Linking literacy and the great outdoors

Linking the outdoors to literacy is at the heart of the brand new Alex Rider Spy Academy. With the aim of totally absorbing students in the literary spy theme and igniting their imagination and love of reading, YHA gives Education Business an insight into the programmes success so far.

YHA School Trips has teamed up with Walker Books and author Anthony Horowitz to create the Spy Academy, which is available as a three or four-night residential experience. It combines YHA’s existing Action Adventure package with the best-selling book series based around teenage spy Alex Rider, with a primary aim of encouraging young boys to read.

Caroline White, chief executive of YHA (England and Wales) said: “Research has proven that outdoor learning has a long lasting impact on young people throughout their school career and I am confident the new Alex Rider Spy Academy will leave a lasting impression on the hundreds of students who will be attending it.

“I am delighted with the partnership between YHA and Alex Rider. The fact we have been able to develop the Alex Rider Spy Academy – giving young people real experiences in the real outdoors – is testament to the fabulous network of properties YHA has. Bringing the books to life in this way is an excellent way to get young people reading.”

Recreating real experiences
Anthony Horowitz’s best-selling Alex Rider series, which was first published in 2005, re-defined the spy genre and is widely regarded as pivotal in getting a generation of boys reading for pleasure. The Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3 action‑packed residential YHA School Trip brings the first novel in the Alex Rider series – Stormbreaker – to life in the grounds of 15 Youth Hostels in England and Wales.

Coasteering, canoeing, bush craft, abseiling off bridges or climbing on real rocks in iconic locations in the Peak District or Snowdonia are the order of the day at the YHA Alex Rider Spy Academy camps.

The focus is very much on real experiences in the real outdoors as students learn how to become the next Alex Rider.

Year 6 pupils from Oasis Academy Wardon in Worcester were the very first educational group to sign up for the Alex Rider Spy Academy last year. The school had a two-night stay at YHA Broad Haven, which is situated next to a sandy Blue Flag beach and the Pembrokeshire coastal footpath. The school trip was so successful that the school has booked to take another group of pupils this year.

Class teacher Louise Rowland explained: “We wanted to go on a residential trip so the children could experience outdoor activities and take part in things they would not normally do. We took part in activities such as rock climbing, abseiling, body boarding and raft building with the spy academy sessions in the evening.

“Children you would least expect to thrive on a cliff face did so, and it was wonderful to see what they achieved, along with the encouragement provided by their peers.

A lot of them come from deprived areas and many of them were doing things for the first time, such as the coastal walk and being beside the sea, which one pupil described as the best day of his life. This was one of the reasons why we decided to book again.”

The Alex Rider series of books have sold over 16 million copies in English and have been published in 28 languages, with author Horowitz being awarded the OBE for Services to Literature in 2014. To further encourage students to read, all participating students attending a YHA Alex Rider Spy Academy receive a free copy of Stormbreaker courtesy of Walker Books, and there are also exclusive discounts on the Alex Rider boxset for participating schools.

Louise said: “It was really good to see how this encouraged them to read. A lot of them read on the way back, including those who struggle with reading or are not really excited by books, particularly the boys who became very engaged.”

Learning outside the classroom
YHA Broad Haven is one of 74 Youth Hostels that are accredited by Learning Outside the Classroom (LOtC). In fact, YHA has more LOtC accredited sites than any other educational visit provider. Awarded by the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom (CLOtc), the LOtC Site Provider Award is a national benchmark that accredits those organisations which actively welcome schools onto their sites, ensure that the sites meet the needs of schools, and offer schools guidance and support on making the most of the LOtC experience.

Louise said that youngsters visibly grew in confidence as they acquired new skills and explored their new surroundings, adding that ‘they blossomed and were completely different characters to how they are in the classroom’.

LOtC accreditation significantly reduces the red tape for the thousands of education providers that use YHA’s Youth Hostels and learning experiences provided there each year. As well as reducing the paperwork associated with learning outside the classroom, the Badge also highlights the accredited hostels’ commitment to ensuring quality and safety and that their learning is curriculum linked.

One of the LOtC approved sites is YHA Castleton, Losehill Hall in Derbyshire, which regularly hosts residential school trips. Cathedral Academy in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, held a pilot summer school at the Youth Hostel, during which students undertook a number of outdoor activities delivered by YHA, including bushcraft, shelter building, archery and orienteering in the 27 acre grounds of the Youth Hostel.

Kat Cafferky, vice principal of Cathedral Academy, who organised the trip, praised the Youth Hostel and its outdoor learning experiences.

She commented: “The safe, open layout of both the accommodation and the grounds at YHA Castleton played an important part in the success of the summer school. The summer school had a positive impact on all students. Their confidence grew by the day; they made many new friends and were glowing by the end of the week.”

Facing new challenges
As well as building the confidence of young people, a stay at YHA also provides teachers with the opportunities to build relationships with children in their class or school in a more informal, out of the classroom setting. It also provides children the opportunity to bond with their peers in a safe environment.

Caroline White added: “Staying with YHA not only offers young people a great opportunity to learn new skills and make friends in a fun environment, but offers them the chance to take back their ‘wild time’, swap screen time and get outdoors. YHA is committed to helping young people face new challenges while being looked after in a safe, fun and challenging environment. Without fail, young people grow in confidence while staying with us.”

All YHA School Trips outdoor activities can be delivered by YHA’s own team of qualified instructors. The activities in every school trip experience are linked to the National Curriculum and include history, eco‑explorer, art, jurassic coast, geography, science, performance arts, and PE. Schools can even mix and match between the packages on offer.

It’s not just about outdoor experiences; YHA also delivers a diverse range of National Curriculum activities that give young people the opportunity to learn real life skills, including the Let’s get Cooking programme. Delivered in association with The Children’s Trust, the self-catering kitchen facilities at Youth Hostels lend themselves perfectly to the programme.

Established in 1930, the aim of YHA (England and Wales) remains the same today as it was then – to reach out and enhance the lives of young people. The YHA School Trips programme is playing a big role in enabling young children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to participate in activities in rural and urban areas of England and Wales.

Most importantly, prices for YHA’s School Trips packages are affordable. They can be as little as £30 per person per night, and there are also reduced rates for teacher‑led activities.

And to ensure no students miss out on a learning experience with YHA, funding is available for disadvantaged young people through YHA’s Breaks for Kids bursary fund which provides up to 50 per cent of funding for those that are eligible, making sure the financial pressure to attend the school trip is not placed on the youngster or the school.

Caroline White commented: “YHA has been creating learning outside the classroom since we started more than 80 years ago and, because of our Breaks for Kids bursary fund, financial circumstances don’t stop young people benefitting from these brilliant opportunities.”

With more than 160 Youth Hostels throughout England and Wales, from 26-bed self‑catering hostels in Cornwall to 300+ bed hostels in central London, YHA literally has accommodation and a school trip to suit everyone.

In the majority of cases, schools will be booked on a sole occupancy basis which means they have the flexibility to change eating times or itineraries as their school will be the sole focus of the hostel staff. Where sole occupancy isn’t possible for smaller groups, YHA will ensure they are located with other school groups only to ensure safety and security.

Further Information