The Christ Church partnership of three Merseyside primary schools has developed an integrated and progressive model of residential experiences for every year group in all three schools from Years 1 to 6. Their Learning Away programme starts with extended days in Year 1 and 2, and then progresses to a series of overnight residentials at a range of local facilities, an exchange to Spain and, in particular, a close relationship with a local outdoor centre. It is this latter partnership that is the focus of this case study. However, the extremely flexible relationship that has emerged between the centre and the schools makes the programme impossible to cost in a meaningful way.
The centre, one stop along the Metro, is nevertheless set in a rural setting with woodland, farmland and lakes; a marked contrast to the urban setting of the schools. The schools have negotiated access to the grounds and facilities at the centre (often for free), then buy in to catering, dormitory accommodation and specialist staffing and activities when appropriate. Year 1 might spend a school day in the woods, whilst Year 2 stay on into the evening for orienteering and a campfire, and Year 3 camp overnight. On another occasion one school may stay overnight on a fully catered basis in the dormitories, while a class from another school joins them for the activities for the day bringing a packed lunch. These low-cost (or in some cases no-cost) and integrated projects make it difficult to calculate a meaningful cost.
Calculating the cost is further complicated by the integrated relationship between these off-site day or overnight visits and the three schools’ thematic approach to classroom studies. The pupils and staff choose the topics together, with the possibility of teaching at the nearby centre very much in mind. Decisions can be taken at short notice; leading to a visit taking place, changing or being cancelled. These may not simply be decisions driven by the best way to teach a topic. For example, sometimes, younger children planning to get picked up after a campfire by their parents may decide to sleep over with the older ones, once their parents see how happy and safe they are. This means that it is often difficult for a pupil, teacher or school to be sure how many times they have been away and whether it was school time, an extended day or overnight!
The schools’ budgets and/or Pupil Premium often completely covers the small costs involved, with contributions from parents when the residential is slightly more expensive (e.g. when sleeping in centre bedrooms or when specialist staff input is involved). To manage this, the schools have set up a weekly savings scheme to help families to save for these (as well as the more costly trips to other venues), so no pupil is excluded from any of these activities due to their cost.