Having tackled the BGS in-tray over the opening Bank Holiday weekend of the half term break, we retreated as a family to the Llŷn Peninsula, North Wales to enjoy a few days camping. Admittedly, my tanned complexion does not rival that of colleagues who jetted off to Cala d’Or, but it’s not half bad for a short stint in a very green field near Abersoch.
Cliff top meadow, short walk to a nearby sandy beach, blue skies, wide horizons, the company of good friends with local food, beer and a barbeque every night. It was bliss, or at least we think so at home.
Anyone who reads my blogs will know I’ve extolled the virtues of fresh air and the countryside and the manifest benefits of outdoor education on previous occasions. Mountain biking locally at this time of year, I regularly cross paths with small groups of British young people shouldering full packs, always with bright orange rain covers pulled over them no matter how sunny and fair the day, tramping the long miles of Duke of Edinburgh Award expeditions.
It is great to see such groups enjoying the challenges of the simple pleasures of the Great British countryside. The DofE scheme is a wonderful project and one that I have long supported during the course of my teaching career. To my mind, it is as relevant now as it was in 1956 when founded by Prince Philip. This summer term at BGS, our Bronze and Gold Award groups are under assessment in the uplands of Nidderdale and Buttermere respectively and I wish them all well (truthfully, I am a little bit jealous of their adventures).
With a wider view on outdoor education generally, our Year 8s have their multi-activity and teambuilding residential visit to Heard Farm near Eccup and more exotically (perhaps, depending on your thoughts about north Leeds!) our senior students will be heading out to Nepal, to trek in the Annapurna foothills, undertake project work and later enjoy some white water rafting. I’ve helped to lead such trips in the past, organising scratch expeditions to places such as the Picos de Europa, sticking steadfastly to the age-old adventurer’s credo of self-sufficiency and independent travel. Collaborations with some excellent professional expedition companies to undertake alpine-style ascents of high Peruvian and Ecuadorian peaks, amongst others, have been equally satisfying. I have been incredibly lucky and it has been a privilege to share these experiences with many wonderful young people. The immense sense of achievement and self-knowledge that builds when hard-won goals and distant summits are reached is tangible and profound. Adventure fosters awareness, resilience, teamwork and confidence, and it builds character.
Success in such contexts is often a slow burn affair. Gratification is delayed. Very often the objective is weeks, many kilometres and several thousand metres of ascent away. It requires sustained individual and collective effort. It takes time. But the experience is all the richer and more meaningful for it. In fast moving, young lives where stimulus and instant reward are increasingly fused, the outdoor spaces on our doorsteps, or in more distant landscapes, offer welcome balance.
Closer to home than Nepal, BGS Geographer David Alcock organised a cross-curricular outdoor learning day this term with Year 9 groups circulating around Lister Park and Heaton Woods on our Bradford home patch. The purpose of the day, in David’s words, was “to show pupils how they can learn outside the classroom and to increase resilience to its challenges”. The programme was superb and ably supported by a broad cohort of teachers from across the subject range. In the autumn, David will be joining two other BGS colleagues to share innovative teaching ideas at the annual international Practical Pedagogies conference with similarly creative teachers and educationalists.
It is heartening to bear witness to the continued growth of outdoor education at Bradford Grammar School. As I write this blog, I can see the CCF making great use of the sunny school grounds for their weekly Tuesday night training session and glancing at my desk I notice my scribbled notes made earlier when talking with Kerry Howes, Junior School Headmistress, about her ambitions for outdoor learning at Clock House.
Now it’s time to practise what I preach. Home time, a (slow) run over the tops and then, in the interest of balance, just one cold beer. Only one, mind. It’s a school night after all.
“In fast moving, young lives where stimulus and instant reward are increasingly fused, the outdoor spaces on our doorsteps, or in more distant landscapes, offer welcome balance.”