Planning is more than making sure you have the correct consent forms and everyone has the right kit. For the most impact, it is important to understand what you want to achieve through your residential. Rather than starting with ‘a trip to…’, think about what you want to achieve.


Learning Away's research

Learning Away’s research has shown that residentials have a greater impact when they are

However, it is clear from the 2008 Ofsted report about Learning Outside the Classroom, that the level of planning involved in delivering this impact does not always take place. The report listed some concerns, suggesting that many residentials too often provide:

  • limited integration of residential learning with the wider curriculum (particularly in primary schools)
  • outsourcing of residential learning to external providers rather than being planned, managed and evaluated by school staff and students
  • limited variety of activities or models of residential experiences
  • little progression in relation to residential learning.

This section of the website (and the linked cases studies) share some of the planning approaches developed by Learning Away schools, focusing on:

  • Where to start – including the theory we have developed about how change happens on residentials
  • Curriculum integration
  • Co-design and co-construction
  • DIY or using providers?
  • Partnerships
  • Timetabling

You can also find out more about how to plan brilliant residentials in our free planning tools resource.

Where to start

Brilliant residentials can provide extremely powerful learning opportunities for young people of all ages and abilities, as well as having an impact on teachers and schools as a whole. To make the most of this potential, residentials must be carefully planned as learning experiences.

A brilliant residential is a high-quality trip, led by teachers and integrated into the curriculum – learn more about Learning Away’s what makes a brilliant residential.

When designing their brilliant residentials, Learning Away schools use an approach called theory of change. They start with the aims and outcomes they want to see in their particular students or school, and then plan backwards. Rather than starting with ‘a trip to…’, they start with their aims then choose a setting and activities that give the best chance of achieving them. Read more about how Learning Away partnership schools used a theory of change approach in the Planning tools resource.

As a result of the schools’ work around planning, Learning Away has developed a diagram, setting out our theory about the changes that happen to learning through brilliant residential experiences.

You can find out more about the theory of change at The Center for Theory of Change, a non-profit organisation established to promote quality standards and best practice for the development and implementation of Theory of Change, with a particular focus on its use and application in the areas of international development, sustainability, education, human rights and social change.

Co-design and co-construction

Co-design and co-construction of learning is a partnership between teaching staff and their students (and the residential provider if appropriate) to develop and deliver creative learning.

In the co-design of learning, no one stakeholder is more important than any other, allowing a learning community to design a solution to a challenge relevant to the community’s issues. Co-construction affords young people a great deal of responsibility for thinking, planning, discussing, agreeing and implementing. This approach can therefore have a huge beneficial impact on the design of a residential programme.

This page offers a summary of Learning Away partnership schools’ in this area and the way they use co-construction to design and deliver their residentials. You can also explore this approach in more depth within our Co-construction resource.

Two Learning Away partnerships during the first phase of the project committed to co-constructing and co-designing their residentials, using two different models: the ‘Mango’ model and the ‘Critical Thinking’ model.

The Thomas Tallis partnership used the democratic Mango Model of ‘home, council and community’ to shape the design, planning and delivery of school council activities as well as residentials.  Young people work together in these groups to discuss and agree decisions and engage in deep reflection, which enables the student voice to be heard in parallel with that of adults.

The Walney partnership used the Critical Thinking approach.  At its heart is the creation of a classroom community where all members work and learn together within boundaries, following guidelines agreed by their group.  Many ‘tools’ are taught and used to support learning, encourage positive communication and ensure understanding and a feeling of security.

The two models have common core principles:

  • Learning takes place within a democratic learning community.
  • Learning is set within a real context and so is purposeful.
  • Roles are allocated to facilitate learning.
  • Young people are provided with the skills to lead learning.
  • Young people make key learning decisions.
  • Debriefing the learning deepens young people’s understanding.

Read detailed case studies about the Thomas Tallis residentials here and here, and Walney’s residentials here.

Other Learning Away partnerships worked extensively with student leaders; staff and student leaders designed, planned and delivered residentials together. Explore this topic further in our Student Leadership resource.

Partnerships that co-designed and co-constructed residentials noticed key benefits, including that they:

  • enriched the residential experience through student ownership of the whole process
  • enabled student voice to be heard and acted upon
  • maximised inclusion
  • developed team-work skills
  • developed facilitation skills of both students and staff
  • promoted a democratic approach to decision making
  • enhanced safety as H&S issues were explored and agreed collectiviely
  • deepened relationships between students and staff.

Curriculum integration

When residentials are integrated with the curriculum they have greater impact and provide many more learning opportunities. Wider research also suggests that the more young people are involved as active participants in their own learning, the better they do.

Residentials can be integrated with the curriculum in many ways. Schools can design residentials to build on and extend themes, projects and subjects initially introduced in school. They can develop life, work and study skills for use back in the classroom.

Brilliant residentials can also contribute to wider school learning objectives including: better relationships; improved attendance and behaviour; increased sense of belonging; enhanced learner engagement; and raised attainment, achievement and aspirations. They can also support schools to develop students’ leadership roles in school.

This page summarises some of the ways in which Learning Away partnerships integrated their residentials with the curriculum.  For a more in-depth look at this area you can explore our Curriculum integration resource, which includes a wealth of information about the benefits of integrating residentials with the curriculum, ideas about how to do this and downloadable resources from the Learning Away partnerships.

Developing knowledge and skills

The Christ Church partnership of three Merseyside primary schools provides a progressive programme of residential experience as an integral part of their creative curriculum for all  children from Years 2 to 6. Children co-construct the curriculum themes, of which the residential is just one part. Residentials are not presented to parents or children as extras or ‘holidays’, but rather as an integral part of the term’s work.

Children and parents are involved at the planning stage for residentials and are asked to share their ideas for activities. This puts student voice at the core of all residentials, as well as helping to allay parental anxieties. Following these consultations, and prior to the residential visit, school and centre staff take part in dedicated planning days at the partner outdoor centre (Crosby Hall Educational Trust). In 2009, this model of designing bespoke residentials was new not only to the three schools but also to the centre, which had previously tended to offer schools a ‘menu’ of activities.

The Pilot Partnership has worked with eight Birmingham schools to create a shared curriculum, in which residentials are ‘a natural and integrated learning tool’ for all children.  Residentials are based on curriculum themes Respect for the World, Citizenship and Other Cultures, and The Arts.

Three of our Learning Away secondary schools have developed residential programmes targeted specifically at raising attainment in core and other subjects in Years 9 – 12 where subject-specific lessons are directly linked to different residential activities and opportunities, or follow a ‘theme’ or particular task throughout the residential as a whole.

Driving curriculum change in school

Brilliant residentials can also be part of a wider agenda for change within a school. The Learning Away partnership schools are demonstrating that high-quality residential programmes can spearhead changes in curriculum design and organisation, and in the introduction of new pedagogical approaches. Fore example, several Learning Away schools have switched to a thematic curriculum. Staff develop skills to support these ways of working on residentials, and are then confident about introducing new approaches more widely back at school.

Staff from the Thomas Tallis partnership are trained in a democratic community model, which is used across their residentials. Back in school, this model is forming a core part of the school’s approach to students’ learning conversations – and is also now the model through which the school council operates.

At Calderglen High School a growing number of subjects are are holding subject specific residentials with a vertical age slice, building on the drama, music and PE departments’ successes. Meanwhile the school is experimenting with collapsing the timetable to adopt a thematic approach for part of a term, again building on approaches trialled as part of the school’s residential programme. Again, now that enough staff have been away they have the skills and confidence to work in this way, and – as the skills learned lower down the school progress upwards with students who have experienced Learning Away residentials – more staff are using active and collaborative teaching methods in support of subject and cross-curricular themes.

DIY or using providers?

It isn’t always necessary, possible, or even sometimes preferable, to run your brilliant residential through a residential provider. Providers don’t always have the room, can cost more, and are not always willing to develop programmes that suit the needs of the students. So can DIY be best?

Planning and delivering teacher-led residentials may use more of your own scarce resources, but the experience of Learning Away schools is that the benefits of doing so can far outweigh the costs.

Teachers are well placed to develop experiences that integrate with the curriculum, address students’ specific needs and work within the values and aims of the school, its families and community. At the same time teachers’ knowledge of young people is enhanced, relationships between staff and students can be transformed, and residentials can provide great opportunities to further develop teaching skills.

A brilliant residential activity doesn’t have to be an adventure activity. As staff confidence and experience has increased, several Learning Away schools in the first phase of the project went wholly DIY with their residentials, planning and delivering all activities themselves.

Others have developed a ‘middle way’ with providers.  School and centre staff work together to plan bespoke, progressive residential programmes. Each delivers part of the programme, drawing on their expertise. This way of working requires the school to set aside some planning time with the centre, but there are clear benefits from this approach including stronger school-centre relationships and a better learning experience for students.

Learn more about working with providers here.


Working in partnership with other schools can add huge value to a reasidential programme’s outcomes – and can reduce planning and staffing burdens.

Most Learning Away schools in the first phase of the project worked in partnership, with many groups of schools including a mix of primary, secondary and special schools. Collaborative partnerships have enabled schools to develop and plan engaging and relevant activity programmes, share coordination, jointly purchase equipment, and share venues and transport, staff development and training. Collaboration has also enabled development of cross-phase programmes, including transition-focused and student leadership residentials.

Some schools have developed their Learning Away programmes using existing collaborative structures, for example through a previous Education Action Zone (EAZ). When the funding for these central coordinating staff has disappeared some partnerships of schools maintain the collaboration on a voluntary basis. Others find the dedicated support so valuable that they have used school funds to maintain the central coordinating role.

The benefits of collaboration go far beyond efficient use of time and skills. Planning, delivering and evaluating residentials collaboratively has led to the most creative ideas, shared best practice and shared resources, and has inspired other schools to join in.


Fitting an integrated residential into a school timetable can be a challenge because of the need to release staff and to provide a timetable for any students who do not attend.

Certain times of year are extremely busy for schools, making releasing staff even more of a challenge. Many Learning Away schools have held successful off-season residentials, fitting their trips to the students’ and school’s needs rather than the weather, and holding them at times when staffing does not pose so much of a challenge.

Other solutions to overcome the timetabling challenge include:

  • Allowing some students to attend the residential during the day and into the evening without staying overnight. This can increase attendance and reduce staffing pressures, but must be carefully planned to ensure students and staff still make the most of the ‘extended day’ benefits of the residential experience.
  • Judicious use of weekends to enhance the time away.

Some schools acknowledge the demands placed on staff when they supervise overnight. Ideas for reducing this strain include planning overnight stays on a rota basis, and giving staff time off in lieu to recover from the night before.

There will be some students who, for whatever reason, are unable to take part in the residential. Tested strategies for providing an engaging curriculum back in school and managing staff absences include:

  • collapsing the timetable for the year group or the whole school
  • combining classes
  • project-based teaching for students and classes not away on the residential.

These strategies make it easier for schools to manage with reduced staffing and also have the potential to offer an exciting alternative for those students not able to attend the residential.

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