Working effectively with parents and carers is crucial to the success of a residential learning programme, especially if they are going to come home as muddy as this student!

Worthy of Trust

Gaining their trust and permission to take their children – and, in several Learning Away schools, parents/carers themselves – away to strange places, with often quite basic conditions, has taken time, reassurance and sometimes persistence. Yet, with the right approach, children as young as five have been away and even younger children have attended extended days well into the evening.

The most important factor for school staff has been to work with parents and carers to gain and maintain this trust. When parents and carers join students and staff to make a ‘triangle of engagement’ with a young person’s education we have found that it leads to some of the most powerful outcomes. This section sets out key learning and examples for how these outcomes can been achieved.

“More than two thirds (68%) of parents also felt that their child was more confident, and 78% thought their child was more willing to try new things as a result of going on the residential.”

York Consulting, Evaluation of Learning Away: Interim Report 1, June 2013


Gaining permission

Most Learning Away residentials fill up quickly, but in some cases it takes more than an initial permission letter home to persuade parents and carers about the value and benefits of residential experiences.

Many Learning Away schools hold parent/carer evenings, where staff talk about the residential and show films or photos of past residentials to bring them to life. Where more risky activities are proposed these are explained in detail, along with mitigating factors. Some schools also develop booklets about their residentials that are given to parents/carers as a way of explaining the residential and its benefits.

School staff also find that following up parent/carer evenings with individual, informal discussions is absolutely key in building trust and therefore gaining permission for children to attend a residential. Primary staff use the playground at arrival and home times effectively to build these relationships, while secondary and special school staff phone parents/carers as needed and also make home visits.

In the vast majority of cases, these approaches (and, in some cases, gentle but committed persistence) pay off and almost all students that staff want to take away on residentials do attend. In cases where parents/carers are still very reluctant to let their children stay away from home and residentials are local enough, arrangements are made for them to attend for extended days so they experience as much of the residential as possible.

In this short filmed interview, a parent talks about the sort of information she feels parents and carers need to be told by the school about their child’s residential as it is being planned and the reassurance that then provides.

Communication during the residential

Learning Away schools have developed different ways of communicating with parents and carers during residentials. While the majority of parents/carers are happy to release their children into the hands of school staff once they have the information and have discussed the residential with school staff, some need ongoing reassurance whilst their child is away.

Communication with parents and carers before residentials (via letters, booklets, information evenings, films and individual discussion) is vital to their level of confidence about a residential: these strategies are covered in more detail in Gaining permission and Reassurance.

Whilst on the residential some staff tweet about activities each day, which enables all parents/carers with access to the internet to have an idea about what their child has been doing.

For those parents/carers who need individual, ongoing reassurance about their child, mobile phones have played a big part.  A reassuring text or phone call from a member of staff to a parent/carer every day is often enough.  Short phone calls home by students are also used, but only if parents/carers and staff agree that this won’t upset the child’s equilibrium on the residential.  For older students who may have concerns about how things are at home, phone calls home help reduce their anxiety and enable them to engage fully with the residential.

Feedback following the residential proves very helpful for both parents/carers and school staff, particularly where children have broken unhelpful patterns of behaviour.  Between them, parents/carers and school staff have been able – through close communication – to continue to support students to maintain more helpful patterns. In many cases this has leads increased ongoing engagement at school and a happier, more relaxed home life.

In this short film a parent, whose children have attended Bulwell EAZ partnership residentials, describes the simple ways she feels schools could communicate with them while their children are on away to provide both reassurance and other useful information.


Central to gaining the permission of those parents and carers who are reluctant to send their children on Learning Away residentials is reassuring them about the wellbeing of their child whilst they are away from home.

This reassurance is particularly important for residentials that involve very young children, those who are more vulnerable, and in general for those resdientials that involve camping.

Learning Away schools find that making sure that parents and carers have enough, and the right sort of, information about residentials is very important.  They produce booklets and hold parent/carer meetings about residentials to give information and to allow time for discussion about anything that parents/carers are worried about.  For most parents/carers this provides enough reassurance.

For those parents/carers who are still worried, individual, high trust relationships between them and school staff are a key factor in a child’s participation in a residential. Where these relationsihps exist, parents/carers feel comfortable to voice their fears and discuss them, rather than just saying a flat ‘no’ to the residential.  Once this discussion has happened, parents/carers often feel reassured enough to give permission for their child to attend. In primary school discussions tend to happen in the playground, while for secondary and special schools these happen through phone calls and home visits.

It is crucial that time for these discussions is built in when planning a residential, and that the significance of the staff-parent/carer relationship is recognised: it can have a direct impact on whether a student participates in a residential or not.

In the vast majority of cases, school staff have found that parents’/carers’ specific worries for their child – usually concerning food and sleep habits – do not emerge on residentials.  The new environment and being part of a different group of people seems to enable old patterns to be broken and new ones made.

Involving parents and carers in residentials

In some Learning Away school partnerships, parents and carers have played a direct part in schools’ residential experiences.

Two partnerships in the first phase of the project, the SMILE Trust in Manchester and the South Hetton partnership in County Durham, focus on taking families away, so parents/carers are involved as participants in the residential. The SMILE Trust’s Family Residential Programme uses a family-based learning approach, with cooking and the arts as the lead into parenting and family learning. Children in the targeted families are supported to gradually take on responsibility for planning the catering, chores and activities. Three months after the start of the programme, the whole family go away together. Learn more about these programmes on the schools’ profile pages, and in our free Families resource.

Other school partnerships have asked parents/carers to attend residentials as additional adults.  Care has been taken when this happens to make sure that the parent/carer is not directly responsible for their child on the residential, so that the child can experience the sense of independence a residential offers.  A few schools have involved parents as experts who come to the residential to lead activities.

The key to involving parents/carers as additional adults or experts successfully has been careful preparation. Time for this preparation needs to be built in to residential planning. Find more tips and suggestions for staffing your brilliant residential here.