If residentials are integrated with the curriculum and the wider life of the school they can have greater impact and provide many more learning opportunities.

The short and long-term benefits

Evidence from the Learning Away pilot partnerships suggests that the benefits of residentials can be measured long after everyone is back home. Learning away from the familiar classroom environment is motivating, exciting and stimulating; naturally curious young people will embrace new skills and challenging approaches with enthusiasm, given the opportunity.

Enriching the curriculum topics pupils are currently working on is just one short-term benefit; at residentials, young people discover previously undiscovered skills and aptitudes. Suddenly, they’re able to think quickly and creatively; they collaborate willingly and can see the purpose behind collaboration. The short-term nature of a residential encourages a sense of urgency in young people in order to complete tasks, be they completing a daunting high ropes course or planning a lavish mediaeval banquet. For young people who rarely take the lead in the classroom, learning beyond the classroom can provide welcome respite and an opportunity to shine.

In the longer term, pupils who are familiar with working away from the classroom, and understand the routines associated with residentials, are quickly able to adapt to the new learning environment, increasing the effectiveness of the learning itself. Their self-confidence when staying away from home helps them settle into new routines and anticipate future residentials with a positive attitude.

Research by Ofsted suggests that learning beyond the classroom is ‘more memorable’ and the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom explains that residentials can capitalise on and develop ‘different learning styles, particularly kinaesthetic. Experiencing something – as opposed to hearing it described or reading about it – can also help improve young people’s recall and reflective skills, as they relive the event in their heads.’

Residentials offer young people opportunities to take ownership of their learning, debating pedagogy, content and outcomes with staff in an environment that can feel far more equitable to the young people, and more collaborative to the staff. The co-construction and co-design suite of resources (due February 2015) will explore some of these ideas in more detail.

Interestingly, several partnership schools now report ‘oversubscription’ for residentials, with more teaching staff volunteering to attend than is strictly necessary. They attribute this enthusiasm in part to the benefits staff derive from working alongside motivated, eager and purposeful young people.

Vertical subject residentials

Vertical teaching, in which students of different ages work together on a subject, is common in smaller schools and is making inroads into mainstream and larger schools.  It allows schools to offer a broader range of subjects by brining together several year groups, perhaps to study less popular options.

Applying a vertical structure to residentials is an intriguing and effective way to enrich the experience and to strengthen bonds between and across year groups.  Older students enjoy the experience of sharing their knowledge and the need to expand their own understanding of the subject.  Younger pupils benefit from the challenging nature of the work and the opportunity to learn from and alongside their older peers.

At Calderglen High School the vertical age slice structure has been used on several residentials following successful trials in the drama, music and PE departments; a growing number of subjects now hold subject specific residentials.  Meanwhile the school is experimenting with collapsing the timetable to adopt a thematic approach for part of a term, again building on approaches trialled as part of the school’s Learning Away programme.  Now that a good proportion of the school’s staff have planned and participated in residentials, they have the skills and confidence to work in this way.  As the skills learned lower down the school progress upwards with students who have experienced residentials, more staff are using active and collaborative teaching methods in support of subject and cross-curricular themes.

Read more about Calderglen High School’s experiences here.

Driving curriculum change

Brilliant residentials can provide impetus for a wider agenda for change within a school.  The Learning Away partnership schools demonstrate that high-quality residential programmes can spearhead changes in curriculum design and organisation, including the introduction of new pedagogical approaches.  For example, several Learning Away schools switched to a thematic curriculum; staff develop skills to support thematic working on residentials, and are then confident about introducing new approaches more widely back at school.

Staff from the Thomas Tallis partnership are trained in The Mango Model, a democratic community decision making structure, which is used across their residentials.  Back in school, this model forms a core part of the school’s approach to students’ learning conversations – and is also now the model through which the school council operates.  Read more about their use of the Mango Model here.

In the following two short films, a History and a Maths teacher at Canterbury High School talk about the benefits of curriculum-integrated residentials, describing the impact on students and themselves as classroom teachers.