Family residentials are not the most straightforward to organise and, whilst the Learning Away schools all champion the benefits of taking families away together, they are also honest about the processes involved in doing so.

Clear objectives and a strong commitment to achieving them are required from all participants – including the families themselves. This page explores some of the strategies used by the Learning Away partnerships to engage families.

Identifying and engaging families

In this seven-minute film clip, Kelly Youngs (South Hetton partnership), Sue Fisher (SMILE partnership) and Kate Breeze (PhD researcher for Learning Away) discuss how families are identified and then encouraged to participate in the residentials.  They also touch on the wider implications and benefits of residentials and some of the issues encountered during them.

The benefits of family residentials

Learning Away focus groups, consisting of families and professionals involved in family residentials, identified a number of key benefits and successes.  Schools are now using these evaluations to promote the value of family residentials.

For parents and carers:

  • Increased self-confidence and positive mental health.
  • Regaining positive relationships with one another and their children.
  • Developing effective communication and parenting skills.
  • Accessing training and skills development.
  • More trusting relationships with staff at their children’s school/s.
  • Support in seeking professional advice to deal with other relationship issues.

For children and young people

  • Developing age-appropriate routines and behaviours.
  • Reduction in conflict with siblings.
  • Significant improvement in engagement, educational attainment and wellbeing in school.
  • Increased confidence and social skills.
  • Mentoring roles with other young people on other residential programmes.
  • Participation in wider networks, for example local presentations on behalf of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

Key success factors

  • Working with children and young people in a safe environment, enabling them to try new activities and alternative ways of behaving.
  • In turn, children and young people are able to show their parents or carers what they have learnt and what they can now do.
  • Time away from the pressures of everyday life for parents or carers and their children to listen to one another and understand their issues.
  • Friendly, professional support on hand to support families in making major changes to their family life and routines.
  • Regular and frequent access to an outdoor environment frees up children’s self-expression and enables different behaviour patterns to be practised.
  • Opportunities for parents or carers and their children to develop and apply leadership skills in wider contexts, taking on new or unfamiliar roles.
  • Experiential learning: ‘living the lesson’ alongside parents or carers and their children, contrasting strongly with conventional parenting programmes.


Some parents and carers will be nervous about participating in family residentials, not least because of health and safety fears.  To support and encourage schools to integrate learning beyond the classroom into everyday school life, the Health and Safety Executive has published a ‘trips’ statement, dispelling myths about legal action and encouraging all schools to ditch unnecessary paperwork, ensuring that precautions are proportionate to the risks involved.  It contains four key messages, which could usefully be shared with families:

  1. Well-managed school trips and outdoor activities are great for children. Children won’t learn about risk if they’re wrapped in cotton wool.
  2. Teachers should expect their schools to have procedures that encourage participation, are proportionate to the level of risk and avoid bureaucracy.
  3. Staff running school trips need to focus on the risks and the benefits to young people – not the paperwork.
  4. Accidents and mistakes may happen on school trips – but fear of prosecution has been blown out of all proportion.

A PDF of the full statement can be downloaded here.

The impact on students and families


This case study was written by staff at Newall Green High School (part of the SMILE Trust) to describe their families residential programme and its impact on two of the young people involved.


The Kellys* were a family with complex needs, including adult mental health issues and concerns around the children’s behaviour and eating habits.  The family was identified as having potential to really benefit from participating in a series of weekend residentials, and were keen to do so.

This vignette describes the impact of a series of family residentials on the Kelly family from South Manchester. There is also a fuller version of this vignette as a case study: ‘Family residentials at the cottage – Louise and Daniel’s story’ here.

In this PowerPoint slideshow, Louise Kelly* reports on her family residential, and summarises the benefits for her and her family.

* Names have been changed