Developing a Learning Away community

Residentials provide the opportunity and experience of living with others. They also provide opportunities for group reinforcement and support, as well as the chance for participants to learn more about themselves and others in ways that create a ‘virtuous circle’ of behaviour.


In focus groups, both staff and students spoke of the strong sense of community developed on the residential and the sense of belonging that this engendered. Everyone was working towards a common purpose/goal and there was a strong sense of mutual support within the residential context. The contrasts provided by a new place, new activities, different approaches to teaching and learning, informal social time and even different clothes and food all contributed to a relaxation of the social norms established at school and the emergence of more inclusive and constructive ones that were appreciated by staff and students alike.

“It empowers us [staff] but it takes away our power as well in that we can actually be on a level with the kids and we can sit down on the grass with them. Whereas in a classroom situation it is ‘I am teacher, you are student’. You’re actually physically levelled, and I think that has a massive impact on relationships with students.” 

The sense of community was reinforced by participants facing common challenges and overcoming adversity together. They were learning how to work together as a team to solve problems and achieve the outcomes central to the residential experience. The residential context was seen as an environment where success could be celebrated and where students were less judgemental and more collaborative. It was felt that the sense of community developed on the residential and engagement in teamwork activities and challenges facilitated the development of these more positive attitudes.

You do everything together: you wash together, you eat together, you wash up together, you sit by the fire together… that’s quite a big thing. 

The memorability of the residential experience and the shared memories of participants helped to maintain the sense of community developed on the residential back in school and also helped to sustain the positive impacts seen on the residential, including:

  • improved staff-student relationships
  • improved peer relationships
  • learner engagement in and out of the classroom
  • a growth in student leadership
  • an overall shift in the mood of the school
  • an enhanced and shared sense of purpose.

In addition, schools noticed that, after implementing their Learning Away programmes progressively over a number of years, the sense of community in the school changed. Incidents of poor behaviour declined, the atmosphere between students and with staff was more friendly in and out of the classroom, learner engagement improved, play grounds became more inclusive and fun, student leadership became pro-active and staff engagement with extra-curricula provision increased. The mood had become more collaborative and participative, more equitable and with a stronger sense of a common purpose, transforming the school.

In this short film, a secondary Maths teacher from Canterbury Academy shares his experience of how and why this sense of community developed on the Learning Away residentials he was involved in.


Be inspired by our case studies from Learning Away schools.

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

Have a look at our theory about how change happens on brilliant residentials.

Read our recommendations for schools, providers, policy makers and researchers. 

Read our independent evaluation report.