The benefits of school trips - Ben Willows, CEO UKSA

Published 03/03/2024

The education and youth development sector has long championed the benefits of outdoor learning and specifically residential visits, however, not only did the Covid-19 pandemic halt these opportunities, we now find ourselves in a generation where our young people are immersed in technology.

This is not just television, but computers, tablets, phones and watches; gaming, communications and social media. It is suggested that “screen time” reduces attention spans; increases both mental health issues and isolation and reduces academic achievement and the ability to interact socially. Outdoor learning and being on the water in a completely new environment can be an antithesis to this.

Our children are spending less time outdoors than ever before, impacting their health, wellbeing and development. This, teamed with a cost-of-living crisis is resulting in more young people missing out on the benefits of outdoor learning and residentials.

I was 11 when I went to an activity centre in Wales called The Ranch, being able to do different activities finally gave me the feeling that I was actually good at something after struggling in the classroom environment. Having that moment as an 11-year-old showed me I can find something I’m good at and I will succeed, even if it’s not at a desk.

At UKSA, we offer young people of all abilities life-enhancing water-based adventures, education, and world-leading maritime training where they can learn skills for life in an aspirational and safe environment. The experience of new activities, adventure, challenges while being away from the normal routines of home and school helps develop confidence, resilience, and the important sense of independence.

Some past research by Learning Away shared the positive impact of residential experiences on year six pupil progress and attainment, particularly with ‘vulnerable’ students who were likely for personal and family reasons, to underachieve. Teachers cited the confidence gained while away coupled with enhanced relationships with peers and staff, compensated for the negative impacts on learning experienced outside of the school’s control.

We run a fully funded, half day on the water for all Year 6 pupils on the Isle of Wight called Test the Water, that supports 1,500 beneficiaries every year and through this activity, we have first-hand evidence that outdoor centres like ours help young people’s mental health and confidence, build resilience, and instil life skills. In addition to this, the healing power of water and coastal environments have been shown to improve our health, body and mind which is why it is more essential than ever for young people, especially those from inner cities, to have on-water experiences.

As a charity, our passion for removing barriers and providing funding for children and young people who wouldn’t be able to access such experiences without financial support drives us every day, and our customised programmes are designed to build confidence and encourage teamwork using watersports and the great outdoors as a catalyst for positive outcomes. We can only continue to transform the lives of so many children and young people with the ongoing help of our donors and supporters.

We know that many children and young people are missing out on life-changing opportunities because schools, local authorities and parents simply can’t afford to pay for them. Two million school children go on residentials each year with 40 per cent of trips specifically organised to engage hard to reach pupils and a recent study commissioned by Hyundai showed 52 per cent of children do not tell their parents about a trip due to money concerns. In 2023, we welcomed 6496 young people through our doors, a third of whom we were able to fund, whether that was as part of our Test the Water programme, our schools and groups residentials or our Sea.Change Foundation Programme, a five-day residential programme for 14-17 year olds from disadvantaged backgrounds to learn about training and careers in the maritime sector which runs during the school holidays.

We follow the ethos at UKSA of ‘Leave No Child Behind’, ensuring that our funding goes where it is needed most to ensure as many children as possible get the opportunity to visit our waterfront campus. No child should miss out on life-changing experiences due to their financial situation.

Sally Hodgson, Principal at Beacon View Primary Academy in Portsmouth said: “In 2022, we took 43 children for a five-day funded visit and are fortunate enough to have returned in 2023 for a shorter visit but benefitting 61 of our children. Seeing them grow in confidence and develop skills that they didn’t realise they had whilst also conquering fears along the way was fantastic. Our families simply wouldn’t have been able to afford the trip without the funding from UKSA enabling it to happen as some would have had to choose between food, heating and the trip.

“Being on the water really puts the children on a level playing field and it was fantastic to see 23 of the children applying to become a prefect on their return due to the growth in confidence from the visit and believing in their own ability,” concluded Sally.

ARK Walworth Academy in South London saw some of its students experience their first ever residential as a result of funding from UKSA. Carl Fazackerley, director of sixth form and accountable leader for careers who led the trip said: “Every deprivation indicator you will see the Government recording is present at our school and this is the first time any of the children have had a residential, largely due to affordability with around half of our students unable to afford a trip like this.” With a large part of the experience at a UKSA residential being able to find out about the potential career options in the watersports and maritime sectors, ARK students were really inspired.

Carl continued: Some of the support instructors were the same age as my year 12s, and that really got their attention. The level of maturity they were displaying was quite something and I think there’s a recognition in some of my students that they need to up their game. One young man was really taken by the opportunities that a maritime career could offer. He is a keen gamer and was really taken by the simulator at UKSA and had not realised how much technology was involved in the industry. His family descends from the Caribbean and despite growing up in London, he realised he could gain a stronger connection to his roots as well as employment with a career in maritime.”

Increasing accessibility of outdoor learning is increasing year on year for UKSA and during April to September last year, we welcomed 67 schools and groups with ages ranging from eight to 18, with almost 70 per cent of those children seeing improvements across our ‘Skills for Life’ framework. The framework covers communication, decision making, teamwork, self-belief, determination and resilience which we deem essential in a child’s overall personal development. Our activities for residential school group visits are mapped to this framework and we work with our schools to share the outcomes achieved and insights gathered, in order to measure the impact of the experience on students’ personal development.

We measure the skills at the end of students’ stay and we present the children with statements in a fun format for them to agree or disagree with, these include ‘I am better at making choices’, ‘I feel more confident’, ‘I feel I am more brave to finish difficult tasks’, ‘I feel like I can bounce back when things are hard’, ‘ I am better at making choices’ and ‘I find it easier to talk and share my thoughts’.

Part of the experience at a UKSA residential is being able to find out about the potential career options in the watersports and maritime sectors. For example, our Sea.Change Foundation Programme offers the chance to learn more about training and working in the maritime industry or in watersports, leading to roles such as superyacht deck officers and crew, naval and merchant seaman, watersports instructors and yacht skippers. Students experience a wide range of exciting water-based activities including dinghy sailing, sea survival, power boating, keel boating and stand-up paddleboarding. The programme also includes shore-based sessions, which enables the students to learn more about career options and speak to UKSA’s industry guidance team. The Skills for Life data for our Sea.Change students between April and September last year show 80 per cent cite a greater understanding of the careers available in the maritime industry and 56 per cent would consider a career in maritime.

Of the 690 students aged 14-17, which have completed the Sea.Change programme in the last 18 months, 32 so far this year have continued their journey with UKSA and enrolled on further education or careers courses with ambitions of a career within the maritime industry, having never known these choices existed prior to visiting us, which is fantastic.

We’re also supporting schools with an additional offering of a two night/three day residential which, although referred to as our Duke of Edinburgh weekends as it is suitable for students to complete their Bronze Award, is also another great residential option for schools. We currently have two trained DoE assessors and have plans to ensure all our senior instructors are trained as assessors for 2024.

UKSA is a compassionate and inclusive organisation that unlocks profound maritime adventures, education, and career pathways for every individual, regardless of their unique life journey. We are the only maritime training provider offering comprehensive pathways from a child’s initial experience on the water, to full time education and professional careers.

Our school trips and professional courses are available for everyone, irrespective of funding source and background.

Everyone who attends UKSA receives the same high-quality professional training, we provide the best on water residential trips and maritime training.

For every young person who comes to UKSA on a trip or course,
my hope is they go home with smiles, laughter, new experiences, more confidence and above all, great memories. We will continue to do all we can to ensure that as many young people as possible have access to the same opportunities and share the benefits of water-based activities whether it’s for fun, education or a potential career.

Ben Willows, CEO UKSA

Residential schools and groups trips at UKSA