Snap to the challenge

7th March 2008 at 00:00
You are deep in the Amazon jungle. You have to cross a crocodile-infested river using three swamp pads." That's the kind of problem I've been setting Year 10 pupils during our trials for the 2008 Fieldfare Kielder Challenge. By the way, the "swamp pads" are tyres and the "crocodile-infested river" is the floor of the gym.

The challenge is a national outdoor adventure competition for teams of eight 13 to 16-year-olds; four with a disability and four without.

The teenagers have to tackle increasingly difficult situations, such as transporting water at head height using a rope course. Heats are held at country parks around the UK with the top 12 teams competing in the final.

The Bishop of Hereford's Bluecoat School (BHBS), an 11-to-16 mainstream school in Hereford with a large special needs intake, has been involved for 15 years. Our teams have had considerable success, winning the final three times and the plate twice, so there is intense competition to get into one of the five teams regularly entered each year.

Our school has a strong sports reputation, especially in rugby, but most of the 250 pupils on the special needs register do not compete alongside their mainstream peers. When we originally heard of the competition, it seemed a way of getting those children with a physical disability involved in a competitive activity. However, it is just as valuable for those with learning or behavioural difficulties.

The Fieldfare ethos of inclusion, a key factor in solving challenges, is similar to our school's Christian ethos, so we named a new centre for special needs pupils after the event - The Kielder Centre.

At team trials, which start early in February, we select 20 mainstream pupils who have leadership qualities, empathy, listening skills, good communication and the ability to work alongside pupils who may find some of these skills difficult. Twenty pupils with special needs are selected by trials in the same way.

The teams meet at least twice a week until the heat in May. To be successful, they have to consider planning, performance, evaluation and, most importantly, teamwork.

The exercise should help team members improve their communication skills, become more co-operative, increase their self-confidence and achieve a sense of belonging.

Not all teams can reach the final, but team members can be awarded a Kielder flash for their commitment, which is now coveted as much as any other sports flash award in school.

It is recognised as part of the in-school Bishop's Award for exceptional effort. Successful teams are also awarded colours ties. These are awards some team members would never be able to achieve any other way. This may explain why this year we have 62 Year 10 pupils anxious to be picked.

Successful teams have a unique experience at the finals, which take place in September. Challenges in the final are much more complicated and last an hour. Teams might find themselves on Kielder Water in a canoe, suspended on a rope course in Kielder Forest, or working from a bridge over a stream.

Team members confirm that it is an experience they will never forget, as well as an opportunity to make new friends. Perhaps most significant of all was the comment last year from a pupil with cerebral palsy: "I learnt to trust my team-mates."

- Jan Preece is a special needs teacher at Bishop of Hereford's Bluecoat School in Hereford.

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