At Canterbury High School we are committed to taking as many students as possible on our GCSE attainment residentials. Our long term aim is to take our entire year group, but constraints around staffing and availability of sites large enough to take all 180 students have meant that we currently aim to take between 80-100 of them away at any one time.
Our funding challenge
Even this number brings a considerable challenge to us in relation to funding. Our school serves a deprived catchment area and we have had to think long and hard, and experiment, so that we can give all students to have the choice to participate in our residential, whatever their financial circumstances.
The context in which we were starting our thinking was one where:
- The DfES stated that participation in extra activities would be on the basis of parental choice and a willingness to meet the cost (DfES: Charging for school activities, 2009)
- Ofsted claimed that schools were too reliant on parental contributions to fund residential experiences and had not investigated alternative methods of funding (Ofsted: Learning outside the classroom, 2008)
- O’Donnell, Morris, Marian M, Wilson R (Education outside the classroom: an assessment of activity and practice in schools and local authorities, 2006), through their research, found that one of the reasons outdoor education was in decline was due to increases in cost, especially transport.
This context posed us with two main challenges. Firstly, the very students that we most wanted to target were the ones who were harder to reach in terms of willingness both to participate and to meet the costs of residential learning. In addition, whilst we had sought alternative sources of funding in the past successfully from various organisations, the financial climate in which we were operating meant that it was increasingly hard to come by. We were not hopeful of being able to raise the substantial amount we would need to grow our residential programme either through external organisations or through fundraising in own school. Lastly, the financial climate also meant that the school’s budget was increasingly under pressure. Despite these challenges, we were determined to grow the size of our residentials.
Lowering the cost
For us, a big part of meeting the funding challenge has been to cut the cost of the residentials themselves. We set about making our residentials lower cost by shifting them from expensive residential centres, firstly to a hybrid model of part accommodation/part camping and then 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. Plus, to cut transport costs, our residentials are all now based in the south east of England; previously we had been travelling further afield on a regular basis.
Use of Pupil Premium
Whilst we were able to access some funding from the school budget for residentials, a crucial factor that has enabled us to offer equity in terms of participation in our residentials is the Pupil Premium – money specifically allocated to students eligible for free school meals to enable them to access the same experiences as their wealthier peers. Each residential place for all of our students eligible for free school meals is subsidised to make taking part accessible for everyone, but we do not turn anyone away. If a family is really struggling financially we draw further on Pupil Premium to make it possible for them to attend. The outcomes from residential experiences provide such benefits for students that we need to ensure that the cost is not a limiting factor.
Future funding plans
In the future we need to have a longer term plan for reducing the cost of the residential experience. We are investigating student fundraising by those participating in the residential, creating longer term payment plans for parents and by looking for activities and services that are lower cost. There will always be a basic running cost but we need to be proactive in reducing the cost and making residentials accessible to as many students as possible.