3: Getting started

Starting from their own schools’ needs and assets, the Learning Away school partnerships explored different approaches to family residentials.

In County Durham, Extended Services Coordinator Kelly Youngs helps the Learning Away schools to engage families in residentials right on their doorstep; in south Manchester, Sue Fisher takes families to a cottage in the Peak District; both approaches – ‘near’ and ‘far’ – are successful in helping families communicate better and become more resilient.

In this ten-minute film, Kelly and Sue talk to Kate Breeze, PhD researcher, and Chris Loynes, Learning Away advisor, about the structure of residentials, creating a ‘home from home’ and modelling appropriate behaviour to encourage high quality communication within families.

A robust learning outside the classroom programme is embedded into the curriculum of each South Hetton partnership school, helping to develop resilient, self-confident and communicative children (download an example plan).  The schools decided to extend this to parents and carers, recognising that they were missing out on seeing their children in a new light, as well as seeing potential to develop develop their practical (camping) and parenting skills.

As Kelly points out in this four-minute film, many local families have a vision of the east of County Durham as ex-mining communities, barren and without interest.  In fact, the coastline is stunningly beautiful and not only do family residentials enable families to have a holiday together, perhaps for the first time, but they also introduce families to some of the fantastic features and attractions they may never otherwise experience.

Following successful supported family camping residentials, parents and carers are able to ‘rent-a-tent’ in order to take a break as a family.  All the equipment they need is provided, and it can even be transported to a campsite if necessary.

Families from the SMILE Trust Learning Away schools travel to the Derbyshire Peak District to a cottage the partnership rents during the week, for 32 weeks a year; family residentials play a crucial role in re-engaging young people with school, helping them manage their time and understand the importance of attending school.

Over the course of a year, Sue Fisher, Family Residential Coordinator, takes families away for three three-day residentials, six weeks apart.  She supports families to work together to carry out routine tasks such as cooking, eating and managing bedtimes and also ensures they learn to play together.  The first two residentials involve just the school-age children; the final one includes their parents and younger or older siblings, who are often amazed at their children’s self-confidence and the skills they have developed on previous residentials.

Sue believes that creating a home away from home, geographically and emotionally distant from families’ everyday lives in Manchester, helps them see one another with fresh eyes.  Modelling good parenting practice also provides parents with non-confrontational ways to improve their own confidence and skills.  Sue and Chris Loynes, Learning Away advisor, discuss this model in this five-minute film.

In this ten-minute film, Newall Green High School Deputy Headteacher Kevin Buchanan talks to Sue Fisher and Chris Loynes about the outcomes, costs and benefits of their family residential programme, and the ways in which it is integrated into the schools involved. They discuss its impact on individual students, as well as the impact of the programme on wider school policies concerning relationships with students, parents and carers, and families.