The UK has a long history of residential centres, widely used to provide overnight stays and specialist programmes for primary and secondary schools.

Working with providers

Many centres provide excellent staff and facilities in great locations. They also make the organisation of a trip relatively straightforward. However, they can be expensive both to travel to and stay in. Their programmes can also lead to less involvement of school staff and reduced integration of learning on the residential with the school curriculum.

Learning Away schools have found providers who are willing to work in partnership with them to develop more tailored programmes – and the schools continue to find these providers great value for large groups and special occasions. They are also finding ways to reduce the cost of residentials by co-staffing, or negotiating access to facilities but with activities led entirely by trained school staff.

Students often value the relaxed style and role models of the centre staff. School staff have also found some of the approaches to leading activities taken by centre staff helpful in developing their own practice. Some providers have found new ways of working with schools rewarding and have begun suggesting more flexible offers to other clients.

This section of our site explores some of these more creative approaches.

“We’ve changed our approach to other schools after these visits. We’re now encouraging other teachers to lead activities either on day visits or when they are staying with us. We’ll train them up if that helps, but they often have skills and we can induct them into our systems. It makes the place busier and reaches more people.”

Director, residential provider

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Why work with providers?

Established residential providers offer a popular, more straightforward way to cater for the large groups bigger schools want to take away. They can cater for whole or half year groups and provide the extra staff, activities and skills a school cannot always provide alone. Learning Away schools have been finding new ways to engage creatively with providers to enhance the quality of their brilliant residentials.

Some providers have developed special facilities to meet individual schools’ needs. Others have been willing to co-construct the programme with staff and students in order to create a more integrated experience with the school curriculum.

In many cases school staff have been able to learn from the centre staff and use these skills to run other day-long and overnight trips, increasing their outdoor and residential provision.

Schools developing student leaders have found similar training benefits from leadership camps at a staffed centre. The young people are then well-placed to assist on camps with other students.

Some schools have found the specialist services of providers set up to work with young people with complex additional needs and disabilities invaluable, giving them the confidence to open up their residential programmes to all of their students.

Long-term relationships

In a number of cases schools have developed close, long-term relationships with a nearby residential provider, building up an extensive and integrated programme of day and overnight visits led by school staff, buying in specialists and accommodation as needed.

This approach can have many practical benefits for both parties, including:

  • The provider benefits from the increased and sustained custom.
  • Regular arrangements help the school to control costs and can help it extend its residential and outdoor provision.
  • In some cases, residential providers and schools have undertaken successful joint fundraising projects.

Non-traditional residential venues

Some schools involved in Learning Away have been encouraging places from farmers fields to holiday cottages, and walled gardens to stately homes, to become new residential venues. Learn more about Bulwell EAZ’s Year 2 camp at Wollaton Hall, or The Canterbury Academy’s summer 2013 residential at Hampton Court Palace.

Co-construction with providers

Working regularly with a residential provider makes it possible for school staff to develop different curriculum themes and teaching strategies in collaboration with the centre that also include both the outdoors and the classroom. As the skills and confidence of the teachers develop so it becomes possible to negotiate more new ways of working with some providers.

Approaches developed by schools involved in Learning Away’s first phase of action research included:

  • negotiating the content of the programme so that the activities offered by the provider are adapted to suit the curriculum outcomes the school is looking for
  • buying in specialist centre staff for key sessions, while most other sessions are led by school staff (or, in some cases, student leaders)
  • negotiating school staff-led access to special habitats (such as woodland) or facilities (such as climbing walls) once school staff have learned to use them
  • suggesting developments to the centre infrastructure to make visits more practical, comfortable and affordable
  • developing new programmes together.

The Christ Church partnership of three primary schools has built a very effective partnership with a local trust – learn more about how this partnership has supported them to fully and creatively integrate their residentials into their curriculum.

An unexpected benefit from these developing relationships, observed across a number of Learning Away school partnerships, is what happens when students become familiar with the centre. This familiarity empowers children and young people to get more involved in co-constructing the curriculum, making suggestions for how the provider might be used to explore themes they have suggested.

“We should do poems. Because poems – its about something we’ve done, our memories. Because if we went on the camp we would have something to say about. We could visit a place like Beatrice Potter, someone who’s done really good poems.”

Year 5 pupil, Easington Colliery Primary School, South Hetton Partnership

Giving children and young people an opportunity to become familiar with a particular site also offers rich opportunities for schools to train them as student leaders, adding another dimension to the benefits of the residential. Learn more about student leadership on residentials in relation to staffing here and about how Learning Away schools have developed student leadership programmes on residentials in our free resource.

Developmental opportunities for providers

Brilliant Residentials are school trips with an overnight stay, which are led by teachers, co-designed with students and fully integrated into the curriculum. They are a ‘multi-tool’ for achieving vital educational outcomes, have a huge impact on students of all ages and can help to deliver whole school change. Residential providers have an important role to play in helping schools achieve these outcomes.

Although most of the information on this website is focused on helping schools to plan, deliver and embed progressive programmes of brilliant residentials, local authority, voluntary sector, commercial and other providers of residential experiences will find much to support their work too.

Learning Away is:

  • providing new powerful and compelling evidence to help ‘make the case’ for residentials – particularly in terms of raising attainment and school improvement
  • suggesting opportunities for providers to develop and extend their practice
  • providing ideas, case studies, resources, tools and CPD modules that can help providers support users to develop their practice as well as the quality of the user-provider relationship.

Through Learning Away, its activities and the wide variety of information provided on our website, we hope to encourage providers to consider (and start to provide answers to) a series of developmental questions:

  • Are there ways that you can better support and encourage schools to ensure that their residential programmes are more fully integrated with their wider curriculum and ethos?
  • Are there ways that you can better support schools to plan for progression and a greater range of experiences?
  • Are there more ways that you might help schools plan lower-cost models, enabling them to offer more residentials to all of their students, e.g. through use of local sites, camping, shorter residentials, winter discounts, less centre staff delivery input?
  • Can you develop new programmes that offer schools a greater range and variety of learning experiences/models – e.g. improving KS2-3 transition, GCSE attainment – linked to wider range of subjects?
  • Can you make it easier for schools to take a more active role in planning their own programmes, e.g. by providing more opportunities for co-design and co-construction of their residentials?
  • Can you make it easier for schools to develop active student involvement and leadership opportunities?
  • As a result, could more of the residentials/activities you provide be planned, managed, delivered and evaluated by school staff and the students themselves?