Gillian Drinkwater, Senior Teacher and Curriculum Lead at Woolmore Primary School

Gillian Drinkwater is Senior Teacher and Curriculum Lead at Woolmore Primary School in Tower Hamlets, London.  Gillian explains the benefits of working with The Country Trust and why the school has had such close links with the charity for the past 15 years.

“Our school residential trips are growing in popularity with children and parents (and staff!). Woolmore recognises the crucial part that outdoor education can play in our children's education and we now have two residential stays a year for our older children, and recently had a very successful farm visit to Tiptree Farm, Essex to learn about food and farming, all organised through The Country Trust.

The charity provides all the necessary planning and paperwork, from arranging transport to providing sessions from experienced nature guides; taking us on boats on the Norfolk Broads; teaching children to identify plant, pond and birdlife, leading shelter building and nature trail sessions and lots more. We can't do all of this in our fabulous east London borough! We receive risk assessments, schedules, meal details and activity choices well in advance and this means that all of our energy on the visits is enjoying and seeing the children learning - not worrying about paperwork.

Country Trust staff who support and lead the sessions are invaluable at helping the days run smoothly. From the moment we step off the bus children are welcomed and guided through an exciting menu of learning opportunities. Children and teaching staff appreciate the chance to hear from a range of expert and enthusiastic practitioners who really understand how to make it interesting for children.

As a teacher on visits like this, you see children in a different context, often away for the first time, and it can really change and cement relationships with them. The Country Trust provide experts who can teach aspects of learning that we simply cannot teach in the classroom, especially where city life limits experiences such as field skills and practical science and geography. They deliver engaging and exciting sessions and our children show remarkable interest and enthusiasm when listening and taking part in sessions. We recently returned from a residential stay in Suffolk where children remarked “I loved the nature trail” and “my best bit was learning to make a shelter and making it waterproof”. All of the experiences lead to discovery, independence, challenge, and often presents new information and knowledge.

Children will often reflect in their diaries and say “today has been the BEST day!” and “I've learnt today that I can do things I didn't think I could do” (this child managed to complete an abseil for the first time). They love being away with their friends and trying new things.

Not only can the experiences offered meet our curriculum requirements (fieldwork, etc) but they can also, and probably most importantly, contribute to children's social and emotional learning. I believe that learning that takes place in these different situations is 'learning that sticks', enabling children to experience first-hand and often in practical contexts. Often the learning about aspects of nature and countryside is as important to the child as the learning that the children do about themselves; learning to try out new experiences, to take risks and challenges, to co-operate and work as a team.

The Country Trust (including its amazingly considerate and knowledgeable volunteers) offer an opportunity to make relationships with adults in new contexts and this really helps our older children build relationships in preparation for secondary school and beyond.”

Gillian Drinkwater, Senior Teacher and Curriculum Lead at Woolmore Primary School