Kite flying, camping, and putting on a play: The 'new' things schools are going to be teaching your children

Ah, for the good old days. When we climbed trees, played conkers, kicked a football until it was too dark to see, and tried '“ unsuccessfully '“ to dam the River Wyre and empty the Irish Sea so we could walk to the Isle of Man.

Tuesday, 15th January 2019, 8:38 am
Updated Tuesday, 15th January 2019, 9:04 am
Kite flying is one of the activities the government wants schools to teach their pupils

They feel like happier times. Pre-terrorism, social media, smart phones, and voice-activated light bulbs.

What are the children missing out on while sat in front of Netflix or YouTube or glued to their Xbox or Playstation – or cramming relentlessly for their school exams?

But that could all be about to change, sort of.

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Tree climbing features on a list of 50 activities the National Trust wants children to experience

That’s because the government’s education secretary Damian Hinds has launched what has been dubbed a ‘passport’ of activities he wants youngsters to experience.

The aim, school bosses say, is to “help build children’s character and resilience”. In other words, to make them happier at a time when a record numbers of youngsters are living with mental disorders such as depression or anxiety.

Flying kites, learning something new about the local area, or putting on a performance are all ideas inspired by a trip by Mr Hinds to a Bristol school, where children are encouraged to take part in a list of tasks and experiences, with key achievements for each school year ticked off.

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File image. There have been warnings about the impact too much time on technology is having on the mental health of children

“I regularly hear from teachers that it’s important children have the chance to try things out, to get a taste of the world around them, to see and do things that they wouldn’t normally do, or go to places they wouldn’t normally go,” he said. “What’s on the inside – someone’s character, drive, resilience, and the ability to stick to a goal - is just as important as their academic achievements.”

But, in an era where teachers find themselves under increased pressure and schools are rewarded – or penalised – for exam results, is this move towards traditional children’s activities being welcomed?

Sarah Bamber, headteacher at Mereside Primary School, said some of her pupils have never been to the beach, and said an enriched curriculum could change that – and make children’s work “so much more powerful”.

She said: “If you want to be at school, you will behave and turn up on time, and not want to miss a day. It can only make standards go up. If the children are enthused and engaged and the learning is exciting for them, they will only achieve even more.”

Ms Bamber, who still has memories of playing in her treehouse as a child, added: “I don’t think children enjoy what’s around them, and I think we have to change that.”

Helen Moreton, headteacher at Holy Family Catholic Primary School, in Seacrest Avenue, North Shore, said many of the suggested activities are already taught as part of “the hidden curriculum”, while all resort schools have signed up to the similar ‘Blackpool Opportunity Passport’, which has ideas such as growing something to eat, going for walks, and learning to swim.

Some pupils are also enrolled on the ‘children’s university’ programme, which recognises and celebrates out-of-school learning.

At Holy Family, youngsters play boardgames when it’s raining during playtimes, while it also operates a weekend hiking club for older children. “These examples are not part of the formal statutory curriculum that we offer to pupils, but we have built-in opportunities for enriched experiences for children,” Ms Moreton said.

“Good learning and teaching in school will encompass experiences such as posting letters and cooking food.

“I don’t think you can underestimate ‘good parenting’ when it comes to children having rich experiences and the impact that it has on children throughout their lives.”

Andy Mellor, headteacher at St Nicholas Church of England Primary School in Marton, said the Blackpool ‘passport’ “outlines what we believe children should have access to in addition to the national curriculum”.

He said: “This has included visiting a theatre, the opportunity to travel abroad and the like. This was a schools initiative but isn’t binding as we believe much of the passport offer should be a guide for parents and, indeed, many good parents do give their children these opportunities. For schools, it was about perhaps offering the opportunity to children who, for whatever reason, might not get access to these opportunities.

“However, the government’s preoccupation with league tables and the narrow basket of subjects which forms them means that much of the time for these beneficial opportunities is lost in the effort to get better and better results in English and maths. We have to realise there is only so much the teaching profession can do when they are already working on average 20 hours a week in excess of their contracted time.”

The new list of activities has been endorsed by groups like the Scouts, Girlguides, and the National Trust, which has drawn up its own list of things children should do by the time they are 12.

Hilary McGrady, the director-general of the National Trust, added: “We know those first experiences such as skimming a stone or watching butterflies encourages an early love for nature which is more likely to stay with them into adulthood.”

Schools across the resort were due to get their new lists of activities this month.

Stephen Cooke, headteacher at Unity Academy in North Shore, said it will coincide with the launch of a school Scout group, which will take place after school, and comes after the recent opening of an outdoor gym.

The all-through school in Warbreck Hill Road, which caters for both primary and secondary pupils, has also invested in its forest school work. All of these activities beyond the classroom are designed to ensure pupils are well-rounded when they leave Unity, and would provide children with opportunities to experience many of the things on the activity passport,” Mr Cooke said.

“Whilst examination results are of course vital for students educational journey, some of these softer skills required to complete the activities in the passport are also of equal importance.

“If we re-examine the notion of a three-way partnership between school, parent and pupil, I think there are things on the list that all three of those partners would be engaged in offering.

“My concern with the passport would be that it becomes another accountability measure for schools, used by Ofsted and the Department for Education.

“It would be sad if what is a good list of activities became a percentage completion rate in a league table.”