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12 March 2015

We are providing facilitation skills tools and training for our staff and members to increase the amount of reflection time in our work with young people

Thursday 12 March 2015

What makes a really brilliant outdoor education experience for children and young people? This is a question we ask ourselves a lot at Hindleap Warren. As an outdoor centre in the South East of England we’re really lucky. We have 300 acres of woodland to play with – which offers young people who visit us a sense of freedom and adventure they don’t often get in modern life. We believe that providing young people with the opportunity to have an adventure along with their peers – outside in the natural environment and away from their daily lives – gives them an invaluable chance to learn about themselves, understand their strengths and weaknesses, develop their confidence and learn not to give up. The kind of stuff many of us did playing outside as kids.

We celebrated Hindleap’s 50th birthday last year with a visit from our patron, HRH the Duke of Edinburgh. We kicked off a capital fundraising appeal to enable us to provide impactful outdoor education for 100,000 young people over the next ten years. To deliver outdoor education that really makes a difference to 10,000 young people each year we need to continue to invest in our grounds and activities for the future.

Delivering impact is about more than simply investing in kit. The evaluation journey we’ve been on over the last couple of years is really starting to show us what does work for young people in terms of outdoor experiences – and what we can get better at. Over the last year we’ve asked 1331 children, 522 young people and 241 youth professionals and teachers their views of what we do here. Their answers are starting to help shape what we do – what’s so exciting about this is that we’re able to now genuinely bring the voice of the people we work with into our strategy for improving our work.

What have we learnt? Visitors to Hindleap are highly satisfied with their experiences here. Children under 14 give us an average score of 9.34 out of 10 for their overall experience, and the professionals who come with them scored us 9.5 out of 10 on average. Our youth groups – whilst still satisfied, and scoring us with an average of 8.25 out of 10 – have provided some real insights into what we do. The psychometric tests we’ve used tell us that these young people are developing confidence, creativity and emotional control during their stay at Hindleap. But the young people themselves are not always recognising this development – or the transferrable skills they pick up whilst they’re here.

So what does this mean for us and the way we work? The team here have delved into these findings with some heated debates both in meetings and in their spare time. If young people are developing core non-cognitive skills here, why are they not always aware of it? Do they need to be? And how can we help them recognise this emotional growth?

In my opinion to fully value the experience they have here, and to use it to have the best effect in their daily lives, young people do need to be aware of their development at Hindleap. When you rock up at a job interview you want to be able to name the non-cognitive skills you’ve built – and talk about the experiences that helped you build them. You want to be able to talk about what you can bring to a team, and give examples of times you’ve shown leadership within one. You want to be aware of the things you’re good at and the things you still need to work on.

We’ve focussed hard with our instructional team this year on developing their facilitation skills to make sure we bring out the learning from our outdoor sessions for the young people taking part in them. We’re sharing facilitation tips in our weekly meetings and peer reviewing our sessions to make sure we spread ideas across the team. Our Youth Action team, who work with London Youth member clubs, delivered some specific training with the Hindleap staff – helping them work out strategies for better engaging with our youth groups over the course of a weekend residential. Our instructors are now more comfortable with helping a group set their objectives; with reviewing what goes on during activity sessions; and with helping young people draw out their learning from their experiences outside.

What we’d like to get to is a place where we’re consistently practising high quality youth work using the outdoors as a tool – rather than relying on the experience to speak for itself, and where every young person who leaves Hindleap can name the skills they’ve developed here. There’s some way to go still to achieve this. But one thing we’re sure of is that evaluating how we work with young people can only help us get better at what we do, and that’s really exciting.