2: An introduction to the toolkit

We know that schools often struggle to evaluate their programmes effectively. This toolkit has been designed help you, as a headteacher, teacher or other member of staff responsible for planning or leading residentials in your school, to evaluate the residential experiences you offer. It can be used to evaluate a single residential or programme of residentials.

There are many different approaches to evaluation, and there is no one ‘right’ way that will work for all residentials. This resource is a toolkit or toolbox, containing a number of different tools. It aims to help you design a simple evaluation plan and to show how you could use a range of very practical tools or skills to carry out your evaluation and collect your data. Finally, the toolkit suggests ways you can make best use of the evaluation evidence you have collected.

This toolkit gives you plenty of resources that will enable you to put together an evaluation process that really works for your school, without reinventing the wheel.

During its first action research phase, which took place between 2009 and 2015, Learning Away worked closely with over 60 primary, secondary and special schools in 13 partnerships across the UK, funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. The aim of Learning Away throughout this phase was to enhance young people’s learning, achievement and wellbeing by developing, piloting and evaluating the impact of residential experiences as an integral part of the curriculum.

The programme was independently evaluated using a mixture of quantitative and qualitative data collected from Learning Away schools via surveys, existing school data, focus groups and case studies. You can read more about we found out here.

Towards the end of the first phase, a consortium of organisations was set up to lead Learning Away into the future. Learning Away is now in its second, campaigning phase.  Its vision is for more children and young people to enjoy Brilliant Residentials and the life-changing experiences they offer.  You can discover more about this campaign here.

Whilst all well-run residentials are valuable, the evidence from Learning Away shows that high-quality residentials, or what Learning Away has called Brilliant Residentials, are even more valuable. Learning Away has suggested that there are 11 core principles that, together, lead to Brilliant Residentials. You can find out more about what we mean by Brilliant Residentials here.

One of the guiding principles of a Brilliant Residential is that residentials are evaluated rigorously. However we also know that many schools can struggle with this because of time constraints, or are unsure how to evaluate residential programmes. Learning Away worked with its school partners to make evaluation an inherent part of their residential practice, and the learning from this process is shared in this toolkit.

In 2017 Learning Away commissioned a survey of a number of teachers in England to find out more about the residentials they were providing for their students.  The findings, published in the State of School Residentials in England report, (available here) showed that many teachers highlighted evaluating residentials as an issue, and one of the barriers to them providing high quality, or ‘brilliant’ residentials.  Teachers who were keen to use structured approaches to evaluation felt that they lacked the necessary tools or skills.

There are many different definitions of evaluation in education. Here is one hybrid definition that seems to fit the bill:

Evaluation is the process that critically examines a [residential] programme. 

It involves the collection, analysis and interpretation of information about the programme’s activities, characteristics and outcomes. Its purpose is to make judgments about the programme’s effectiveness, impact and efficiency, and to inform programming decisions. 

Evaluation can be carried out during and/or after the residential, but must be planned beforehand.

If you have previously used a specialist provider organisation for a residential, you may have been asked to complete a feedback survey at the end of the residential. What do you think is the difference between evaluation and feedback?

This type of feedback survey usually asks you to comment and/or rate the experience you had and asks questions about what you thought of the venue, accommodation, food, teaching, activities, etc. Sometimes it might ask you if you feel your learning objectives have been met. Its purpose is mainly to tell the organisation about the quality of the experience they are offering to visiting schools. It does not tell the organisation (or you) much about the educational impact of their offer, programme or activities. It rarely asks the students for their perspective.

Most importantly, end of residential feedback will do little to enable you to really evaluate the impact of the experience on your students; in other words to tell you whether the residential has been effective and has achieved its purpose. Evaluation, as opposed to feedback, should enable you to find out if the residential has had a positive impact on learning.

We know from Learning Away schools that planning plays a crucial part in the success of a brilliant residential, and that evaluation must be an integral and essential part of the planning of your residential from the start.

The Learning Away schools found that to make the most of their potential, residentials needed to be thoroughly planned as learning experiences and, as a result, they used a specific planning method, essentially a logic model or theory of change approach. This logic model enables staff to plan with student learning outcomes as the core piece of thinking; everything follows from these learning outcomes. It is potentially a tool that enables schools to move on from a ‘We’ll do this because we did it last year’ approach to planning, to one that is purposeful, meets students’ identified needs, and takes into account longer-term aims and related outcomes – not only of the residential programme but of the school as a whole. 

This planning approach supports robust evaluation. It requires – at the planning stage – in-built evaluation methods that measure the more quantifiable changes (through the completion of outputs) as well as the more qualitative, medium-term changes (the outcomes). In addition, users are asked to test their assumptions about why change happens as part of the evaluation. Testing these assumptions as part of the programme’s evaluation means that lessons are learned and future planning is informed quickly.

To help schools adopt this approach to planning, Learning Away has developed two planning tools (with examples) to map aims, outcomes, outputs, inputs and assumptions. The two tools are designed to be used together, and can be found in the free downloadable Planning Tools resource, also on the Learning Away website.

This toolkit is designed for schools planning and delivering their own residentials using a DIY approach, as well as for schools working with a range of residential provider organisations, where the provider plans the residential with you and delivers most of the activities.

If you are using a provider, it makes sense either to share your evaluation plans with them as you plan the residential together or to devise a shared evaluation plan, which they then help you to deliver. You may also find that your evaluation needs dovetail neatly with those of the provider organisation.