4: Getting started

Planning an alternative to a traditional residential experience for young people may seem daunting at first. However, the benefits make it worth the additional investment of time, with the extra effort upfront resulting in a clear strategy, smooth planning systems, confident staff and a raft of volunteers willing to help out at future lower-cost residentials.

Several of the Learning Away partnerships tested lower-cost models; Bulwell and Hanover collaborated to produce this suite of ‘Practicalities’ resources, based on their own experiences and those of other Learning Away schools.

High-quality input from staff is key to any successful residential. Higher than usual staff ratios will be required in order to assure safety, but will also enable staff to work effectively – never underestimate the energy required to staff a residential. Participating in a residential is an exciting and positive thing for a member of staff to do, but it is also serious commitment. In setting up a residential, schools have a responsibility to ensure that staff as well as young people are well cared for and adequately supported.

Teachers from the Bulwell and Hanover partnerships collaborated to produce detailed and thorough guidance on staffing and staff training. Download their guidance – it’s in MS Word format so that you can adapt it to suit your own situation.

Running a ‘back to basics’ camping residential is not a straightforward business.  There are many challenges to contend with: axes, fires, knives, insects, hygiene considerations and exhaustion – amongst young people AND staff!  The aim is to make low-cost residentials as safe as necessary – not as safe as possible; with careful pre-planning, appropriate levels of supervision, and the right combination of skills, this is a realistic goal.

Key to reducing risk on a residential is staff training.  When volunteering to attend a residential, staff agree to take on extra risk, but may not have the essential skills needed to cope with the unusual responsibilities.  A key part of pre-planning is establishing how to fill the gaps; in particular, deciding whether to involve specialist staff to undertake specific jobs such as axing or tree-climbing, or train your existing school staff.

The Hanover partnership chose a mixture of these two options.  Core to their philosophy was a desire to make residential trips sustainable in terms of both cost and skill sets. Combining school staff with specialist staff supports this aim.  Their key considerations when setting up a safe residential trip include:

  • Monitoring the energy levels of staff and young people. Accidents happen when people are tired and significant attention must be paid to this during planning as well as during the residential.  It’s important to ensure time is set aside to allow everyone to rest properly and to take time out if they need it.
  • Hygiene. Most illness on a camping trip is due to poor hygiene. Even with good cleaning systems in place, will young people (and adults) use them properly?  Having the right equipment and supplies, and teaching everyone how to maintain good hygiene practices, is essential.
  • Fit for purpose equipment. Blunt knives, axes and saws are more likely to cause injury as frustration will lead to poor technique and lack of attention to detail. Maintenance of equipment is an essential part of the planning and preparation cycle.
  • Safe use of equipment. Do not assume that a competent teacher can light a fire or climb a tree safely. Staff often feel uncomfortable admitting they don’t know how to do what appear to be basic tasks, and will take undue risks rather than admit their lack of skills.
  • Risk benefit assessments – enable young people and staff to do their own. Central to the philosophy at Hanover is the notion that young people become more responsible for their own actions. Young people can use axes, with supervision, but they are under no illusion that these are safe items. By forcing the young people to think carefully about the risks they take, they become more responsible and safer both when on a residential, and back at school.

Hanover’s model for recruiting, training and risk assessments is outlined below.

Before the residential

  • Ask school staff to volunteer – 6 months beforehand.
  • Staff and volunteers from organisations that take young people camping are asked to support the residential – 6 months beforehand, then constant badgering!
  • Risk assessments conducted – 2 months beforehand.
  • Detailed medical information sought from all young people and adults – 1 month beforehand.

On the residential

  • During the weekend before the camp, volunteers new to residential camping are asked to attend alongside the highly-skilled volunteers. The group learns practical skills and a detailed discussion around childcare and child protection takes place.
  • A high staff-ratio is maintained (1:3) at all times.
  • Staff are reminded not to supervise an activity if they feel uncomfortable leading it.
  • Camp starts with a discussion about risk and risk management and young people are reminded of key points before risky activities commence.

After the residential

  • Review of the success of risk assessments – within one week of return.
  • Review of how any emergencies were dealt with and first aid applied.
  • Reflect on the implications for future residentials based upon the evaluations.

Whilst lower-cost, high-value residentials may seem an obvious solution for a school, the concept can be difficult to ‘sell’ to young people and their parents. A school residential often presents the first occasion a young person has ever stayed away from parents or carers; to do this whilst staying in a tent or a hostel can seem an insurmountable obstacle for some families.

Communication is key: sharing the purpose and intended outcomes of the residential is essential to secure full support from young people, their families and, sometimes, school staff.

  • Keep all stakeholders informed. Consider adding a page to your school website, sending email updates and encouraging young people to report back to parents and carers. Regular, comprehensive and respectful communication can help assuage fears.
  • Involve young people in the development of the residential right from the start; co-construction is a planning and delivery technique used with great success by many of the Learning Away pilot partnerships. Young people’s involvement leads to rich and diverse residentials, in which they are able to test their potential and fulfil leadership roles. Read about the details of the approach.
  • Convene at least one pre-residential meeting for parents. Introduce the concept, explain how a low-cost, high quality residential will improve outcomes for young people and share your health, safety and safeguarding procedures. Invite questions from parents and carers and keep these communication channels open throughout the planning period.

Bulwell Academy created a range of documents for parents, ranging from parental consent forms through to sample menus, tent location plans and detailed kit lists. The Resources Library for Low-Cost Residentials includes examples of these and other key documents.

Affordability is undoubtedly a barrier to full participation in residentials. For residentials to be integrated into the curriculum and seen as entitlement rather than enrichment, they must be affordable.

  • Low-cost residentials offer one solution; other Learning Away schools made use of Pupil Premium funding to enable wide participation. They explained that for many disadvantaged young people, the opportunity to stay away from home and be part of a shared learning experience was one that helped build confidence and self-esteem; both crucial to improved academic and personal outcomes.
  • Involve families in planning, fundraising and delivering the residential. Where they see direct benefits to their children, their commitment to enabling a residential to take place will be sustained.
  • Negotiate with providers of venues and transport; consider locally based residentials, which reduce travel time and costs.
  • Make full use of school teaching and non-teaching staff; training your own team to deliver certain elements of residentials can pay dividends in the longer term. It also offers the added benefit of fostering a strong commitment to residentials and staff satisfaction in acquiring new knowledge and skills.

Curriculum crush, particularly in secondary schools, can mean that residentials appear to be a luxury that young people and teachers simply can’t afford.  High quality integrated curriculum residentials are the answer and most of the Learning Away partnership schools made full use of their time away from school to enrich and embed curriculum themes, projects and concepts.  All reported increased motivation in young people, long term recall of new and complex areas of learning and a wider and more diverse range of curriculum opportunities.  Some of the partnership schools use their residentials to focus on boosting attainment in core subjects and others use them as a tool for smoothing transition.

The Learning Away partnership schools designed a suite of resources to support others in integrating the curriculum into brilliant residentials.