Cost is often identified as one of the main barriers preventing schools from offering residential experiences to all of their students as an integrated and progressive part of their curriculum.

Effect of Residentials

As a consequence, for many schools residentials are provided as an enrichment, rather than as an entitlement.

This section of the website shares ideas about how residential programmes can be funded and what some schools are doing to make them less expensive.


Making the business case

If residential experiences provide extremely powerful learning opportunities for young people of all ages and abilities, and have significant impacts on students, teachers and schools as a whole, it could be argued that the costs for these experiences should be found from school budgets.

However, Ofsted’s 2008 report about Learning Outside the Classroom makes clear that the vast majority of the schools visited were unable to assess the effectiveness or value for money of these activities. With so many draws on school budgets, these are key barriers to being able to justify expenditure on residential learning.

Teachers and local authority, voluntary sector and commercial providers who wish to provide these opportunities for children and young people need to be able to make a business case for residential experiences. To do this, schools and providers need to be clear and specific about the learning and personal development objectives of each residential, and have evaluation plans in place to see whether these objectives have been met – and at what cost. By measuring their residentials’ effectiveness, and by comparing effectiveness and costs against other interventions, schools and providers can begin to understand whether their residential represents good value for money.

Learn more about the wider importance of strong monitoring and evaluation practices to brilliant residentials. It can be helpful to look at value for money exercises run by other organisations whose intervention is comparable.

  • We have developed a series of cost model case studies that outline the different residentials used by the Learning Away partnership schools, and their costs.
  • One residential provider, the Scottish Outdoor Education Centres (SOEC), has commissioned a Social Return On Investment (SROI) analysis of its work with young people. This analysis, carried out by independent consultants Forth Development, showed a SROI ratio of 1:11, in which every £1 spent or invested in the organisation results in £11 of educational, environmental and social benefits. Find out more about this study here and here.
  • The Education Endowment Foundation focuses particularly on testing and evaluating interventions to improve the attainment of disadvantaged students. Its growing toolkit ranks a number of teaching and learning strategies against cost and impact on attainment. Some of these strategies are commonly used on residentials. Learn more.

Lower-cost models

Most school partnerships in the first phase of Learning Away developed lower-cost models for providing residentials, making sure they are affordable and can be financially sustained long-term by the school.

An unexpected outcome was the variety of enhanced educational benefits, including:

  • Making greater use of school staff has improved curriculum integration and improved relationships.
  • Staying local to reduce transport costs can lead to increased participation (by both students and staff).
  • Camping or finding cheaper places to stay can support co-construction, thematic approaches, curriculum and developmental benefits, and improved collaboration with other schools and providers.

When Learning Away began, Hanover Primary School planned a Year 6 camp as its approach. Although camping kept costs low, it was the educational potential of the camping experience that really attracted them – like an overnight Forest School. Steadily, other schools have adopted camping for one or more of their residentials, seeing both the educational and cost benefits. Even if staff find camping a step too far, they have been happy to attend during the day to support the activities.

School grounds have become popular venues for activities and camping residentials through Learning Away. One primary school in the Walney partnership has large grounds that have now been developed as a campsite and Forest School. All the schools in this partnership use the site for extended day visits for Key Stage 1/2 transition events and residential camps for Key Stage 2/3.

Bulwell Academy – a Learning Away secondary school – has a large covered area bounded by the school buildings providing shelter, security, activity and camping space. Many local primary schools use the site for residentials – in a school that children taking part in the residentials may move on to at the end of Year 6. Learn more about the Bulwell EAZ programme.

Many Learning Away schools are finding local residential facilities are readily available during the school week. For example Scout Activity Centres are busy at weekends, but largely empty during school days. Costs are lower and the associations running them appreciate the additional income. These facilities are also set up for self-catering, further lowering the cost and adding a rich activity to the residential programme – cooking together is often a favourite residential activity with young people.

Working together with other schools to book centres, campsites and transport such as coaches also increases purchasing power and can lead to useful discounts. The same applies to booking outside experts to provide activities  for which school staff are not trained. These people appreciate the regular work and will often offer a discounted price for repeat business.

The SMILE Trust has developed a particularly unusual model. Together, the schools hire a holiday cottage, during term times, year-round. The owners can still hire the property out at full price to holidayers outside of term-times and appreciate the reliable income, so offered the schools an affordable deal. This arrangement gives the schools a regular venue to run small group residentials. Learn more about the SMILE Trust’s model here.

Some Learning Away schools have developed closer, more effective relationships with the centres they use frequently. School and centre staff have developed resources and bespoke programmes together and also, in some cases, co-constructed these with students.

Many schools have negotiated access to resources without centre staff, designing their own programmes of activity for the duration of the residential. Learn more about the Canterbury Academy’s Year 10 residential delivered in partnership with Rock UK. Bedford Primary School, one of three schools in Learning Away’s Christ Church partnership in Merseyside, shared this case study about working with a YMCA centre. Schools have also used centres to train older students, who have then gone on to support residentials for younger students.

Schools are making use of a range of adult volunteers (e.g. governors, parents, local community, Higher Education students). This can reduce supply cover costs, but has other benefits including bringing in different, specialist expertise and supporting parents and governors to understand the value and impact of residential programmes. Several schools are also developing older students as leaders to deliver activities and mentor younger students. For practical advice, see our advice about staffing brilliant residentials.


Two of our Learning Away schools, Goonhavern and Twickenham Primary Schools, have developed an exchange between their schools in contrasting landscapes and socio-economic situations – rural Cornwall and inner city Birmingham.

The visits take place at different times so that one class hosts their visitors and the experience is returned later in the year. The children attend classes and the hosts visit the campsite of their visitors as part of an extended school day, as well as share in local trips that reflect the culture and landscape of the area. The schools use each others’ transport and camp or use low cost accommodation where they can to lower the costs further. Learn more about the Twickenham/Goonhavern programme.


In this short film, the Learning Away coordinators in the Bulwell EAZ and Canterbury Academy partnerships outline why their schools decided to develop lower-cost residentials.


Brilliant residentials need time and money, but not necessarily as much as you think – and Learning Away action research make the case that the benefits are worth the cost.

Finding the right approach for funding its residential programme is highly contextual from one school to another. Each needs to find its own workable solution. Schools are drawing on a range of sources to fund their work, including:

  • Parental contributions: Learning Away schools believe that brilliant residentials are an entitlement for all children and young people, but parental contributions often still need to be an important part of the funding mix. Several of the schools involved in Learning Away’s action research have set up savings schemes to spread the cost out for parents over the course of one or more years. One school gives ‘better off’ parents the option to make an additional donation on top of their own contribution. It is important for schools to consider where they can reduce costs, and to put in place additional targeted support to enable young people whose families can’t afford the full cost to participate.
  • Using school funds: many schools are using school funds to reduce the contribution parents need to find. This can be justified when residentials form an integral part of the curriculum, and can even lead to increased or more timely parental contributions. The Christ Church partnership of schools in Merseyside is trialling a promising ‘match funding’ savings scheme, where parents are incentivised to pay early – if they do, they will pay less overall because their contribution is ‘topped up’ by school funds.
  • Using pupil premium: more than half of the school partnerships in the initial action research programme used pupil premium to subsidise residential costs. Learning Away is publishing a growing body of evidence to demonstrate the impact on student progress and engagement that brilliant residentials can have when their objectives are carefully planned by teachers. Read our latest research.
  • Sharing resources with other local schools, such as campsites on school grounds, transport and camping equipment is also proving cost effective – and can have added benefits for staff and young people.

Learning Away has published a set of cost model case studies that describe how different school partnerships in the first phase of Learning Away developed and funded their residentials.

In this short film, the Learning Away coordinator at Canterbury Academy describes how they fund their GCSE attainment residentials to ensure that they are both inclusive and affordable for all their students.


Each school needs to find its own workable solution for funding its programme of brilliant residentials. One option is through additional fundraising activity.

Here, we suggest some of the practical starting points trialled by the Learning Away school partnerships in the initial phase of the project, and signpost some trusted resources.

  • PTA (Parent Teacher Association)several schools have negotiated with their PTA to focus fundraising efforts to support brilliant residentials. Examples include a contribution to subsidise yearly costs, or for a maintenance ‘pot’ for camping equipment. Be strategic: what would really make the difference? Twickenham Primary School, whose residential is an exchange programme with students in Cornwall, has asked its PTA to fundraise for a minibus – in their residential model, coach travel is the single most expensive yearly cost.
  • Increased student fundraising: supporting young people to take responsibility for fundraising for their own residential can take a fair amount of adult coordination and support, but is a great opportunity to encourage them to take ownership of the residential from the start. It can support links with the wider community and local businesses, and can be tied into other school events (e.g. enterprise weeks) or curriculum goals. Stand-alone activities like non-uniform days, talent shows, or even selling cakes or popcorn at events already in the school calendar (like parents’ evenings and shows or concerts) can all help.
  • Securing grants or other external funding : there are many trusts and foundations in the UK, and they support all different types of activity. Researching and putting together a proposal might seem daunting, but can be really worthwhile. Having planned a brilliant residential with clear outcomes for students, you will be well placed to communicate the impact that funding your programme will have. Many school business managers have experience in securing funding, and can be a great source of expertise.

Open Futures, a skills and enquiry-based curriculum development programme, has developed a really useful fundraising tool-kit for schools. This includes guidance on how to ‘make the case’ for your project, useful templates, and a list of funders broken down by geographical area.