Case Study: Weymouth Outdoor Education Centre
School: Shillingstone Primary School, Blandford Forum, Dorset
Number of pupils: 15
Everyone likes to be beside the seaside, in particular a school from Dorset that has created a tradition of taking pupils on an exciting trip to Weymouth as they prepare for their next big educational adventure.
Helping to learn new skills and improve confidence as the Year 6 school leavers get ready for the transition to Secondary school, the visit also provides pupils from Shillingstone Primary School with the opportunity to make new friends.
“This trip has been organised for at least the last 15 years,” said Shillingstone head teacher Jane Whitehouse-Sharpe, who was the lead teacher during the most recent 2016 trip and has taken pupils to the seaside resort for the last eight years.
She explained: “Shillingstone Primary takes up to 15 children each year and is joined by three other Primary schools from the local school pyramid. The trip allows children from these Primary schools to get to know other Year 6 pupils from other feeder schools that will be joining the high school in Year 7.”
The annual trip is always organised at the end of May and beginning of June and covers a three-night residential stay with four days of activities. Pupils and teachers stay in local hotels and the days are centred around Weymouth Outdoor Education Centre (OEC).
Established in 1968 and part of the Dorset County Council Outdoor Education Service, the OEC welcomes schools from all over Dorset and beyond and caters for pupils from reception to Year 13. The choice of activities, arranged to support and enhance the National Curriculum, includes sailing, kayaking, canoeing, rock climbing, coasteering, orienteering, archery, abseiling, bushcraft and team challenges.
Jane said: “The activities are led by the OEC staff, all of whom are well trained and brilliant with the children. They have great enthusiasm for the adventurous activities they lead and always encourage the children to try their best to complete the activity. We return to Weymouth every year mainly because of the professionalism of the OEC staff. The activities on offer are also well pitched to the Year 6 age, challenging but achievable.”
Pictured: Pupils at Weymouth Beach.
Activities are delivered on site and in Portland Harbour, Weymouth Bay and the Isle of Portland. Weymouth boasts some of the country’s best sailing waters with ideal conditions for teaching pupils new to the sport, and the harbour provides a sheltered location for kayaking. Indoor activities offered on the OEC site include archery, orienteering and climbing, with the option for off-site orienteering and climbing at a variety of locations.
Typically, visiting school groups are divided into teams with one instructor per team. The size of groups can vary depending on the activities chosen, but if selecting a multi-activity option teachers are advised that the ‘magic’ number is eight participants per team, which enables teams to change activities easily. Depending on the ages of the pupils and activities chosen, the day is usually divided into two sessions, in the morning and afternoon, with the option for an additional session running into the early evening.
“Our activities include kayaking, sailing, rock climbing, rock hopping, abseiling and orienteering,” said Jane. “Children are put into mixed school groups and every group has the opportunity to have a go at each activity during the week, with two activities a day. The children work together as a team, trust each other and try something that may be out of their comfort zone. It is always a joy to watch a child overcome a fear and abseil a 30 metre cliff edge and observe their sense of achievement when they have completed it.
“I enjoy watching the children try something completely new, taking a risk and succeeding and working together as a team. All these skills help them grow as individuals and become better learners.”
As far as the pupils are concerned, kayaking is always a popular activity – for a variety of reasons.
“Some children love the kayaking the most because they love the thrill of being up to stand up in their kayak without capsizing. Some love kayaking the most because they did capsize and get wet, whilst many mention the thrill of being able to purposely capsize their head teacher!”
Pictured: On an adventure! A pupil during a climbing activity.
After each day of activities the teachers and pupils from Shillingstone walk back to the hotels which are all situated on Weymouth promenade.
“The Langham Hotel is the lead hotel and offers the children a very warm welcome,” said Jane. “In the evening there are different activities. On one of the evenings, the children walk around Weymouth Harbour to the lighthouse which is situated at the very end of Weymouth pier. During the other evenings they play team games on the beach and enjoy getting to know each other socially. In the hotels, children are split into friendship groups and share bedrooms.
“There are many responsibilities whilst in Weymouth. The children have to be responsible for keeping their rooms tidy at the hotel. They also have to organise themselves in the morning and ensure that they take the correct clothing to the centre every day, such as wet and dry activity clothes. They organise their own lunches and make sure they have packed their bag correctly. All great skills for when they transfer to high school!”
During the week the school also visits some of Weymouth’s other attractions which include the annual SandWorld sculpture park that opens each year from the end of March to the end of October. An art gallery with a difference, the park showcases life-sized works of art created entirely out of sand and water.
“We often go and have a look at the sculptures in the sand park and the children then try and recreate some of their own,” said Jane.
Summing up the overall experience she said: “We would recommend the OEC to other schools as the staff are always really accommodating. In the past we have taken pupils with specific special educational needs and they have always adapted the activities so that all the children can get involved.”
Back in the classroom
The activity-filled trip always makes a lasting impression on the pupils as they prepare for the next stage of their educational journey. In addition to providing enduring memories, the trip is also used as the base for a project that allows the youngsters to share the experience with their parents and fellow pupils.
“Children always come back from the Weymouth trip with lasting memories and it is always something that children talk about during their leaving assembly at the end of Year 6,” said Jane.
“The pupils have the opportunity to share photos and their experiences during a Parent Celebration Assembly on return from the trip, and photos are always displayed on the school website. The school always presents the children with a photo disc as a leavers’ present so that they have their photo memories for life.”
Weymouth Outdoor Education Centre: