This case study was written by staff at Newall Green High School (part of the SMILE Trust) to describe their families residential programme and its impact on two of the young people involved in this highly successful programme. The programme involves families from all the Trust’s partner schools, using a family-based learning approach. Together, the schools hire a holiday cottage in the nearby Peak District during term times, year-round.
Rationale and approach
The rationale for these family-based learning residentials is to identify and support families in need and in crisis, providing the life skills required to become self-reliant, successful and ambitious, and to help them become inclusive members of society. For the young people the intention is to re-engage them with learning and school life, raising aspirations and attainment.
The children in the targeted families attend two three-day residentials at the cottage. They are supported to gradually take on responsibility for planning the catering, chores and activities.
Impact on individual students
The Learning Away programme has a big impact around family life for most of the young people who have taken part in the programme. It gives them a chance to get to know their siblings without the distractions of computer games, friends or other family issues. The young people are able to rebuild broken relationships with their parents and siblings in an environment that is safe, relaxed and positive.
The young people know that the cottage is a place where they will be heard and that their voice means something. Providing the young people with a space where they can express their thoughts and feelings knowing that their parents and siblings will listen to them, gives them the confidence to speak up, to ask questions and to tell their family about themselves.
Although they are away from home, the environment of the cottage is very much home-like and all the daily chores still have to be done. This gives the family a sense of belonging and although it seems very much like a holiday, the basis of the residential is that of home life, structure and routines.
Doing the activities and chores as a family gives them time to communicate with each other and enjoy each other’s company. Communication is the key component to making sure the family works in a positive way with each other. By making sure the language and vocabulary is positive and can be understood by all, encourages better communication between the young people, their siblings and their parents. This leads to more positive family cohesion. It also has an impact on the young person’s confidence, self-esteem and resilience, along with the knowledge that they can share their thoughts and feelings and will be listened to.
Individual case study – Sibling A
The family consists of five children and mum. The age range of the children is Year 1 – Year 10. The siblings left everything for mum to do and although they played together, it was always rough and tumble games. Bed time was very unstructured and they were often late for school.
As the family progressed through the families residential programme, there was a marked difference in their attitude to each other and how they played together. The bedtime routine implemented on the residential was taken (changed slightly) and used back home. This had a positive effect on punctuality at school and then also helped to improve attendance.
Sibling A was quite negative in her outlook; always seeing the negative things in life. She now accepts that sometimes bad things happen, but tries to see the positive. She encourages people when they have done things by saying “well done” and askes her mum if she can help.
Impact on young people amongst their peers as leaders, mentors and advocates
The impact on the young people who have gone on to become leaders, mentors or advocates has been exceptional. It has given them confidence, improved their communication skills, and enhanced their relationships with their peers and staff back at school.
The young people are able to offer support to other families and use their new skills to help plan and implement activities whilst on residential
They have also demonstrated that they now have the confidence to talk about their residential experiences and the learning that took place in front of professionals and other adults in an environment that is new to them.
Individual case study – Sibling B
Sibling B struggled with his relationships with peers, often getting into fights or arguments in school. This would then spill over into negative attitudes towards members of staff, dealt with either by confrontation or by simply ignoring and walking away.
Offering support through the residential programme and showing sibling B new skills and different ways of dealing with his anger and adversity through resilience, has helped him become someone who can now deal with these issues in a positive way.
Having learned how to engage positively with others, sibling B is now looking forward to becoming a mentor with a new family in order to support other young people through the families residential programme.
Sibling B has also developed the confidence and skills to assess a situation and if he feels unable to deal with it, now looks for a trusted member of staff for help and support.