Evaluating Learning Away

In June 2015 York Consulting published its final independent evaluation of the initial phase of Learning Away residentials, following three years of action research.  The report identifies the impacts of Learning Away residentials as well as what it is about the overnight stay that brings about such positive powerful outcomes for young people, long after their return to school.

On this page we provide a short summary of this independent evaluation, including: the evaluation aims; the methods used; and the impact findings.  We also highlight some of the survey statistics as well as quotes from the focus groups.

For more in-depth versions of evaluation findings, you can download Learning Away’s published summary, and York Consulting’s executive summary and full report. You can also explore our theory about how change happens on brilliant residentials and read our recommendations for schools, providers, policy makers and researchers, as well as find out more about our partners schools’ residentials through our case studies.

The evaluation aims

During the first two years of Learning Away we developed, using early findings from the schools involved, several hypotheses about the impacts we thought Learning Away might have on those involved.  In 2012, Paul Hamlyn Foundation commissioned York Consulting to evaluate the effectiveness of Learning Away. The evaluation had two overarching aims:

  • to test and evidence four key Learning Away propositions focused on the belief that high-quality residential learning: has a strong, positive impact on academic achievement and provides a wide range of other student-level outcomes; can transform the learning experience of students; can help to transform schools; and does not need to be expensive;
  •  to generate new insights and understanding about how and why residential learning can and does achieve these outcomes.

Evaluation methods

The evaluation carried out by York Consulting took a mixed methods approach, which included:

1. Student, staff and parent surveys:

·       Students completed pre- and post-residential surveys, along with long-term follow-up surveys to capture their views on the impact of Learning Away.

·       Staff involved in delivering Learning Away completed pre- and post-residential surveys along with a final staff survey to capture their views on the impact of the programme. Other staff were also asked to complete surveys for individual students on whom they felt Learning Away had a significant impact.

·       Parents were asked to complete a survey after their child attended a Learning Away residential.

2. Focus groups: undertaken with students and staff after the residential by PHF Learning Away advisors.

3. Quantitative data collection: attainment, behaviour and attendance data was collected in partnerships where delivery of the programme was focused on improving outcomes in these areas.

4. Case studies: in-depth case studies were undertaken to evidence the impact of the programme on individual students, staff, families and schools.

The evidence collected throughout the initiative shows that Learning Away residentials:

Students developed social skills and skills to form new relationships on residentials; these skills and the relationships they supported were sustained back in school.

In long-term follow-up surveys, 84% of secondary students and 71% of KS2 pupils said that because of the residential, they got on better with the other pupils in the class.

“I think it probably helped the quiet ones. You can see them building relationships with other students and feeling more comfortable with them. They wouldn’t have done this in school.” (Staff Focus Group)

Relationships between staff and students became more trusting and respectful. Students got to know teachers as individuals; staff gained a better understanding of their students and how best to respond to them.

In long-term follow-up surveys, 79% of KS2 pupils said, because of the residential, they knew their teachers better; 65% of secondary students said their teachers had a better understanding of how they liked to learn.

“The student-teacher relationship built in a week on residential is similar to that of a relationship built over an entire year in a normal class situation.” (Staff Survey)

In school you see teachers as scary and strict but on the residential trip they’re so much nicer. You see them as normal human beings.” (Secondary Student Focus Group)

Increased confidence was the most common outcome of residentials identified by students and staff. Students were more willing to ask for help, try something new including ‘scary things’, push themselves and participate in class; they also had more self-belief.

78% of KS2 pupils and 87% of secondary students had felt more confident to try new things they would not have done before the residential.

“Their confidence has increased. They hold themselves in higher esteem. We’re very good in schools at judging on levels and recording achievement based on targets. Camp showed them that we’re able to value them in different ways.” (Primary Staff Focus Group)

The sense of community and the memorability of experiences helped boost cohesion and a sense of belonging amongst participants both during and after the residential.  Staff and students put this down to teamwork, stronger relationships and getting to know people with whom they did not normally work.

You feel more part of the school now you know more people.” (Secondary Student Focus Group)

82% of secondary and 75% of KS2 students said that their residential experience helped them realise they could get on with people from other classes or schools. 

The different learning environment and deeper relationships developed on residentials contributed to improved engagement with learning, including positive changes in behaviour and attendance.

“Before going on the trip I hated school, but now I just love it. I love to learn about maths, literacy and science.” (Primary Student Focus Group)

They’re not only engaging in the actual learning, but they’re engaging in assessing themselves, working out their weaknesses and then progressing. They’re taking ownership of their own learning.” (Secondary Staff Focus Group)

79% of secondary students indicated that the residential had made them realise that what they learn at school is important to them.

Staff and students felt that residentials supported their knowledge, skills and understanding in a variety of ways.

“It showed me how to study, what’s effective. Now I know what’s best for me.” (Secondary Student Focus Group)

“It was a lot easier to understand stuff there, so I think my understanding back in school is going to be better. You can reflect back to stuff you’ve seen, so I think I can use it again and again.” (Secondary Student Focus Group)

In long-term follow-up surveys, 82% of KS2 pupils said their teachers and lessons on the residential helped them learn; 60% of secondary students felt they had a better understanding of what they were trying to learn.

Teachers saw the impact of residentials on achievement in school through:

  • increased progress in learning
  • improved confidence and motivation
  • students having a better awareness of their strengths and weaknesses and knowing what to do to improve
  • a more collaborative approach to learning.

For example, 61% of students who attended Calderglen’s drama residential achieved higher than their predicted grade, compared to 21% who did not attend.

“The sense of being ‘in it together’ and mutual encouragement went a long way towards supporting weaker performances and producing a higher attainment for some of the less confident or able candidates. This was something which could almost certainly not have been generated in a school setting.” (Secondary Staff Focus Group)

In partnerships focussing on primary-secondary transition, staff from both phases stated that a residential was “worth half a term” in terms of gains students made in acquiring skills and relationships helpful for the secondary school environment. Secondary teachers benefited from getting to know new students in a relaxed environment and developed a better understanding of their needs prior to transition.

“The fact he’s come to high school knowing staff he can really trust has had a big effect on him.” (Secondary Staff Focus Group)

Post residential, 67% of KS2 pupils said they found it easier to make new friends because of the residential.

Residential experiences were enhanced through student involvement in their design, planning and delivery. Impacts were particularly notable for student leaders, who said leadership experiences improved their organisational, presentation, communication and listening skills, and their independence and maturity.

“I think it’s made me more organised. When I’m doing a session now I know what I need to do, how I need to do it, how long I’ve got. Whereas, when I started I just did it until I was told to stop. I think I’ve become my own type of boss. I work independently without any advice.” (Student Leader Focus Group)

Their peers also valued student-led aspects of residentials in terms of developing their understanding, confidence to ask questions and clarify understanding, as well as their levels of enjoyment.

“We were getting taught by students so it was kind of fun. It was better because you didn’t have as much pressure as you would with the teacher. You understand each other.” (Secondary Student Focus Group)

Prior to the residential only 40% of secondary students felt that they could be role models to others; after the residential this figure rose to 67%.

Teachers said residentials gave them time to reflect on their practice and their teaching became more experimental and flexible; they were more willing and confident to take risks and try new methods. They were also more trusting of their students and linked this to the improved relationships developed on residentials.

“My teaching is much more kinaesthetic, more practical, more moving around, it’s trusting the kids a little bit more. Before the residential, I was probably a little bit afraid about doing that sort of thing, whereas now I know I can handle it, it’s fine and I’m getting much more positive results from it.” (Secondary Staff Focus Group)

Residentials impacted on curriculum delivery, particularly the development of integrated and thematic approaches, and provided opportunities for staff to share practice and increase their awareness of cross-curricular learning opportunities.

They also offered important professional development opportunities, and supported staff to gain a better understanding of their students’ skills and needs.

78% of staff involved felt that Learning Away had a ‘significant’ or ‘transformative’ impact on their understanding of their students’ strengths and limitations.

Download Learning Away’s summary report and recommendations



Explore Getting Started and access free resources to help you plan your own brilliant residentials.