Once in a Lifetime

GQ: How has my time at XP shaped me as a learner and a person?

Expedition lead: P. Shakesby
Curriculum: STEAM, Humanities and Arts
Phase/Year group: Secondary, Year 11
Delivery date: Spring/Summer 2020

In the Spring and Summer of 2020, schools across the country were closed and Year 11 students faced the prospect of not sitting their GCSE examinations and their learning coming to an abrupt halt.

However, at XP we believe that learning is more than just passing examinations. We believe that creating beautiful and authentic work that makes our community and world a better place is a lifelong pursuit that gives our lives purpose and meaning. With this in mind, we engaged our Year 11’s in a final learning expedition that asked them to reflect on their time at XP and how this had shaped them as both learners and people.

‘The last few months have produced uncertainty, confusion and difficulty for all of us. This piece of work, I believe, acts as a beacon through that dark storm.’

Paul Shakesby, Expedition Lead

We asked students to reflect on their learning and character growth over the course of their GCSE studies. Students were given at least three areas to work on as well as reflecting on their time in crew and the advice that they would give to future GCSE students.

In our immersion we explored how school had impacted on people in the public eye such as Ian Wright, the footballer and students explored the idea of lifelong learning and why it is beneficial socially, culturally and in terms of maintaining a healthy mind and body.

In the first case study students reflected on the importance of crew, the journey from and how this had helped them support each other as learners but also how crew has helped them to be better people. Students reflected on their time in crew drawing on examples from their first experience of crew in Wales, the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme and the general support, care and academic guidance they enjoyed as part of crew. 

In the second case study students selected (or were allocated) an area from the book ‘How We XP’. They used a specific chapter or area to write a personal reflection based on their selection such as: their favourite expedition, the artwork they have produced, community meetings, Passage Presentations, fieldwork, experts and products.

In the final case study students wrote a personal and reflective piece of writing concerning the situation in lock down, their feelings about the situation with regard to GCSEs in 2020 and what advice they would give to future generations of XP learners in light of this. 

The final product for this expedition was a book entitled, ‘How We Did XP’ using highlights and examples from every student of their reflections about their learning and development at the school. This book was launched in July of 2020 to share with not only our own students but with the wider world.

Learning targets

  • I can reflect on what I have achieved and the challenges faced in my GCSE studies 
  • I can consider how the experiences in crew at XP have shaped me as a person
  • I can select appropriate information and evidence of my progress as a person and a learner
  • I can present this information and evidence in an appropriate form and for a specific audience and purpose


The last few months have produced uncertainty, confusion and difficulty for all of us. This piece of work, I believe, acts as a beacon through that dark storm. It shows exactly who our students are, how much they valued the time they had at XP School, and how these experiences have impacted upon, and shaped, their lives. 

As I write this, we have just reopened our school after the closures due to coronavirus. We are preparing once again to enrich the lives of all the students who come through our doors. This work captures what that looks like, and what XP means to our students, especially in the most trying of circumstances.  

Before lockdown, in the middle of March, we returned to school after our early spring break. The first week back was scheduled to be mock exams. By the end of that week, the summer GCSE exams had been cancelled, and the school was to be closed indefinitely.

The sudden realisation that this was our Year 11’s last days at XP only hit home later. We said goodbye to students all too quickly and abruptly. Students said their goodbyes to each other, not really knowing what was going to happen next. A hastily organised whole year photo 

happened on the stairs, missing many members of the year group already in isolation. 

Surely this wasn’t it? The end of five years at XP, ending so suddenly, in the blink of an eye, without any chance to prepare emotionally for such a momentous event. I cannot easily express the sadness I felt in this moment. 

So we went into lockdown and, as a crew leader, I kept in touch with my students. It wasn’t easy. 

As it became obvious that the year was over and students wouldn’t return, I worried. Had we lost them? Was that it? Everything we did at XP, all of it! All of that exceptional connection between crew leader and students ending, in T.S. Eliot’s words, ‘not with a bang but whimper’? 

We started planning expeditions for other year groups. Work that could be done ‘distantly’ was delivered using the technology we developed with students during their time here. This again was a challenge, which without our culture of staff crew we could never have achieved. 

Still, after all this, a question lingered; how could we motivate a year group who had already left? Why would they feel the enthusiasm and effort to still work, even when it was announced that the year was over. 

The simple answer is we could. But only because of the culture built into our school, which I have to say shines out in the written pieces of work that follow. The shared character traits of our students, and the need for them to fill in the ‘gaps’ left by that abrupt end to their time with us is clearly evident. Their work is such an example of what we 

continue to create here at XP. It is more than just outcomes and academic success. It is growing and enabling our young people to flourish into well rounded, beautiful people, who express themselves with incredible articulation.

Our school is about creating authentic work, which gives life purpose and meaning and brings about social change. This book is a statement of what that looks like, even through adversity and challenge. 

The reflections here are honest, moving and genuine. They show, through our students, the integrity, compassion and courage that our society craves right now.

I hope you enjoy reading these pieces as much as I did. 

Paul Shakesby – Expedition Lead – September 2020