School’s out for summer

The summer holidays offer many opportunities for developing skills, as the experiences of students at Taunton School last year demonstrate

A survey undertaken by Taunton School has revealed that older students undertook an amazing diversity of activities – both paid and unpaid – during their summer holidays. This breadth of holiday activities would no doubt ignite the envy of many people among their parents’ generation and has certainly delighted Taunton School head, Dr John Newton. “Some of our students are quite modest about their achievements, so the results of this survey have been really revealing,” he says. “I was incredibly proud to learn how imaginative and ambitious they are in their own time.”

While a number of his pupils have already demonstrated entrepreneurial talents – some have even used the long vacation to start up small companies – Dr Newton is keen to encourage parents to do what they can to help their children become self-sufficient.“It is so important for them to develop practical skills and be able to generate some money independently,” he says. “Investing in a catering course, for example, may open up a useful income stream to supplement their student loans when they are at university. 

“One of my own daughters learned how to do painting and decorating during one of her school holidays, which has proved to be incredibly valuable to her.

“Teenagers with time on their hands tend to enjoy it much more if they do something worthwhile with it. I think it’s a real crime for them to be bored when there are so many fabulous opportunities just waiting to be grabbed.”

The survey results showed that the main motivator for many young people considering summer activities was the chance to earn money. Paid jobs ranged from farm work to engineering, retail to secondhand car sales, with wages often being saved to go towards driving lessons or a hoped-for gap year.

However, a large number took the opportunity to volunteer and help others, with activities ranging from working on community radio or teaching sports such as riding or sailing for the disabled to helping elderly neighbours with gardening, staffing a local food bank or running a church café. 

Almost all those surveyed had organised some kind of volunteering work for themselves, flying in the face of recent claims made by Nick Hurd – the minister responsible for the government’s National Citizenship Service for 16- and 17-year-olds – that public school children need to “get out of their towers” and do more volunteering.

More ambitious projects included building houses for the poor in Peru, working in orphanages in Malawi, Ethiopia and Haiti, putting on a benefit concert to raise funds for a village school in Kenya and volunteering for the Libyan Women’s Forum.

Interesting life lessons have been learned along the way.“The experience developed my social skills and perseverance,” says one student; “I learned nothing can embarrass you unless you let it,” says another; and “I learned to be less needy,” confesses a third.

Many pupils immersed themselves in projects of special personal interest – drama, music and foreign languages feature prominently in their feedback. What unites the participants is the passion with which they pursue these interests – seeking out opportunities such as acting with a touring Shakespeare company, taking part in national music competitions and organising exchange visits with French or Spanish counterparts. “You have to put yourself into it or you won’t get a positive result,” is the way one sixth former describes the motivation that drives her and her peers.

Archaeology, photography, ceramics, shooting and singing were among new specialisms developed over the summer holidays last year by Taunton School pupils keen to expand their skills set.

Well used to participating in a wide variety of sports during term-time, the students who took part in the survey participated in an impressive diversity of summer sporting activities. The list is almost an A-Z – starting with alpine trekking and ending with yoga, and including everything from distance running, rowing and triathlon to canyoning, skydiving, waterskiing and martial arts. 

With the prospect of higher education or the world of work on the near horizon, many pupils are keen to gain work experience to help inform their future choices or give credibility to the personal statement that will be needed for university applications.

Hospitals, lawyers, architects, vets, finance houses, the hospitality trade and manufacturing firms all obliged by giving Taunton School students a taste of working life in summer 2013. In some cases this proved to be as valuable in showing them what they do not want to do for a living as in reinforcing their ambitions to pursue a particular career path.

Expeditions forming part of the Duke of Edinburgh Awards schemes or under the banner of the army or naval cadets were mentioned as highlights of the school holidays by several students. 

“I was inspired to do more last summer because I’d been bored in previous years,” said one 16-year-old, who combined work experience in a radiology department with teaching sailing, attending Army CCF camp and learning how to fly with the Royal Naval Gliding Club. “I met new people, made new friends, learnt new skills and earned some money as well.”

Just the job

Paid jobs undertaken by Taunton School students in summer 2013

Catering/hospitality trade – pubs, restaurants, cafés and hotels as (variously) kitchen porter, cook, receptionist, waiting tables, cleaning (15 students)
Working in a care home
Gardening (four students)
Teaching English
Working in a dive shop
Modelling (fashion)
Babysitting/childminding (four students)
Cleaning vans
Selling solar panels (two students)
Fitting solar panels
Painting and decorating (2 students)
Photographer’s assistant
Public relations – paid work experience (Germany)
Libyan Women’s Forum – grass-roots NGO – assisting with publicity and writing
Engineering – oilfields (three students)
Retail – including a Russian supermarket (four students)
Agricultural labourer (five students)
Office work (Japan)
Banking (four students – in Czech Republic, China, Germany and Nigeria respectively)
Architect’s office
Factory worker
Manufacturing (two students)
Providing IT support and coding languages, working for a software firm (three students)
Lifeguard (three students)
Sailing instructor (three students)
Sorting stores/warehouse contents (two students)
Animal feed sales
Admin work (horticultural firm)
Zoo work – feeding animals
Secondhand car sales (like John Bercow!)

Case study: Kate Rider, year 13

“I got a job as part of a small team at a wholesale supplier of young plants, supplying garden centres and landscape contractors. I enjoyed working as part of a group and learning how to cope under pressure. It was very nice to have my own income, and I know my organisational skills improved. It was interesting to learn how a business runs and how to interact with clients. It wasn’t all work though – photography is my main hobby and I did a week-long course with the Field Studies Council, which was great.”

Case study: Abigail McHardy, year 12

“I made some money waitressing and cleaning in a local B&B. I wanted to start earning my own money and this was good for me. Most rewarding, however, was volunteering to help collect food for the Food Bank in Taunton. The idea came from my gran, who was already working there. I helped my gran to collect lots of food to go to the centre. It was amazing to be a part of such a good cause that has such a huge impact on people. I honestly found it a very humbling experience and it made me feel good to help people in need.”

Case study: Nadya Sadovina, year 12

“I went home to Russia for most of the holidays and earned money by working in a supermarket in Moscow. It was interesting to learn how to deliver customer service and I was pleased to earn my own money. I also did some volunteer work at Childhood in Moscow – it was good to learn how best to support the children there, who don’t really have the luckiest start in life. I’d be happy to do the same again this year.”

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