Innovative Practice - Towering inferno
The Tower of London (below) already attracts school visits by the coachload, not just groups from within Britain but pupils and teachers from around the world. However, Historic Royal Palaces, the charity that oversees the Tower - and other palaces including those at Kensington and Hampton Court - was still keen to find ways to create more engaging educational projects for schools. Its access and learning team particularly wanted to establish closer, longer-term links with local primary schools and their communities, and to help improve children's literacy.
The Palace Explorers scheme sends primary pupils on an interactive quest to release the Bookkeeper, a fictional character imprisoned in the Tower for losing all the tales from a storybook. Only once the pupils have become knowledgeable about the Tower's stories, and written their own creative tales, is the Bookkeeper set free.
The quest takes place over seven weeks, with the pupils receiving instructions and urgent video messages from the Bookkeeper via his blog. His librarian "assistant" Michelle, a learning facilitator from Historic Royal Palaces, also visits their school to train them up as Palace Explorers.
On their first two visits to the Tower, the pupils - who are usually in Years 3 and 4 - are equipped with iPads to help them uncover clues including QR code links to websites. Back at school, the children write stories and work on craft projects, which have ranged from designing coins to constructing sceptres and crowns.
The project reaches its conclusion with a celebratory event at the Tower on a Saturday for the pupils and their families, where the children read their stories to the Bookkeeper and see him released.
So far six schools have taken part in the project at the Tower of London, and another version has started at Kensington Palace, which will be offered to local schools throughout 2012. All students receive a Palace Explorer badge and certificate for completing their training.
Tips from the scheme
Constructing a "quest" is a handy way of inspiring writing and craft projects.
Weekend events provide a chance to involve parents and get them to appreciate their children's work.
If you are concerned that a day out, or long-term project, might be too costly for your school, talk to the charity associated with it and see what you can negotiate.
Evidence that it works?
The last school to take part, Pakeman Primary in Islington, is so enthusiastic that it is hoping to repeat the project next year. Helen Dale, a Year 3 and 4 teacher, says that the Palace Explorers project has made a noticeable improvement to her pupils' writing as it has given them a dramatic stimulus for their stories and helped them to become more confident and imaginative.
"They have absolutely sunk their teeth into it and been immersed in it," she says. "Using the iPads to record each other also helped their speaking and listening skills."
The Tower's grisly history as a site of beheadings only made the project more fascinating, she adds. Ms Dale says that many of her pupils' families are from overseas and never usually have an opportunity to visit London landmarks, so seeing their children reading their stories out at the Tower was a moment of pride.
Approach - Turning children into "Palace Explorers"
Launched by - Historic Royal Palaces
Location - The Tower of London and Kensington Palace, London
Started - 2011
Website - www.palace-explorers.co.uk
Schools that have taken part in Palace Explorers at the Tower of London since September 2011 include:
Manorfield Primary, Tower Hamlets
Our Lady Roman Catholic Primary, Tower Hamlets
Chisenhale Primary, Tower Hamlets
St Elizabeth Catholic Primary, Tower Hamlets
Hermitage Primary, Tower Hamlets
Pakeman Primary, Islington.