Aim: To determine whether experiential history, trips, visits, etc. actually benefit students in their understanding of the past in any identifiable way.

Background: Local re-organisation of schools in Poole brought about the removal of 8-12 Middle Schools, which meant that for the first time in nearly 40 years Poole Grammar would have 11-12 year-olds. This allowed a one-off opportunity to test whether new entrants to the school would be positively affected by a residential and experiential visit with a comparable year group as the ‘control’.Both would arrive at the same time but one would then have a residential Viking Trip and one would not.

Method: This project was aimed at allowing students not only to study History but to engage with it in physical ways, through handling artefactual evidence, archaeological exploration, reconstructive experience and participation.

Handling collections for Year 7 and Year 12 were firmly established, having initially been used by gifted and talented groups, but the intervening years proved much harder. In the second year, all Year 7 students experienced a Viking residential – to use, build and handle reconstructive archaeology. The use of source material within lessons to encourage engagement was embedded in the new Year 7 curriculum.

Practical reconstructive archaeology courses were given to all students in Year 8, using AS Level Archaeology students to help out, and a limited amount of training for staff was arranged. This proved hugely successful. The sixth formers were very useful in this and all future elements of this project, especially the ‘subject ambassadors’.

A building project on the school site was undertaken. Original plans to build an Iron Age roundhouse were changed to constructing trebuchets – fun, dangerous and £2,000 cheaper!

Evidence: Pupil surveys.

Impact: Discounting the possible effect of the disparity of pupils’ experience in their previous schools; it was clear from the survey that attitudes can be perceptibly altered by a really rather brief period of ‘walking a mile in another’s shoes’.

Students can increase the sophistication of their historical understanding through experience rather than by reading or watching in definite and definable ways. The professional instinct that visits are educationally valuable can be demonstrated, and thus curriculum time, parental payment and school subsidies can be legitimately sought on the basis of evidence rather than a hunch.

Almost all staff signed up to repeat the experience, many with effusive praise for the event.

Reflections: This is a worthwhile exercise but without adequate support from senior management in terms of financial subsidy, cover and conviction it can be hard. You also need to prepare the parents well.

Contact: Simon Powell, Head of History