Learning Away is learning how brilliant residentials can improve young people’s engagement with their learning, and how this engagement can be sustained beyond the trip to lead to improved achievement in the longer term.


The Aim

Brilliant residentials aim to foster a deep motivation for learning. We found that, through these residentials, engaged learners don’t just ‘behave’ – they take responsibility for their learning, choose to bring energy to it and have a commitment to learning that extends beyond school.

Learning Away has been exploring the impact of residentials on the quality of learner engagement and learning achievement in three areas:

  • engagement with learning, leading to improved school attendance and behaviour
  • achievement in a range of subjects
  • knowledge, understanding and skills development in a range of curriculum areas.

Our action research suggest that residentials can play a key role in learner engagement. Read our independent research findings, and watch Learning Away teachers describe their experiences:

Find out more about this definition of engagement, and other ways schools and organisations are finding of developing these qualities, in Learning Futures: a vision for engaging schools.

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Learning Away’s findings suggest that high-quality residential learning has a positive impact on children and young people’s achievement at school.

Several of our school partnerships during the initial phase of the project – both primary and secondary –  focused on collecting data to study impact on achievement and establish which key features of a high-quality residential learning experience can particularly support improved academic outcomes.

The evidence showed that these schools’ residentials did have a positive impact on students’ academic outcomes; this seems to be because the teaching and learning approaches used on residentials are different to those experienced by students at school. For example, whilst on Learning Away residentials, staff are more likely to:

  • Contextualise learning – students are involved in practical, context-based learning activities.
  • Personalise learning – learning is tailored to students’ needs either through differentiation or through individualised formative feedback.
  • Develop positive relationships – more informal, equal relationships between staff and students that promote students’ ownership of and engagement with their learning.
  • Promote collaborative learning – residentials can support an emphasis on collaborative learning, problem-solving and decision-making.

You can read more about the evidence of brilliant residentials on achievement here in the final report for the initial phase of Learning Away.

Can brilliant residentials boost GCSE attainment?

Recognising the importance of GCSEs to students’ future education and employment opportunities and schools’ performance scores, many schools develop support packages and specific interventions to boost GCSE attainment. Some common approaches to improving the exam results of C/D borderline students include tuition and mentoring, often long term and on a one-to-one basis.

It was an aim of  the initial Learning Away  action research to explore whether residentials provided a powerful alternative to these more traditional and often more costly approaches. Visit the school partnership pages of The Radcliffe School and The Canterbury Academy  to learn more about two different, targeted approaches, or explore our case studies from Learning Away schools.


During the initial phase of Learning Away, all partner schools reported consistently high levels of student engagement during their residentials. Longer term, there is also evidence of sustained engagement back at school – and of improved achievement as a result.

There are also clear signs that residential experiences promote deep engagement, and engage previously disaffected students and those with challenging behaviour.

Students’ evaluation survey responses clearly demonstrated that they also believe their attendance and behaviour improves as a result of going on the residential. The majority of students felt that their behaviour in school would be better (58% of all students) as a result of the residential, they would try harder to be on time for school (72% of secondary students) and their attendance would be better (54% of all students). 23% of parents felt that their children’ attendance had improved post-residential.

Students identified that they were not sent out of class as much as they were prior to the residential, and that they were trying to behave better in class and concentrate more in lessons. Attitudinal changes seen on the residential were sustained back in the classroom and, because they understood and were more engaged with their learning, their behaviour in class had improved.

“I probably did more hours of work in that one week than I did in the whole of this term. I just got so much inspiration from it.”

Year 10 student, The Canterbury Academy

Our research suggests that students are engaged because they:

  • enjoy the student-centred collaborative approaches (e.g. co-designing residentials and being involved in problem-solving tasks) and learning ‘by doing’
  • are involved in experiences that are different and removed from everyday life, yet with real-world relevance
  • undertake challenging activities that provide new opportunities to experience success
  • feel supported by their teachers and peers, with whom they enjoy better relationships.

Knowledge, understanding and skills

Many Learning Away schools have reported progress in their students’ performance in a range of curriculum and skill areas as a result of their residential programmes.

York Consulting’s evaluation of the first phase of Learning Away found that primary and secondary teachers share common views about the contribution of their residentials to developing students’ knowledge, skills and understanding.  Both students and teachers reported that their residentials supported students in:

  • becoming more independent learners, as well as learning how to work as a team (both primary – 75% – and secondary students – 84%)
  • developing a deeper and better understanding of the subject, for example, in maths or developing specific subject-related skills, such as in music or sports coaching (75% of secondary students)
  • developing study and research skills (both primary – 42% – and secondary students – 69%), for example, how to approach problem solving and how to ‘sense check’ and review their work
  • improving creativity: residentials provided inspiration and helped to enrich students’ work in a range of subject areas (both primary and secondary students)
  • developing vocabulary and speaking and listening skills (particularly for primary pupils).

For some secondary school students, their knowledge, understanding and skills increased before they even went on the residential as a result of planning for the residential themselves. Through planning, students have developed:

  • numeracy skills through budget planning and costings (e.g. venue and transport)
  • communication skills, including the art of compromise through negotiations with venue and activity providers
  • an ability to solve real problems (e.g. ensuring that food costs stay within agreed budget)
  • shared responsibility for risk management.

Teachers also noted how their students became more independent learners, both during the residential and afterwards back in the classroom. They took on more responsibility for their learning, they asked more searching questions and initiated their own research to find answers rather than expecting teachers to answer their questions.