There are many ways to make the most of learning away from school; lower-cost models needn’t be sparse or limit young people’s experiences. Explore how five school partnerships shaped exciting, stimulating residentials without creating a financial burden on family or school budgets.

Primary progression


Bulwell Education Action Zone (EAZ) is a cluster of seven schools (one secondary and six feeder primaries) in Bulwell, north Nottingham.  We’ve collaborated for many years, providing residential as well as other opportunities for our young people. The Learning Away initiative encouraged us to develop lower-cost residential opportunities as we feel these are easier to sustain in the long term and are more affordable for our families.

Our children’s residential experiences begin in Year 2 with a term-time overnight camp within a walled garden at Wollaton Hall, a stately home ten minutes’ drive from Bulwell.

  • A camp commander oversees the camp
  • Most of the activities are delivered by school staff and / or Sports Leaders from Bulwell Academy, the secondary school in our partnership
  • Meals are delivered to the camp from a nearby school.

Following this, in Years 3/4, the residential is based on the Bulwell Academy site, where two schools from the partnership join together.

  • This camp is led by school staff with the support of Sports Leaders from the Academy
  • A range of activities is provided, all led internally
  • Members of Bulwell Academy’s staff provide meals and 24-hour security.

In Year 5, young people have a two-night stay at Newstead Abbey, in far more rustic surroundings but still within half an hour’s drive of Bulwell.

  • Schools have the option to cook their own food (although not all do)
  • School staff and the camp commander lead most of the activities, which all take place on site.

Our main strategies for developing low-cost residentials are to:

  • Use local sites and camp to cut down on accommodation costs
  • Stay on-site for activities to cut down on travel costs
  • Develop a bank of activities that can be led by staff from within the partnership
  • Incorporate the use of Sports Leaders to help lead activities
  • Purchase a bank of equipment e.g. tents, torches, sleeping bags, etc. owned and shared by all the partnership schools
  • Develop self-catering facilities (and equipment) that can be shared across the partnership.

Linda Abbott, Bulwell’s Learning Away coordinator outlines the key features of their low-cost camping model in this short filmed interview.

GCSE Multi-curriculum camping


Our aim is to provide a multi-curriculum residential at the start of Key Stage 4 to improve attainment in English, Maths and other subjects with assessed outcomes for GCSE.  In order to be fully accessible to all families, these residentials need to cost no more than around £100 for a week, and we use Pupil Premium funding to reduce this to a nominal fee where necessary.  Our low-cost model is achieved by:

  1. Camping

We combined our Learning Away fund with parental contributions to buy the following equipment:

  • A large box trailer, to be towed by school minibus
  • Ten 5 metre bell tents
  • A marquee
  • A field kitchen with contents
  • Sport and activity resources
  • Safety, lighting and other equipment.

These items cost £15,000 but owning this equipment means we are now able to run camps for 100 people, as often as we like, reducing the cost of all future residentials.

  1. Staffing

Timing is crucial for big camps.  We go in July, after Year 11 have left, so there is one less year group in the school.  By reorganising the classes that remain in school, we incur no cover costs.  We up-skill our own staff to deliver as many of the activities as possible ourselves and have a succession plan to introduce new staff to develop their skills and confidence.  Staff are supported and are therefore enthusiastic and keen to do more low-cost residentials.

  1. Venue

We make use of low-cost or free venues.  The use of an historic site such as Hampton Court Palace free of charge is of course not sustainable (our residential there was a pilot for them as well as us) but using Scout or low-cost public campsites keeps the cost down – we no longer use traditional outdoor centres.

  1. Activities

As far as possible we deliver our own activities and lessons on residentials, although of course we buy in providers of adventurous activities that we are not qualified to deliver.  However, the savings elsewhere make these affordable within the context of the whole residential costs.  Sports activities are delivered by 6th Form volunteers studying the subject to Level 3.

  1. Food

This is provided by our 6th Form Chefs’ Academy students under the leadership of one of the school’s chefs, meaning we only pay one person to produce food.  Catering is expertly done, and provides excellent value for money.  The development opportunity for our 6th formers is a significant additional benefit.

  1. Transport

We make good use of the Academy’s minibuses to reduce coach transport costs, including during the residential in order to access other venues or take groups shopping.

Back to basics


At Hanover Primary School, we take our Year 6 children on a 5-day, 4-night ‘back to basics’ camping residential.  We aim to develop social skills, confidence and independence, leading to improved attainment and, importantly, facilitate a smooth transition to secondary school.

Our model is sustainable and very cost-effective compared with commercial alternatives.  We travel by Tube to a local authority campsite and don’t use any of the facilities of the campsite, instead cooking on fires and digging latrines for toilets!  All activities are based on site, and run by our staff.

Activities include developing skills such as axing, shelter building and cooking, and the children all play an essential part in the running of the camp – using these skills to work for the community. Without their input each day, there would be no dinner!

In order to enable young people to take risks and learn these essential skills in a safe way, we need very high adult: child ratios – approximately 1:3.   The adult team comprises school staff (teachers, Teaching Assistants, office staff, behaviour support workers) and volunteers with relevant skills – largely outdoor educators or from charities such as the Scouts or Woodcraft Folk.  Cover costs at school are significant when staff volunteer, so we are careful to strike a balance between bringing enthusiastic school staff and volunteers.

We provide a significant amount of essential equipment for the young people, and our initial Learning Away supported investment was substantial. For an inner-city school with a community ranging from some of the richest families in the country to some of the most deprived, universal access to residentials was essential for us.  Using a commercial provider means a heavy subsidy for many families, so our initial investment will continue to pay for itself long into the future.

Linking with community groups


Before becoming part of the Learning Away initiative, our partnership had never taken young people on low-cost residentials.  Aside from the occasional outdoor adventurous activity courses (planned and delivered by external providers), the children were given no opportunity to take part in overnight experiences.

We began our residential journey by exploring links within the local Scout Association. Through links with staff at the local Scout campsite, we managed to offer a one-night camp for young people at a cost of £20, including one adventurous activity.  The site staff were more than willing to offer discounts in the future for our repeat business, and referred us to other sites in the area who offered similar benefits.  We kept transport costs down by staying locally.  All of our initial residentials involved camping under canvas, which meant we paid a nominal fee for being on site.

Through training offered by the local authority, we built links with nearby Learning Outside the Classroom professionals, who keep us updated with offers at a wide range of venues, including the Youth Hostel Association (YHA). The YHA offer funding for children with free school meals, and often offer benefits or discounts for booking at particular times of the year. Some National Trust sites provide similar deals.

After three years of running largely ‘camping under canvas’ residential experiences, we branched out.  Many of the venues we use are improving their Learning Outside the Classroom provision, and have converted barns and stables, or installed pods, tipis, wigwams, and permanent tents (which makes taking younger children much easier).  Although these alternatives are a little pricier, it means our Learning Away philosophy is now embedded across the school year, rather than being restricted by the great British weather!

Our top tips for saving money:

  • Get prices and details from a range of venues, and document these for future reference
  • Negotiate discounts for children who receive the Pupil Premium, free school meals, or for schools in deprived areas
  • If sleeping under canvas if too difficult to begin with, explore other low-cost accommodation such as pods, yurts, tipis and wigwams.  During the week, there are often big discounts
  • Make use of local Scout sites to raise money for your school – we offered a sponsored climbing and abseiling experience to all Key Stage 2 children to build up our residentials fund
  • Run activities yourself, or design activities with the young people.  There are many simple yet effective programme ideas – see the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom, OEAP activity cards, and Learning through Landscapes for further guidance.

Supporting school transition


Our low-cost residentials owe much to pupil innovation.  Following a research project examining ways to improve Key Stage 2 / 3 transition, pupils recognised that it would be valuable to get to know young people from other primary schools before starting at secondary school.  The result was a series of annual overnight camps shared by pupils and staff from five local primary schools as well as key staff from the high school to which they transfer.

Our camps enable young people from the five feeder primary schools to spend time together and get to know one other as well as meet and work alongside staff from the secondary school.  In order to ensure that as many young people as possible can attend, it’s vital to keep costs low.  We manage this through:

  • Camping in the grounds of one of the schools – this is free
  • School staff running most of the activities
  • Making use of nearby activity facilities, such a local leisure centre’s climbing wall
  • Using school minibuses to keep transport costs low
  • Asking children to provide their own sleeping bags, waterproofs etc. although we have built up our own equipment stock for children who do not have suitable equipment
  • Keeping food costs low – we have an evening barbecue, school kitchens donate tray bakes, and children make their own packed lunches from ingredients provided.

One school in our partnership used to highly subsidise a residential organised by a commercial residential provider.  Their residential is now a teacher led-camp and the money used to subsidise expensive, externally run residentials is used to equip their low-cost camping experiences.