaders and prefects
  • The rise in the quality of leadership, formal and informal, within the school from those who have been away

Residential experiences have developed into adventurous journeys supporting the ongoing development of student leaders who are making an impact throughout the school, their feeder primaries and the wider community transforming the ethos and culture of the school itself.

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