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How to build character through primary school trips

1 March 2024

Character education and development has become a key focus within education in recent years, with the importance of developing the whole child, not just their academic abilities, now widely acknowledged.

In the 2019 Ofsted Inspection Framework, Ofsted outlined its recommendations on incorporating character education into the curriculum, stating that schools have ‘a statutory duty to promote the spiritual, moral, social, and cultural (SMSC) development of pupils and prepare them for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life.’ They also set out six character benchmarks that summarise the most important features of good character education.

Character-building school trips

As organisers of primary school residential trips, we see first-hand how structured outdoor education can support character development, boost children’s wellbeing and bring out the best in every child. When out in the open, away from the pressures of the classroom, children feel free to explore their own character, develop their strengths and discover their potential.

In this blog we look at the definition of character, and we explore how primary school trips can support schools to achieve Ofsted’s six character benchmarks.

What is character?

Character is a complex concept, which looks at both short-term behaviours and the understanding of longer-term goals.

Ofsted breaks down character into four key elements:

  • The ability to remain motivated by long-term goals and see a link between effort in the present and pay-off in the longer-term.
  • The learning and habituation of positive moral attributes, including courage, honesty, generosity, integrity, humility and a sense of justice.
  • The acquisition of social confidence and the ability to make points or arguments clearly and constructively, listen attentively to the views of others, behave with courtesy and good manners and speak persuasively to an audience.
  • An appreciation of the importance of long-term commitments which frame a successful and fulfilled life, for example a commitment to a role or vocation, or to the local community.

Research suggests that supporting these four defined areas can have a significant impact on a school’s success, bringing about improvements to attainment, engagement and attendance.

Primary school trips and the six character benchmarks

School residentials, particularly primary school trips, have long been commended for their benefits for character development. But whereas once they may have been seen as a nice-to-have, they now play an important role in enhancing a school’s character education.

Here we summarise Ofsted’s six character benchmarks and discuss how a primary school trip can help you meet them:

1. What kind of school are we?

Schools are encouraged to consider how well they articulate the kind of education they aspire to provide, and how effectively they create a sense of pride, belonging and identity in their school.

Primary school trips provide a great opportunity for children to explore these values and put them into practice outside the classroom. Working together on activities to achieve a shared goal gives them a collective sense of pride and achievement – with every child feeling part of the school group. And importantly, teachers have the chance to reinforce their school values in a different setting and watch as pupils bring them to life.

2. What are our expectations of behaviour towards each other?

Schools are asked to consider how well they communicate the importance of good behaviour, manners and courtesy, and how they promote this understanding.

When children arrive on a primary school trip, they quickly learn that good behaviour and courtesy is key to making the most of their time away. After all, the better their behaviour and cooperation, the more time they get to spend taking part in fun activities!

Whether supporting each other on the high ropes or building the campfire together, children experience the benefits of working together as a team and showing respect for their classmates and instructors. And this important life lesson is one that will stay with them long after the trip is over.

3. How well do our curriculum and teaching develop resilience and confidence?

This benchmark focuses on the importance of giving pupils a strong sense of progress and self-confidence, which will open doors and give them confidence in wider society.

It’s by stepping out of their comfort zone, overcoming challenges and reaching their goals that pupils can really experience a sense of achievement and pride. On our Rootd primary school trips, it’s amazing how many times we see children arrive feeling unsure of their own abilities, only to leave having conquered their fears and bursting with pride at what they’ve achieved during their time away from home.

Whether they’ve reached the abseiling tower despite a fear of heights or they’ve overcome their shyness to lead their group to victory in crate stacking, these defining character-building moments will stay with them well into the future.

4. How good is our co-curriculum?

Within a good character curriculum, it’s advised that children should have the opportunity to participate in a diverse range of activities, including creative, sporting, artistic, debating, performance, team and individual. It’s also noted that success should be acknowledged and celebrated.

A school trip is the perfect time to get children involved in a wide range of activities that they may never have tried before. A good school residential provider will offer a range of activities that focus on developing different skill sets, both as an individual and as part of a group. They’ll also make a point of celebrating every child’s successes.

At Rootd, we make sure that every child is seen and heard during their school trip, and that their achievements are acknowledged and celebrated by the group – however big or small. Our evening campfire is the perfect opportunity to do this and is often cited by visitors as the most enjoyable element of the trip. After a day spent overcoming personal obstacles, pushing themselves physically and mentally, and challenging themselves to take on new activities, we believe it’s important for students to have these pivotal moments recognised and rewarded.

5. How well do we promote volunteering and service to others?

This benchmark focuses on the importance of encouraging pupils to be civic-mind and ready to contribute to society.

With a focus on enjoying the outdoors, primary school trips teach children how to respect and care for the natural environment. It gives them perspective on the world and shows how we all have a part to play in protecting nature.

Children also learn how rewarding it can feel to help each other, whether during teambuilding activities or when encouraging their classmates to take overcome their fears to complete a challenge. And this can inspire them to go on and continue to help others back in the classroom and in the wider community.

6. How do we ensure that all our pupils benefit equally from what we offer?

This final benchmark encourages schools to make sure that all students can benefit from the same character-building opportunities. They should be accessible to pupils from all backgrounds, to make everyone feel valued and included.

This is something we strongly believe in at Rootd, and to achieve this we’d advise that you:

  • Plan your trip well in advance. Schedule it into the school calendar early to give parents time to spread the cost over manageable payments.
  • Do your research. Choose an activity provider that can tailor your trip to meet your needs. This might mean making it just a one-night stay to minimise the cost or choosing a nearby location to reduce travel expenses.

7. Planning your next residential?

If you’re considering a secondary or primary school trip, then we hope we’ve shown you how beneficial they can be in supporting your school’s character education. Not only do they challenge students and teach them important life skills, they also bring children together and show them the value of community and friendship.

And above all, school trips are great fun for children and a chance for them to create unforgettable memories together!

8. How we can help

At Rootd, we’ll work closely with you to tailor your trip to meet the needs of your students. Our activities are all designed to challenge and build character, whilst providing a fun-filled experience that pupils will love.

If you’d like to find out more about planning your primary or secondary school residential trip, get in touch here.