Learning Away residential cost models: Low-cost camping on school sites

Key features

  • Low-cost camping using school sites
  • Short residentials - two and three days
  • Schools planning and delivering all activities

Cost is often identified as one of the main barriers preventing schools from offering residential experiences to all of their students as an integrated and progressive part of their curriculum. To help schools make decisions about how best to run their own residentials, this suite of case studies explores the costs involved in different models.

Two Learning Away partnerships – Bulwell and Walney – developed camping models on school sites, which, at an average cost of £18.30 per pupil per night (cppn), delivered some of the lowest cost residential experiences within the project. This cost represents a saving of £34 cppn compared with DIY residentials, and £48.42 cppn compared with centre-based residentials.

Both Bulwell and Walney used school grounds within their partnership for camping, which, as well as providing convenient catering and toilet facilities, easily satisfied the health and safety requirement for secure sites. In addition to using a low-cost (or no-cost) site, both of these partnerships kept expenditure down by planning and delivering their own activities.

Low-cost camping on-site

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this model are its outcomes, despite the residentials having what might be viewed as less of ‘wow factor’ than those further away from home and with more adventurous activities.

Outcomes from on-site camping were very similar to other Learning Away residentials; the evidence showed that children attending on-site camping residentials increased in confidence, resilience, independence, aspiration and the specific life skills the residentials were designed to improve. Staff were also more likely to incorporate learning outside the classroom into their practice following the residential. Lower cost does not need to mean lower impact.

Low-cost camping on-site

Bulwell partnership used their local secondary school, Bulwell Academy, as a camp site for Year 3/4 pupils; two schools at a time attended a one-night camp, bringing thirty students each, and the camp was repeated three times. When Learning Away started, the Academy had different holidays to the local primaries, which made access to the site easy. In the final two years of the project, the holidays were brought into line, but the secondary school remained committed to the primary camps on its site – the camp timings were simply adjusted to fit around the Academy day.

Existing Academy staff were employed to deliver catering and provide security. Student leaders from the Academy helped to set up and strike camps as well as deliver and support activities – thus giving the visiting children some variety from their usual teachers as well as enabling Academy students to build useful skills for the future. The whole Academy site was used to deliver activities, which included team activities, den building, orienteering and a night walk – things that the partnership knew would engage children, give them confidence and build skills, but were not expensive to deliver. As the Bulwell Learning Away coordinator put it:

It’s not always the big ‘wow factor’ things that children see as really important … it’s about finding activities that are low cost and that everybody can do.”

The Bulwell partnership have achieved this, delivering the Academy Camp at the cost of £9.45 cppn.

Walney partnership developed a series of Year 6 transition camps using the extensive grounds of one the primary schools in the cluster. The camp is set up over a two-week period and a camp coordinator, assisted by students from the nearby university, organises the programme and staffing for the full two weeks (read more about this model here). Two schools come together for each two-night camp, bringing their own staff. In order to pace the staff, it has become the practice to have an overnight team that’s different from the day team. As well as running a range of activities on-site with the help of the university student and students from Year 8 in the secondary school, a number of off-site visits are organised. These are intended to introduce the children to opportunities such as the sports centre or the beach in or near their own town.

The partnership initially invested in shared camping equipment and then a container to keep this in on-site. Later, a water supply was added. Toilets and cooking tents are hired each year. The two-night residential costs £27.15 cppn including the maintenance and renewal cost of the camping equipment, coach hire and off-site visit costs. This is funded in various ways and differently by each school using PTA fundraising, parental contributions, school funds and Pupil Premium. The partnership is growing as fast as camp coordinators can be trained and it won’t be long before all the primary schools in the town are involved.