Diary of a headteacher: The joy of residential trips!

Written by: Tom Donohoe | Published:

Residential trips have come a long way since Tom Donohoe’s first experience as an NQT…

I am writing this while surrounded by chickens, rabbits, guinea pigs, sheep and alpacas! I am in Okehampton in Devon with year 5 on a residential trip at Stone Farm Study Centre and while a bit cold, we are having a brilliant time.

When I arrived at Anton 16 years ago they had the fairly typical outdoor pursuits trip for year 6, and though we have changed the venue we do still have this type of trip (mountain biking, canoeing, climbing, raft building abseiling, etc) for our oldest pupils. Over the years we have added residential experiences for year 5, then year 4, and a few years ago a one-night camping trip for year 3.

I was keen that the experiences we added complemented the year 6 trip rather than repeating similar activities. Stone Farm for year 5 is ideal in this respect. Each morning we awake at 7:30am to get up and do farm duties – these are pretty light and over the course of the week give the children the opportunity to work with all of the animals. And the kids absolutely love it! By 8am duties are completed and it is time for a hearty breakfast. After that we are off out for the day – we visit the Eden Project, we spend a great day at Morwellham Quay (a fabulous Victorian village complete with a mine train), and we also visit Buckfast Abbey and its excellent education centre.

In addition, we spend a morning at Widemouth Bay in Bude which is always freezing, so we follow that with an afternoon in the warmth of a local swimming pool complete with wave machines, flumes, etc. On our return to the farm we just have time for another round of farm duties before dinner. For lots of our pupils, the Stone Farm trip is the highlight of their time at Anton.

Our year 4 pupils go to the excellent East Dene Centre and spend four days and three nights having adventures on the Isle of Wight. In my opinion this venue is ideal for lower juniors and the activities on offer have a theme of problem-solving and team-building. The centre occupies a spectacular location perched on the top of a hill over-looking the beautiful Monks Bay at Ventnor, which we use for a rock-pooling session where the kids love terrorising the local crabs!

I attend all of our residential trips and do so for a couple of reasons: it provides reassurance for my staff who are leading the trip as they know I am there if any problems occur. The other reason is that I enjoy the trips – I come back shattered, but I do love seeing the kids having such a great experience.

I am fortunate at Anton that all of my staff are keen to attend a residential trip – it is something we ask about at interview (as with running a club) so that we can ensure we are employing staff who buy into our ethos of the importance of the extra-curricular. While it is only a small gesture, we do pay all staff an extra £100 quid in their salary as a thank you.

I would like to think that my teachers’ experiences of our residential trips are pleasant ones and a tad different from my first ever experience. As an NQT I accompanied year 6 on their residential, which was a canal trip in Birmingham.

We took 40 kids on four boats from Saturday to Saturday and then repeated that with a second lot of 40 pupils for a second week. To make it even more ‘’interesting’’ I had to share a tiny bed with my headteacher who was 6’6’’ and an imposing character from Yorkshire. As an NQT I was tiny bit scared of my head and for the first few nights I didn’t sleep as I was afraid of kicking him in the face – we were top to tail! It goes without saying that every trip I have been on in my 16 years as a headteacher I have had a room on my own, clearly I don’t want to put any of my staff through the ordeal I endured as a young teacher!

  • Tom Donohoe is the headteacher of Anton Junior School in Hampshire.

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