Can residentials play a part in raising the aspirations of students both within the school and also for their future beyond school? Three of the Learning Away secondary schools thought that they could. There are several examples of Learning Away primary and secondary schools that used residentials to overcome the challenge of low and middle achieving students needing to ‘raise their game’ back at school.
For example, the boys from the Christchurch Learning Away partnership of three Merseyside primary schools who were inspired by the creative writer who worked with them on their residential and transformed their literacy performance as a result. This was evidenced in a focus group when a Year 5 pupil who didn’t like school and was not engaging at all said “Miss told me on the trip that school was important and I trust her now. I still don’t like school but I’m going to try”. Or the SEN student who was a passive elective mute but, from the day after his return from the residential, had so many ideas on his mind that he became vocal and active in class. Or the pupil from the South Hetton Learning Away partnership in Durham who realised that each time they put up their tents on their camping residential, they got better at it and took more control of the task until they were teaching others how to do it. “If I can make progress like that putting up a tent I can make progress in maths too.” Or the drama students from Calderglen High School in East Kilbride who went away on a residential to develop their skills for their practical exams and surprised themselves and their teachers by getting top grades.
61% of students who attended Calderglen’s drama residential achieved higher than their predicted grade, compared to 21% who did not attend. (Evaluation of Learning Away, 2015).
So what about beyond school? At the Bulwell Learning Away partnership in Nottingham, students in GCSE PE classes took on leadership roles on the partnership’s primary schools’ residentials. These leadership experiences improved their organisational, presentation, communication and listening skills, as well as their independence and maturity. As a result they were, to their amazement, offered summer jobs. Many went on to college to study sports leadership.
Prior to the residential only 40% of secondary students felt that they could be role models to others; after the residential this figure rose to 67%. (Evaluation of Learning Away, 2015).
When Learning Away started at the SMILE Trust Learning Away partnership in Manchester, no one went to sixth form or university from the secondary school, Newall Green High School. Five years later the school has its own sixth form with over 100 students and the first university applicants. This was not all down to Learning Away! Many parallel initiatives made this happen but, for some of the students on the verge of exclusion turned around by the residential family intervention project, it became a new goal to pass exams, go to sixth form and on to university.
The Calderglen partnership explicitly set out to use the residential programme to raise the aspirations of more students to go to universities, and for those universities to be beyond Glasgow. Through a range of subject-based residentials raising academic standards, residential revision weekends, leadership roles both on trips and back in school, and adventurous residentials organised to raise confidence and develop study skills, the university application rate rose and the geographic range of applications spread.
So, yes, by offering inspiring and intensive subject development, changing relationships with teachers, building personal confidence and developing leadership skills ‘brilliant residentials’ can transform a student, a class and even the culture of a whole school to one in which increased social mobility takes place contributing to the breaking of cycles of poverty and low aspiration for the benefit of students, families and communities.