Residential trips on a budget

Subject: Outdoor Learning
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A residential trip doesn’t have to be high-cost to achieve maximum impact, suggests Kim Somerville

Learning Away began working with 60 primary, secondary and special schools in 2009, to demonstrate the benefits of high-quality residential learning. These schools developed and tested a range of residential programmes, for example working to boost GCSE attainment or supporting KS2-KS3 transition. The experiences ranged from camping in school grounds, to staying at Hampton Court Palace.

The Learning Away initiative, which was funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, was independently evaluated over a five-year period using over 12,500 pre- and post-residentials surveys completed by students, parents and staff, as well as over 100 focus groups. York Consulting’s final evaluation report, published in 2015, stated:

“Learning Away has shown that a residential learning experience provides opportunities and benefits/impacts that cannot be achieved in any other educational context or setting. The impact is greater when residentials are fully integrated with a school’s curriculum and ethos.”

Effects that last

As most teachers who have been on a residential know, they provide the unique opportunity and experience of living with others. This transforms relationships and develops a strong sense of community and belonging between the staff and students involved.

The evaluation found that this sense of community supports a wide range of positive social and learning outcomes, long after the return to school, including improved student resilience, confidence and wellbeing, whilst simultaneously widening and developing teachers’ pedagogical skills.

Learning Away also recognises that the impact is greater when schools follow a set of principles which can transform residentials into highly effective, ‘brilliant residentials’. These include residentials being: led by teachers; co-designed with learners; fully integrated into the curriculum; and perhaps the most crucial, inclusive and affordable for all students.

Making it affordable

In order to provide inclusive and affordable residentials, many of the Learning Away partnership schools developed lower-cost models. They tested a range of strategies that included using school grounds and local sites as alternative residential venues, delivering more activities themselves, and using student or adult volunteers to support residentials.

They discovered that these residentials were equally effective and did not limit the experiences or benefits. The evaluation of Learning Away found that as well as being less expensive and more inclusive, these lower-cost residentials led to lasting and positive cultural changes. Staff became more confident at planning and leading activities, active student participation increased and programmes were better integrated into the curriculum. The increased involvement of staff in planning and delivering activities also had a significant impact on staff-student relationships, which importantly evidence showed was maintained once everyone returned to school.

One school successfully developing a lower-cost, highly effective residential model is Canterbury Academy in Kent, which provides a multi curriculum residential at the start of Key Stage 4 to improve attainment in English, maths and other GCSE subjects. These residentials cost no more than £100 for a week and the school uses Pupil Premium to reduce this for the most disadvantaged students. Over a number of years, the school has worked with different venues and residential providers, negotiating a teacher-led programme of activities to achieve their low-cost model. Their attainment residentials have taken place at outdoor centres and heritage venues including Hampton Court Palace and the Chatham Historic Dockyard, creating a unique experience for Canterbury students and staff. Costs are kept low by camping in the grounds of the venues; supporting staff to deliver many of the activities (but buying in instructors for adventurous activities that they were not qualified to deliver); using their Sixth Form Chefs’ Academy students to provide the catering; and making use of the schools minibuses to reduce transport costs. The progress data from each subject collected after all of these residentials has shown overwhelming progress in maths, English, science, geography and design technology.

Measurable success

“For us, a big part of meeting the funding challenge has been to cut the cost of residentials,” reflects former vice principal of Canterbury Academy, Dominic Meehan. “We set about making them lower-cost by creating a hybrid model of part accommodation/part camping and then moved to a full camping model, where we also take care of all the catering. Whilst camping required some up-front investment in equipment, it started to pay for itself very quickly and has allowed us to develop a sustainable model.

The whole experience of the low-cost residentials at Canterbury Academy has been invaluable for staff and students, both academically and personally. The learners have made significant progress in their curriculum subjects, while also developing confidence, teamwork skills and resilience. They are much more engaged with their learning as a result. The staff have developed in their practice and formed positive relationships with students that will undoubtedly continue back in school.”

Top tips for keeping your residentials low-cost:

  • Work with partner schools – sharing the costs and tasks helps keep costs low and residentials more sustainable.
  • Residentials can take place in all seasons – many residentials providers give significant discounts from November to March.
  • Look for bursaries – many providers offer bursaries for students who receive Pupil Premium, or for schools in deprived areas.
  • Try glamping – if sleeping under canvas if too difficult to begin with, explore other low-cost accommodation options e.g. pods, yurts, tipis and wigwams
  • Fundraising – don’t forget traditional fundraising streams and methods, actively involve your students and make sure local press and other media know about your residentials and what they offer in terms of learning and wellbeing.
  • Appeal to the corporate sector, not only for funding but also for time and expertise. Corporate Social Responsibility is serious business and companies are keen to find ways to show their involvement in the community.
  • Travel light – minimise luggage and use public transport where possible. Can you use of another local school’s minibuses? This could be cheaper than commercial hire.
  • Lead more activities yourself and/or design activities with your students. There are many simple effective ideas available. See the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom, OEAP activity cards and Learning through Landscapes for support and guidance.

Evidence base

Learning Away has launched a #BrilliantResidentials campaign, which urges schools to make a cultural shift away from viewing high-quality residential learning as an enrichment activity, arguing that these experiences should be firmly embedded as part of every young person’s entitlement. The Learning Away website (learningaway.org.uk) provides all the evidence you need to make the case for residential experiences, as well as a series of practical free resources (including developing lower-cost models) and over 100 good practice case studies. The campaign is supported with further ‘legacy’ funding from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

About the author

Kim Somerville believes strongly in the power of a school trip with an overnight stay, and is the national campaign coordinator for Learning Away which is run by a consortium of organisations, led by the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom (CLOtC).