Summer camps counterbalance what is happening in our schools, and not a moment too soon – by Peter Wootton, School Governor

Peter Wootton, Primary School Governor and Director of a Multi-Academy Trust discusses the impact of summer camps for a child’s personal, spiritual and emotional development and shares how his experience of Colony Holidays summer camps (now The ATE Trust) has impacted his career in education.

“A little over 50 years ago, I was a grammar school sixth former anxious to avoid compulsory games on a cold and sleety winter afternoon. The opportunity to do this by attending a talk about a kind of summer camps called ‘Colony Holidays’ given by a guy called Chris Green was therefore welcome. I never expected that what I heard that afternoon would lead me to the principles that have guided me through a long career in secondary education and which still influence me today in retirement as a Primary School Governor and Director of a Multi-Academy trust.

On my training course to become a young leader I started to understand something of the pristine uniqueness of every child and the importance of nurturing and treasuring all that they are rather than all that they could do. Over the next fifteen years throughout roles as a young leader, assistant director and director, I had the opportunity to engage with children and encourage them to grow in creativity, curiosity and confidence by responding to their needs with my own creativity and curiosity in a way that was uniquely mine. It was a virtuous circle.

Those summer camps gave children the opportunity to relax in the company of others and to relate to those from a different background; it enabled them to discover their physical environment, to be imaginative, to follow their own interests, to achieve, to be creative and to be a little bit mischievous. Within a physically and emotionally safe environment they were able to learn about themselves, to respect and value others, to find out about new things, people and places and to grow in self-confidence and self-esteem. These are the experiences and insights that children need in order to grow into liberal-humane adults able to play all the roles which life demands of them.

When I retired ten years ago I was adamant that education and me were through. It was not to be! I was lured into becoming a school governor, a role that has given me a ringside seat at the spectacle of the demise of LEAs and the rise of academies. This has been accompanied by the ever-onward march of assessment and the increasing tendency to see children through the prism of what they can do in response to a rigid curriculum rather than seeking to develop the broader spectrum of their unique potential.

The demands on primary school teachers today are phenomenal; every pupil has to be incessantly ‘tracked’, on this basis each child has to be provided with an individual curriculum, comprising minutely defined, and often very constraining,‘steps’ in learning. At the end of all this,‘progress data’ has to meet nationally stipulated standards. In this maelstrom of assessing, recording, target setting and striving to meet objectives, there are many wonderful teachers whose instincts are to value the children in their care for their uniqueness and potential of whatever ilk. I believe though that many work in an environment that is at worst hostile and at best indifferent to this approach; as a result these good and enlightened people are conflicted and hampered.

It is for this reason that I think that the Summer Camps Trust with its vision of well-run residential summer camps for lots of our children has arrived not a moment too soon. We need a counterbalance to what is happening in our schools that gives children opportunities for personal, spiritual and emotional development rather than being limited merely to mastering the measurable. In a safe and supportive environment and in the care of sympathetic and kind adults, they need to be allowed to follow their own interests, to explore the unfamiliar, to discover, to relate to new friends, to imagine what might be, to develop self-confidence and self-esteem and even sometimes to be a bit naughty!”

Guest Blog written by Peter Wootton, Primary School Governor and Director of a Multi-Academy Trust