The benefits of brilliant residentials are just as relevant to young people with special needs as they are for any other young person.

Also, and despite the best efforts of families, carers and school staff, students with special educational needs can still feel isolated from the social life and opportunities readily available to students in mainstream schools.

The Learning Away special schools

The three special schools involved with Learning Away partnerships approached their engagement in residentials in different ways with different benefits in mind:

Sanderson High School, a special school for 11-16 year olds, is a member of the Calderglen Learning Away partnership.

  • Prior to Learning Away the school was already running a well-developed and integrated programme of residentials for their students; for some young people this was integrated with a school-based course on independent living, giving them a real life context in which to apply the skills they learned in the classroom.  Identifying an ideal location – an adapted Scout Camp just outside Edinburgh – made residentials much more feasible, as did support from two specialist outdoor centres (see Overview).
  • The inclusive aspirations of Learning Away encouraged school staff to explore how they might include students with the most complex learning needs in challenging residentials. This strategy proved highly successful in gaining the confidence of the students, their parents, and the teaching and support staff.  Since joining Learning Away, the number of nights young people at Sanderson High School spend on residentials has extended significantly.

Hallmoor School, an all-through special needs school and part of the Pilot Partnership, set out to integrate students with pupils from the other schools on the residentials.

  • Students were integrated on the basis of their learning ability rather than on age. This was thought to work very well. At the same time the school benefitted from the collaborative development of curriculum resources linked to each of the three residentials.
  • The personal and social development benefits were also marked. Subsequently, new curriculum approaches experienced as part of the residential programme such as script writing and video making have been introduced into classroom work and new collaborative projects such as combined sports days with the primary schools have emerged.

Charlton Park Academy is a special needs school for young people aged between 11 and 19 and is part of the Thomas Tallis Learning Away partnership in south London.

  • Through Learning Away the academy aimed to extend its existing residential offer to include more students, specifically those with more complex learning and medical needs. By doing so, the academy had particular success with increasing parents’ confidence in their child’s ability to both take part in activities they had previously viewed as too risky, and in their ability to be away from home.
  • There were significant impacts on this group of students too, including helpful changes to sleeping and eating patterns as well as increases in confidence, willingness to try new things, and resilience.

The benefits back in school

Regardless of this diversity of approaches, students and staff from all three schools reported the following benefits whilst away on residential experiences and, significantly, afterwards back in school.

These were enhanced by the progressive programme of trips that, in one case, were successfully argued for by the students at their school council, giving them the opportunity for a residential experience in every year from Year 3 to Year 11.

Within Learning Away, this school developed the most extensive, coherent programme of progressive residential experiences.


Whilst integrating young people from special needs and mainstream schools is an important aspiration, evidence from the Learning Away partnership schools suggests that socialisation with their own peer group and with their teachers and support workers stands out as the main benefit for young people with special needs and disabilities.

Students begin to communicate with one another, in some cases for the first time in school.  Others communicated more actively and constructively with their peers during and after residentials.


After the motivating and empowering experiences the students report from their residentials, they and their teachers notice an improvement in willingness to take responsibility, being proactive and initiating projects, proposing ideas and then getting involved in the action. This agency is reflected in schoolwork and life in general.


Many individual students made progress in their ability and willingness to communicate verbally – an impressive and unexpected benefit that is sustained back in school.  Communication skills are further enhanced by the richer quality of young people’s relationships with their peers and teachers, and new projects and progressive residential experiences build on these strong foundations.


Each of the benefits listed here contributes to the development of young people’s key life skills.  However, residentials in particular offer the opportunity for students to participate in domestic life and routines beyond their own daily experiences.  Involvement in collaborative projects and activities increases students’ readiness to engage with new experiences and fosters an expectation of progress in their abilities.


Perhaps as a result of enhanced satisfaction, motivation, an ability to express themselves and a sense of being heard, staff noticed that the behaviour and attitude of many students improved during residentials and afterwards back in school.


The benefits of residentials are all interrelated. Improvements in work ethic, communication and life skills, behaviour and socialisation all contribute to increased levels of confidence in young people.  This in turn enhances independence, with the Learning Away partnership schools reporting higher levels of wellbeing in both students and staff.

Curriculum opportunities


Integrating school-based learning with learning beyond the classroom and on residentials is known to have a greater impact on young people; read more about the benefits here.

The Learning Away special schools explored many innovative ways to add purpose and meaning to children’s classroom learning by connecting it with upcoming residentials, and reflecting on them afterwards.  The most successful residentials are progressive, reflecting young people’s developing knowledge and understanding as they move up the school.  Sanderson High School suggests the following as examples of how the curriculum and the residential can be integrated to great effect:

  • Personal skills – getting on with others; social skills; teamwork; helping others; conversation starters; sharing a room; sleep routines; healthy choices; what do I do when I’m bored/someone annoys me/I’m homesick?
  • Outdoor activities – what do you want to achieve? Goal setting for possible activities; appropriate clothing choices; health and safety (looking at photos from previous residentials is useful for this discussion).
  • Personal development – assessing life skills, for example: who can… make a snack, pack their bag, wash clothes, choose healthy food, set and clear the table?
  • Literacy – predictions and expectations; photographs of the venue and past residentials; other students’ memories of their residential, such as soundscapes of things they’d heard during a night walk, descriptive poetry.
  • Art – make photo collages and artworks reflecting the venue and its surroundings, the residential learning activities or responses to being on a residential.
  • ICT – produce photo stories of expectations of their residential, highlighting what they might enjoy, learn and see.
  • Business skills – create a ‘marketing team’ for the residential venue, producing posters, persuasive leaflets and adverts to boost participation.
  • Geography – orienteering or geocaching activity using mapping skills and imagination to produce a trail round school – students then lead sessions with other pupils; compare school’s location and neighbourhood to different setting, e.g. town and rural study.


Adopting a thematic approach to teaching and learning made the integration of classroom-based preparation and follow up for residentials significantly more engaging for students.

Working with other schools

Staff from the Learning Away partnership schools gained a great deal of local knowledge and confidence, and benefited from formal and informal CPD opportunities by collaborating within the partnership, and beyond it.

Sharing logistical and organisational tasks – the booking of residentials centres, making travel arrangements, organising catering and securing specialist staff – made arranging residentials much easier.

Working across schools to develop curriculum resources also helped generate new, creative inputs for the schools.