Royal Grammar School

Newcastle

Learning All The Time

Learning All The Time

 

The glorious sunshine we are enjoying today belies the weather of the middle of the week. On Wednesday I paid a flying visit to the Year 7 Camp on the west shore of Lake Windermere. The rain didn’t stop all day. So swathed was I in waterproof clothing, I was amazed that the midges managed to penetrate at all, but the exposed parts (in effect, only my hands and face) were well peppered with bites yesterday.  

So were students (Year 7 and some fantastic Lower Sixth helpers) and staff downcast? Not a bit of it.  

As I write this blog, I guess our intrepid campers will be packing up and getting ready to board the buses home. They’ll certainly have had three fine days: Wednesday was entirely wet while yesterday (Thursday) was probably mixed for them.  

When I was there mid-week, all the members of Year 7 were having a whale of a time. My colleagues were delighted with the new venue, the YMCA’s outdoor headquarters: it’s certainly somewhere we’ll want to use in future. The boys and girls were camping under canvas, but in large and very waterproof tents with raised wooden floors and foam mattresses. Not exactly glamping, then, but certainly designed to assure them of a good night’s sleep and enough space to keep their clothes out of the rain. Eating, showering and drying clothes are all done in permanent buildings (and the food, by the way, is fantastic. The staff were struggling to cope with three cooked meals a day: I don’t think the children had any such scruples).  

Most of the myriad outdoor activities take place within the camp. So on the lake are sailing, canoeing, raft-buildng and kayaking, and on site there are opportunities for high ropes, low ropes, bushcraft, night-trail (where one student is blindfolded and guided by the rest of the team), archery and rock-climbing. Buses are needed only for what appears the most popular activity, ghyll-scrambling. And of course they went offsite to do the fell walk.  

Kept busy from dawn till dusk (and dusk comes late at this time of year), students have been excited, fulfilled and exhausted – just the thing! And, placed in house groups rather than their usual forms, they’ve made friends in new teams, another powerful bit of social learning.  

For learning is what it’s about. In these days of exam pressure and constant argument (in the media at any rate) about qualifications and their relative values, it would be easy to forget that learning happens everywhere, not just in the classroom. This Year 7 Camp is a vivid demonstration of that fact. Indeed, so important is it in our thinking about curriculum and learning that we’ve moved it earlier in the summer term so as to maximise its effect: its previous timing right at the end of term in the past arguably lessened its impact because, as soon as they were back, Year 7 went their separate ways for the school holiday.  

And what of the teachers? I reckon they’re heroic going out for a few days, several of them for the whole five days, getting wet with the students and tirelessly leading, encouraging and looking after them. Lunching with them on Wednesday (nice to get out of the rain for an hour!), I was struck by how fired up they were by the whole experience.  

But then, that’s the whole point about education at its best. It’s when we teachers also get so caught up in it that we don’t count the hours or the days, and revel ourselves in just seeing our students grow and develop. It is, at its heart, what our vocation as teachers is all about.  

10 out of 10 for the organisers, Dr Greenhalgh and Mr O’Hagan, then: for the RGS staff who make it all work; for the YMCA and its fantastic outdoor centre; for the Lower Sixth who have been great helpers and role models; and for our lovely Year 7 students, a group of boys and girls with a real buzz about them, a sense of excitement and a willingness to grab all the opportunities offered.  

It really is about learning, all the time.  

Bernard Trafford

Headmaster