3: Getting started

Excellent communication is one of the key success factors in any brilliant residential; when planning learning away for young people with special needs, good communication is absolutely critical.

Schools across all of the Learning Away partnerships collaborated to create targeted and practical resources to aid communication, planning and feedback; many of these can be found in the Resource Library sections of the other themed resources: the Lower-cost models and Planning tools resource libraries in particular contain many newsletter and parent information templates, kit lists and other generic documents that will support a high-quality residential experience.

The three Learning Away special schools were part of this sharing community, and created specialist tools to enable young people with special needs and their teachers to participate in the planning, delivery and evaluation of residentials.

Helping young people understand and be ready for what might happen on a residential is crucial, since the residential can provide them with a context to make the most of the ‘real life’ skills they learn at school.  Helping parents understand and value these elements of residentials is equally essential.

The resources below enabled the Learning Away special schools to offer inclusive, integrated and progressive residentials for young people with special needs.

APPROPRIATE AND TIMELY PREPARATION FOR STUDENTS AND PARENTS

Understandably, students and parents alike are anxious about going away for one or more nights.  Sometimes this will be the first time the young person has been away from the home and away from parents or carers and this is especially true where the young person has physical or learning difficulties.  Involving both students and parents in planning the residential plays an important role in reassuring everyone concerned.

A LONGER-TERM PROGRESSIVE PLAN FOR RESIDENTIAL EXPERIENCES

Providing a (for example) three-year progressive plan for residentials across all year groups raises expectations, increases levels of participation year on year, and encourages a progression of skills over the time period.

Parents can see and appreciate the long-term benefits for their child in both academic progress and life skills as they build on the confidence and experience gained in previous residentials.  This newsletter is an example of how the longer-term progressive plan is communicated to parents at Sanderson High School.

INTEGRATE WITH THE BROADER CURRICULUM

The Learning Away Curriculum Integration resources explore how to make the most of residential experiences by linking them to the curriculum before, during and after the trip.

  • Brilliant residentials often aspire to combine life skills with curriculum priorities. Developing young people’s social and communication skills is also key to many successful residentials; bringing all these threads together can be complex.  This template (which includes a completed example) will help provide a bigger picture of the intended outcomes and practicalities of a residential and the information collated can then be used as a springboard to more detailed planning.
  • Sanderson High School integrates its school-based life skills classes with use of a specialist self-catering residential centre in Edinburgh, allowing students to apply their skills ‘for real’ whilst making educational visits to the city.

VISUAL TIMETABLES AND PLANNING TOOLS FOR STUDENTS

Practical and accessible tools for engaging young people in the decision-making processes are of great value.  They boost confidence, foster independence, ensure an attractive and inclusive programme and assist with self-assessment and teacher-led evaluation after the residential.

  • This visual timetable, developed by Sanderson High School, enabled students to express their preferences for activities, meals and friendship groups and proved to be a great success. Students cut out pictures of the activities in which they planned to participate, sticking them onto the timetable and providing staff with simple and clear programme planning guidance.  View this example, by Anthony, who used his emerging IT skills to create a personalised timetable.
  • Packing a suitcase may well be a new activity for some young people with special needs. This ‘combined’ kit list has a page of Top Tips for school staff, a suggested kit list for parents and a cut out / tick sheet for students.
  • This packing activity template encourages young people to think about what they’ll need for each part of their residential. At Sanderson High School, young people had a ‘practice run’ at packing a suitcase, using items brought in from home or found around school.  They compared their lists with what would fit in a suitcase – some of their examples are on the template – and made amendments as necessary!  You can remove their text to use the template with your students.

PARTNERSHIPS TO MANAGE COMPLEX NEEDS

Brilliant residentials for young people with special needs require brilliant residential venues and specialist staff.  The importance and value of including students with complex physical and learning needs is becoming more apparent and two residential centres in particular worked alongside the Learning Away special schools, leading the way in developing facilities, activities and staff to enable the widest possible participation: The Bendrigg Trust and the Calvert Trust in the Lake District.

REGULAR AND FREQUENT COMMUNICATION WITH PARENTS: BEFORE, DURING AND AFTER

Parents will want to stay in touch with their children during a residential; mobile phones make direct contact much easier but there is also room for creating and sharing materials that reflect the wider activities and experiences taking place.

As well as daily tweeting and Facebook entries, some Learning Away special schools (and several mainstream Learning Away schools) produce a daily newsletter to keep parents informed and to share students’ ‘real time’ responses to the experiences they are having.