1: Overview – start here!

Residentials with families are a relatively new concept and one that Learning Away was keen to explore.

Two of the Learning Away school partnerships – the South Hetton and SMILE Trust partnerships – embraced the idea, carrying it out in diverse and challenging ways.

This suite of resources includes filmed interviews with staff, case studies (some written by the participating families themselves) and strategic planning tools to help you decide whether organising family residentials could address identified issues in your school.

Successful residentials rely on the support of families – whether that’s through fundraising, offering transport, providing equipment or simply giving permission for a child to participate.  Residentials can be instrumental in enabling schools to build connections with parents and carers but sometimes involving these key adults means much more than simply asking them to support their child’s activities.  Inviting parents and carers to participate in the residential itself can do so much more for the family as a whole.

Kelly Youngs, Extended Services Coordinator at the South Hetton partnership, points out that for agencies working within the school community, residentials offer the opportunity to engage with hard to reach families, bringing them closer to the other services and professionals.  These might include access to information about education and employment, support to build stronger relationships with their children or health advice.

“We have parents who are really struggling to connect with any profession in any way, shape or form,” says Kelly.   “Coming on a family residential might be their first step in terms of actually starting to trust somebody like the school and the family workers that we’ve got.  It’s a great way to pull those families that are really hard to reach and help them realise there’s a whole host of other things they can tap in to.”

Working with families has significant benefits for children too.  When they spend time together ‘out of context’, young people begin to communicate and interact with their parents or carers in new ways; removing some of the barriers to stronger relationships, even for a short time, can give children and their key adults time to listen and hear and act, in ways that might not be possible at home.

The term ‘family residentials’ refers to stays of one or more nights, away from home; they include not just children and school staff, but parents or carers and siblings too.  The Learning Away schools use a variety of residential settings, but most aim to run lower-cost residentials in order to ensure maximum participation from the families they believe will derive most benefit.  In most cases, families themselves are closely involved in collaborative pre-residential planning in order to maximise their value and ensure families feel comfortable and supported throughout.

Family residentials take place in holiday cottages, campsites, school grounds, youth hostels and activity centres; most are close to home or school and all are chosen to provide the right environment for the participating families, based on the knowledge the school and external agencies have of each family.  Sue Fisher, Family Residential Coordinator at Newall Green High School says, “Because the residential scenario is so informal, and they are so relaxed, parents forget that you’re a professional.”

Families identified as in need of external support to bolster their parenting skills, improve communication routes or work on behaviour management will benefit most from family residentials, although any family will enjoy ring-fenced, supported time with their children away from the pressures of everyday life.

Newall Green High School and its three partner primary schools form the South Manchester Inclusive Learning Enterprise (SMILE) Trust, a 3-19 federation.  Close to the airport, this is an area of long-term disadvantage with many indicators of poverty and the Trust’s Headteachers and leadership teams are committed to ‘breaking the cycle of poverty’ and ‘closing the gap’ between the highest and lowest achieving young people.  Participating in the Learning Away programme has demonstrated that family residentials have a key part to play in this shared ambition.

Newall Green High School uses family residentials to support its work with families in the greatest need.  A full-time Family Residentials Coordinator was appointed to organise the programme, collaborating with other local support workers.  Participating families generally have children who attend both the High School and one of its feeder primaries. The residentials are based at a self-catering cottage in the Peak District, which the partnership has secured for weekday use, throughout the year.

A typical programme begins with a three-day residential experience for the family’s school-age children, quickly followed by a second residential with these children, and then an experience that includes the whole family, including any pre-school children.  Children and their parents or carers are supported in school and at home during the residential cycle.   Once a family’s residential cycle is complete, work commences with a new family and the children of the previous family become mentors for the children in the next family.  This mentoring role continues for each new family introduced to Learning Away, with around ten families a year benefiting from the programme.

South Hetton partnership comprises three village primary schools in eastern County Durham.  These villages, close to the North Sea, were mining communities and were hit hard by the loss of their collieries in the 1980s.  The majority of children here come from disadvantaged backgrounds and lack many of the social skills, childhood experiences and everyday opportunities that other children take for granted.  The partnership recognises that involving parents and carers in developing, planning and implementing residentials is key to helping the community value itself and recognise the value of learning beyond the classroom.

The South Hetton partnership schools use residentials throughout the year as a key strategy to support transition as well as curriculum integration.  The partnership’s family residentials focus around camping as a low cost, simple way to engage families in additional services.   Many of the participating children have already experienced a camping residential in the grounds of a neighbouring school and enjoy the sensation of being ‘experts’ in front of their parents or carers!

The remainder of this suite of resources is presented as film interviews; key staff members from Newall Green High School and the South Hetton partnership discuss the feasibility, practicalities and benefits of taking families away on residentials.  If you are contemplating running family residentials at your school, explore the videos and resources in the next section.