Learning Away residential cost models: Low-cost off-site camping

Key features

  • Four examples of off-site camping residentials
  • Camping with both primary and secondary school students
  • Schools planning and delivering most 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.

Several of the Learning Away partnerships ran camping residentials based at different campsites, as opposed to using school sites. Using a venue other than a school made this option more expensive, at an average of £35.27 per pupil per night (pppn), which was £16.98 more pppn than camping on-site. The majority of the price increase was, however, related to transport costs, and the amount of additional activities that students took part in rather than the actual cost of camping itself – this part of the residential remained very low cost. The range of prices in our off-site camping examples – from £11 pspn to £51.43 pppn – demonstrates this range and the specific models are outlined below.

offsite camping table

Bulwell EAZ partnership in Nottingham ran two off-site camping residentials for its primary school pupils.

The first of these was for classes of Year 2 pupils and was a one-night, two-day residential at Wollaton Hall, a 20 minute coach drive away from the Bulwell area. The Bulwell partnership schools work closely with their local authority’s Adventure Team, who set up the Wollaton camp with tented accommodation, marquees, a fire pit and portable toilets. The site is owned by Nottingham City Council and is therefore free to use for schools. Food is brought in ready-made from a local large school kitchen. The vast majority of the activities are delivered by staff and student leaders from Bulwell Academy, which helps to keep costs down. On some of these residentials, schools bought in a storyteller, and all children visited Wollaton Hall itself as part of the residential. These, along with the coach, were the only additional costs for the residentials, which averaged £11 pppn.

Bulwell’s other off-site camping residential was to Newstead Abbey, another Nottingham City Council site (and therefore free from camping costs) about a 15 minute drive away from the Bulwell area. This residential was for Year 5 pupils, and two schools attended with one class of pupils each for two nights and three days, working again in conjunction with the local authority adventure team. Schools self-cater more for this residential, helping to keep costs lower. As with the Wollaton Camp, the majority of activities are delivered by staff and student leaders, with a visit to the Abbey itself being an additional cost. The cost for this residential was £19 pppn.

Hanover School in London took its Year 6 pupils on a ‘back to basics’ four-night, five-day residential to Debden House in Epping Forest. Debden has a dedicated campsite, which the school books for sole use – this is the most significant expense (about £7 pppn). Whilst staff take all the camping equipment to the site in minibuses, the Year 6 pupils travel with additional staff to Epping Forest by underground train and then walk to the site. Activities flow to some extent from the need to ‘survive’ for the week, for example collecting and chopping wood, building and maintaining the fire, preparing and cooking food (a menu is devised prior to the residential and food is bought from a supermarket). Other activities are delivered solely by staff so there are no additional costs associated with this part of the residential, and school staff are supplemented by adult volunteers to ensure the right ratio needed for such an intensive camping experience. The cost of the residential is £22.44 pppn.

Canterbury High School, part of the Canterbury Academy in Kent, run large-scale four-night, five-day camping residentials for between 80-100 Key Stage 4 students focusing on GCSE attainment. They have developed a flexible model that can be moved from site to site; this case study looks at using a commercial campsite as a base, but the school has also used two heritage sites (Hampton Court Palace and Chatham Historic Dockyard) very successfully. In 2014, the school took 80 students to Willow Tree Centre campsite on the edge of London, which they used as a base. The cost of this residential was £51.43 pppn. Camping itself cost £6 pppn, and the school self-catered, using NVQ catering students to prepare food throughout the week. This residential used a mix of curriculum activities delivered by teachers, off- and on-site adventure activities delivered by external specialist staff, and two curriculum-related trips off-site. The most significant costs for this residential were related to coach travel (to and from the site and then to different venues during the week), adventurous activities and curriculum-related trips.