Bacton Primary pupils switch timetables for tidetables with beach school plans

PUBLISHED: 08:51 20 September 2011

Bacton Primary School pupils will soon be having lessons on the beach. Left to right, India Edwards 6, Thomas Rooke 8, Katarina Nikolic 6 and Sharna Starkings 8.

Bacton Primary School pupils will soon be having lessons on the beach. Left to right, India Edwards 6, Thomas Rooke 8, Katarina Nikolic 6 and Sharna Starkings 8. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY


Sand, sea, surf, sunshine, sums and spelling.

Who needs paper when you can trace letters in the sand with a stick? And who needs a calculator when there are shells and pebbles to count?

Children at Bacton Primary School, on the north Norfolk coast, are all set to join the first ‘wave’ of beach schools nationwide, with the prospect of regular lessons beside the lapping North Sea, a mere five-minute walk from their classrooms.

“It’s going to be fun and exciting and part of that will be the spontaneity; we will have to learn about the tides and take advantage of opportunities when the tides and weather are right,” said head teacher Sandra Humphreys.

But if the north wind doth blow, Mrs Humphreys says they won’t necessarily take the easy option and stay inside a cosy classroom. Instead it will be on with the coats and wellies and down to the beach to set young brains, and noses, a-tingling.

The beach school idea follows
the success of forest schools nationwide.

That concept, originally pioneered in Scandinavia, has seen a number of Norfolk schools sign up to use local woodland environments as an extension of the classroom where children can build self-esteem and learn about the natural world.

Mrs Humphreys was first attracted to the forest school idea, but realised that Bacton was at a significant disadvantage.

“We don’t have a forest,” she said. “But we do have a very nice beach.”

Her ponderings coincided with research into the new beach schools concept by Sandcastles Pre-School, now sharing the site with Bacton School, which has just gained primary status having previously been a first school. The primary and the pre-school are preparing to send staff to Eastbourne for a two-day beach school course, delivered by forest school training firm Archimedes Training.

Bacton is the first school in East Anglia to approach Archimedes for training, according to chief executive Sarah Blackwell.

Mrs Humphreys said: “The children will be applying skills and investigating in a way which isn’t possible in the classroom.

“It will give inspiration for poetry and creative story-writing, art and sculpture, and it will help their language development.”

With the enormous Bacton Gas site next door, and coastal erosion a feature of the surrounding landscape, there are also countless opportunities for teaching about science, environmental challenges and the marine world. Den making and beach campfires are also expected to be part of the mix.

Bacton plans to launch its beach school after the October half-term holiday with the aim of children spending a lesson a week on the sands. A beach garden will be created outside school, featuring lobster pots, an old boat and children’s sea-inspired art works.

Alison Thomas, cabinet member for children’s services at Norfolk County Council, said they were keen to encourage schools to develop high-quality outdoor learning.

She added: “Schools do not have to have a forest to adopt this approach, which focuses on learning in the outdoors, regardless of its landscape and we are pleased to see Bacton Primary School embracing this and making use of the opportunities that their local beach presents to support and inspire learning.”

Six-year-old India Edwards is looking forward to her first beach lesson. She said: “When you go to the beach you find lots of interesting things for sculpturing – I found ropes and a shoe at Happisburgh.”

But Sharna Starkings, eight, and Katarina Nikolic, six, didn’t think they would want to venture on to the sands for maths on a winter’s day.

“It would be horrid and cold. I’d prefer to stay in,” said Sharna.

Mrs Humphreys believes “hardening up” a generation more used to sitting in their bedrooms in front of screens than playing outdoors might be another advantage of beach lessons.

She said: “I’m looking forward to going down when it’s been snowing – absolutely wonderful.”

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