Residential school trips can promote improved outcomes for all learners, says Peter Carne – but, as for most things educational, detailed planning is crucial…
What if you could achieve breakthroughs in learner engagement, progress and attainment, and teacher-student relationships, while also developing vital life skills and promoting the ‘other’ three Rs of risk, resilience and responsibility … and all in just one week? The Learning Away programme, a Paul Hamlyn Foundation special initiative, is discovering that high-quality residential experiences provide powerful learning opportunities for young people and is gathering increasingly compelling evidence of their impact.
What’s the impact?
Learning Away’s evaluators will publish a final report in June, but interim reports (using information from surveys and focus groups with secondary school students and teachers) have discovered that the residential context is seen as an environment where success can be celebrated and where students are less judgemental and more collaborative. Significantly this sense of community continues long after their return to school. Key findings include:
- More than 80% of students felt that the residential had improved their relationships with peers and teachers. 72% felt that as a result of the residential their teachers had a better understanding of how they liked to learn.
- Post residential, 91% of students were proud of what they achieved. While 88% said that they felt more confident to try new things.
- Their views continued to be positive on their return to school, with most believing that as a result of the residential they would make greater progress (71%), had a better understanding of their subjects (70%), were better at problem solving (67%) and would do better in their exams (66%).
- Students were also positive about how they were taught on the residential; with 77% saying that it would help them do better in the subject taught.
- Prior to the residential, only 40% of students felt they could be role models to others. Post-residential, 64% felt that the experience had made them realise they could be a role model and this view was maintained in their response to long-term follow-up surveys.
Why do residentials have this impact?
Learning Away is also identifying what it is about the residential experience that facilitates achievement of these positive outcomes: residentials are a leveller, they provide the necessary time, space and intensity to foster new relationships and a new community (away from normal distractions). Residentials provide memorable experiences, different opportunities for young people to experience success, and a context where staff and students have the confidence to explore new ways of teaching and learning.
Can certain types of residential be more successful than others?
The Foundation’s work with secondary and primary schools and the initial evaluation findings suggest that if the following are in place, residentials are more likely to have a positive impact on the students and teachers involved and therefore be of greater value:
- When residentials are fully integrated with the curriculum, and are made a part of wider school life for all students, they have the potential to provide rich learning opportunities and can impact on a wide range of student outcomes. They are not seen as ‘one-off’ special events, but are always closely linked to the learning that takes place in the classroom.
- Residentials are most powerful when they are carefully planned to provide bespoke experiences, designed to meet specific learning objectives.
- Residentials shouldn’t be seen as an added extra that only some young people benefit from. Moving residentials from an enrichment programme to an entitlement for all as an integral part of school life shows a commitment to this approach to learning. If residentials are an entitlement, they become inclusive and solutions must be found to overcome participation barriers.
- Staff involvement in the design and delivery of residentials means that activities can be specifically developed to meet the needs and learning objectives of your students.
- Involving students in designing, planning and leading residential experiences has a positive impact both on student leaders and the young people they are supporting, and results in engaged, independent and collaborative learners.
- Providing new and memorable experiences - Learning Away residentials have shown that new does not need to be exotic and that memorable experiences are not always planned and are often linked to overcoming adversity.
- Although residentials can have an immediate impact on attainment and attitudes to learning, they are more likely to have a long-term impact, if the learning on the residential is followed up and reinforced back in school.
Learning Away schools have also demonstrated that residentials do not need to be expensive. Many have developed lower-cost models to ensure their residentials are affordable and can be sustained long-term. This approach has created additional benefits:
- Making greater use of school staff has led to greater curriculum integration and enhanced relationships;
- Staying local to reduce transport costs has led to increased participation (by students and staff);
- Camping or finding cheaper places to stay has enhanced the experience, supported co-construction approaches and led to improved collaboration with other schools and providers.
About the author
Peter Carne OBE, a former secondary teacher, was seconded to the DCSF as Learning Outside the Classroom Manifesto Champion in 2006. He is currently the project leader for the Paul Hamlyn Foundation’s special initiative, Learning Away. For more information on Learning Away, inspirational case studies and practical ideas for planning residentials with real impact visit learningaway.org.uk