Programme design


To help the Learning Away partnership schools adopt this approach to planning, Learning Away developed two theory of change planning tools, and accompanying examples, to map aims, outcomes, outputs, inputs and assumptions.

The two tools are designed to be used together.

  • The flow diagram planning tool explains each step in the approach and walks you through the order of planning. Here is a detailed example of how school staff might think through the flow diagram.
  • The second tool is a template that you can print out and fill in (we suggest using A3 paper) using the directions from the flow diagram.

To help you further, we have also included some examples of completed planning templates from the Learning Away partnerships. These examples map Bulwell EAZ’s cross-partnership Year 3/4 camp on the Bulwell Academy site and Canterbury Academy’s GCSE attainment programme. Read these examples in conjunction with the planning tool guidance to understand how the process of building a brilliant residential starts with the bigger picture.

The involvement of young people in planning the residential (co-construction) should not be overlooked; this is frequently a key driver of long-term success.

Read more about the theory of change approach to planning, what it helps you do and why it is so useful for planning residentials.


The Learning Away partnership schools devised the following key questions to help shape their brilliant residentials. Keep the long-term aim and intended outcomes of your residential learning programme at the forefront of your thinking as you explore these key questions:

Who will attend the residential?

  • Will you be working with targeted groups, a whole year group, or mixed year groups?
  • How will you ensure it’s affordable for the young people you aim to reach?
  • How will you staff the residential?
  • Will you use volunteers and/or student leaders as well as school staff?
  • How will you identify suitable staff?
  • What other potential barriers can you identify, e.g. parent / schools relationships?

What activities will best support young people in achieving the intended outcomes?

  • Do these activities include curriculum delivery? Find out more about curriculum integrated residential experiences here in our free resource.
  • Do these activities include adventurous activities?
  • Will activities include those led by providers, teachers, visiting experts or a mixture of all three?
  • Will young people be involved in co-constructing the residential and choosing activities they feel will best achieve the residential’s outcomes? Have a look at a case study about co-construction here in our free resource pack.
  • What role will informal time on the residential play in achieving the intended outcomes?

When is the best time in the school year for a residential to take place? Consider:

  • School timetables; community and cultural priorities; budgeting implications.
  • Allow sufficient time after a residential for its impact to be embedded and evaluated.
  • Likely weather conditions and what implications they have for the types of experiences on offer, for example, camping or hiking.
  • Age of the children/young people involved, for example KS1 children may only go away for one night and older children for longer.

Where will the residential be held?

  • How far away is it feasible or appropriate to be from home? Consider what the shared journey could contribute to the intended outcomes. Would the cost of travel be prohibitive? Can certain activities/experiences only be accessed further away?
  • What type of venue is suitable for the number of young people participating and the activity programme you are planning? Read about the options here.
  • What venues are available within the budget?
  • Could camping be an option? Camping is a lower-cost option, but will the activities built around camping contribute to the intended outcomes for young people? Will sufficient staff commit to a camping residential? Find out more about planning and delivering lower-cost residential options here.

How will we know the residential has achieved its outcomes and long-term aims?

  • What will success look like during and after the residential?
  • How will our chosen activities and outputs lead to the outcomes and long-term aims?

This isn’t an exhaustive list of questions. With each choice there are key practicalities to consider, including: affordability; the balance between safety, risk and benefit; working with parents and carers to help them truly appreciate the benefits of the residential; and staffing the residential – including strategies to support and develop participating staff beforehand.

An overview of these practicalities can be explored here.

Reflect and evaluate

Reflection and evaluation help establish whether residential learning programmes are effective in achieving their intended outcomes – and if so, how. Planning ahead for effective evaluation will enable you to decide whether to invest in your residential programme again, and what changes to make if you do. It will provide evidence to celebrate students’ successes and also help reinforce the value of residential learning programmes with other staff across the school, and – importantly – with parents and carers, governors and Ofsted.

There are many different approaches to evaluation, and there is no one ‘right’ way that will work for all residentials; the Learning Away partnership schools used a variety of evaluation tools, appropriate to the type of residential as well as to meet the needs of staff and students. Further information about how Learning Away residentials were evaluated, and links to the evaluation reports, can be found here.

Top tips for successful evaluation

  • Choose the right evaluation tools. The purpose of evaluation is to establish how effective the residential learning programme was in meeting your intended outcomes. Tools that could provide evidence of outcomes include journals written/photos taken/ information gathered by students; questionnaires and focus groups with students and staff; and school data – for example attendance, behaviour, progress and attainment statistics.
  • Use qualitative as well as quantitative data. The opinions of staff, students and parents are immensely valuable in identifying the parts of the programme that could be improved and those that could be left out.
  • Set realistic timescales. Be clear about when it will be possible to provide robust evidence for intended outputs and outcomes – some may be quickly apparent; others may take many months to be successfully measured.
  • Recognise other contributing factors. However successful the residential was in meeting its intended outcomes, it’s likely that other factors may have contributed to the changes. Explore what else may have affected the outcomes.
  • Build in time to reflect on your assumptions. Review the planning process so far: what assumptions have you noted, and what evaluation tools could help you gather information to test these? Do your assumptions match your observations and the feedback you are getting? Reflection points will help to refine the planning process.

More about assumptions

Throughout the planning process, many assumptions are made, both about particular actions leading to particular outputs, and about these outputs leading to specific outcomes. Being mindful of these assumptions will help shape the delivery of a residential. Testing these assumptions when evaluating a plan for a residential will help identify and separate the absolutely essential parts of the learning experience from the ‘nice to haves’.

Learning Away partnerships tested their assumptions in the following two areas:

  • The links between programme’s activities (inputs) and the outputs they are expected to produce (for example using archery to help young people understand that they can make progress with a new bit of mathematical learning by being persistent and looking for support as necessary).
  • The connections between the short-term outputs that happened on the residential and longer-term, hoped-for outcomes back in school (for example better relationships between students and their teachers during and after the residential leading to improvements in longer-term engagement with learning).

In its Making Connections booklet, the Charities Evaluation Service defines a further assumption you may like to explore:

  • The contextual or environmental factors that may influence whether outcomes are achieved (for example the time spent by young people with their teachers as an indicator for enhanced progress back in school).


Canterbury High School’s GCSE attainment camp planning team members know they make a number of assumptions when planning their residential. For example, they believe that team-building activities contribute positively to changing relationships between staff and young people, and that improved relationships will enable teachers to plan more engaging lessons back in school.

To understand whether these underlying assumptions are correct, and whether and why residentials are effective in achieving the intended outcomes, the school measures and compares learners’ academic progress, attendance and records of behavioural incidents before the residential and throughout the remainder of KS4. Group interviews and questionnaires are used to collect feedback from staff and young people, querying whether the trip made a difference to young people’s confidence and behaviour and – if so – the degree to which each element was successful.

Through testing their assumptions, the staff at Canterbury found that positive change did come about from the activities and relationship-building that took place on the residential. However, they also found that in order to maximise the shifts that took place in individual students’ engagement levels, they needed to reinforce these changes on return to school through promoting further learning outside the classroom experiences and residentials.


The Charities Evaluation Service publishes a useful guide to using a ‘Theory of Change’ approach to planning and evaluation. Visit their website to download the guide.

Case studies

The following short case studies illustrate how Learning Away partnerships planned residentials tailored to their students’ specific needs.


Canterbury High School aims to boost all young people’s GCSE attainment by improving attendance and behaviour across Year 10, and by developing their skills in learning as well as fostering positive attitudes to themselves as learners.

In order to allow time for school staff to monitor post-residential changes in young people’s progress and attitudes to school, residentials are planned for the start of Year 10. The school’s assumption is that an early-in-the-course residential will lead to greater progress and achievement because it provides learners with more time back in school, making full use of their new skills and confidence, before their GCSEs.

In order to achieve the goal of helping all young people to reach their potential, it’s vital that everyone in the target group is able to attend. The school removes financial barriers by organising lower-cost camping residentials and supporting some young people financially. The school self-caters and the staff development required to enable this to happen was planned at an early stage.

The school plans a range of different challenges in a supportive atmosphere, so that young people have the opportunity to experience success and discover, within this atmosphere, that failure is a valuable element of learning.  Challenges include subject-related activities linked to the camp’s setting (to encourage students to see their subjects as relevant) and adventurous activities such as climbing walls, abseiling and kayaking. Teachers representing a range of curriculum subjects plan for and attend the residential, enabling young people to pursue their GCSE subjects in a new environment and to better develop relationships between staff and a wide group of young people.

The school believes that: working together in a less formal setting; the extended and informal time a residential experience provides; and sharing domestic activities is effective in breaking down existing patterns of behaviour between staff and young people. The group planning the trip is careful to build in free time around the camp as well as more traditional team-building activities such as collaborative games.


This group of three primary schools in Merseyside develops young people’s joy in, and commitment to, learning, through brilliant residentials that are an integral part of their creative curriculum. Read more about their approach here.


The South Manchester Inclusive Learning Enterprise (SMILE) developed two distinct residential programmes, each meeting high priorities identified from the partnership schools’ improvement plans. Details of their innovative ‘family’ and ‘behaviour management’ residentials can be found here.