Many of the school partnerships in the first phase of Learning Away focused on the potential that residential learning had to impact on staff.

Research Findings

These partnerships were aiming for staff to use residentials as a vehicle to learn and then incorporate varied approaches to teaching and learning into their classroom practice. In particular, schools were looking for staff to increase learning outside the classroom and other practical activities back in school, because of their success in engaging students on residentials.

In pre-residential surveys, staff themselves identified that they wanted residentials to help them further develop their understanding of their students, both as learners and more generally as people.

There were also two other outcomes concerning staff, which hadn’t necessarily been an initial focus of the school partnerships but came through strongly in the evaluation of Learning Away: opportunities for professional development, and staff relationships.

Watch this filmed interview with Tony McDaid, the former headteacher at Calderglen High School, where he describes the impact of the school’s Learning Away residentials on the staff at his school.

Pedagogical skills

Teachers involved in Learning Away typically use highly learner-centred teaching practices. Many actively involve young people in planning and making decisions related to their residentials.

This practice has helped teachers to ensure learning opportunities are experienced by students as relevant and personally meaningful – research from the first phase of the project highlighted that the more students were involved as active participants in their own learning, the better they did.

Brilliant residentials provide an opportunity for teachers to experiment with pedagogical approaches that emphasise the active role of students and develop these as part of their day-to-day practice in school.  Approaches used to date include:

  • student consultation and student voice
  • enquiry and problem-solving
  • practical, active and experiential learning
  • group work and cooperative learning
  • building explicitly on students’ prior learning
  • making connections between the curriculum and real world
  • working in collaboration with older students.

The widespread use of these approaches is proving significant in ensuring young people’s enjoyment of, motivation about and engagement with their learning.

We also have growing evidence that teachers are continuing to use learning approaches trialled and developed during residentials back in school. Key examples include:

  • taking a thematic approach to the delivery of curriculum
  • systematic use of project-based learning
  • providing increased opportunities for smaller group work activities
  • incorporating video making into the curriculum.

During evaluation focus group discussions, teachers have identified how the residential has impacted on their classroom practice. Many schools have begun to explicitly plan their residentials as an integral, joined-up part of the curriculum. Read more about curriculum integration in our free resource pack.

In this film, two secondary school teachers and a teacher and teaching assistant from a primary school talk about the impact their involvement in Learning Away residential has had on their teaching skills and classroom practice.

“I wanted to engage the boys especially in writing. They went away with a creative writer. They now can’t stop – I have to give them notebooks to take home so they can work on their diaries and novels. Their literacy scores have gone from 3b to 4c.”

Teacher, Bedford Primary School, Christ Church Partnership

See more examples of how Learning Away has impacted on classroom practice in the case studies below, or visit our Getting Started pages for tips on using brilliant residentials to support staff development.

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Professional development

Teaching assistants, teachers and school managers agreed that Learning Away had played a significant role in staff professional development, in particular through:

  • opportunities to develop and model particular skills, in addition to pedagogical skills, such as planning and organisation, evaluation and staff/student leader/volunteer management
  • opportunities to take on additional responsibility
  •  identifying staff strengths and particular skills that may not have been evident within the school or classroom environment, and building on these during and after residentials.

Partnerships approached continuing professional development (CPD) in different ways. Some larger partnerships organised cross-school CPD days, where staff were introduced to new skills in workshops, which they then built on during residentials. Others used residentials themselves as CPD, with more experienced staff working with less experienced staff, or held CPD residentials on the campsite itself.

Each CPD approach, and the residentials themselves, resulted in staff talking individually about the increase in confidence that being involved in Learning Away had given them; in surveys and focus groups they talked about having pushed themselves professionally as a result of being involved in residentials, with some going on to complete further qualifications. Others talked about having been ‘converted’ to the benefits of residentials, as illustrated by this primary school teacher:

I was the kind of person who didn’t camp, that wasn’t my kind of thing. Having been involved over the years and seen how much the teachers and staff get from it, and what an amazing opportunity it is for our kids, I think it’s been just the most amazing experience.” (Primary Staff Focus Group)

As staff became more confident around residentials and enthused staff arrived back at school full of successful examples, staff interest in taking part in Learning Away grew. Those partnerships who found it hard to recruit staff at the beginning of the project no longer struggle, and the norm is now for schools to have too many staff volunteering for residentials as the positive impacts on students, but also their colleagues, are clear.

Staff relationships

In the final staff survey of the first phase of Learning Away, 61% of staff said that they thought that the project had had a significant or transformative effect on their relationships with colleagues in their school, because of the opportunities it gave them to:

  • work with staff from other subject areas and/or year groups
  • spend extended time with each other both during planning sessions – both within and across schools – and on residentials themselves
  • collaborate with staff from residential venues and/or specialists brought in to deliver a particular part of a residential.

The high-trust relationships built between staff on residentials have long-lasting impacts at both professional and personal levels.

Professionally, teachers and TAs talked about collaborating more often with staff they had got to know through residentials, for example planning joint activities both within and across schools, team teaching, and planning student learning across subjects more effectively. They also noted that working with specialist staff on residentials both inspired and challenged them to be more creative in their own practice.

Personally, staff said their schools felt more connected and personal as a result of the residentials; this was particularly valuable for new staff who needed to integrate into a school quickly. One NQT, for example, said that her involvement in Learning Away had meant she had “found my place” in a large secondary school in which she had previously found it hard to settle. Staff who had been on residential together tended to continue supporting each other and collaborating back in school because they felt comfortable with each other, which led to helpful personal and professional outcomes. One primary school saw this through their TAs on return to school:

The teaching assistants have developed a network where they’re really supportive of each other and they notice when they’re struggling, even without anybody saying… They pick up each other’s slack, which didn’t happen before… it’s really noticeable.

In this short film, two teachers from Canterbury Academy describe the positive impact their involvement in the school’s Learning Away residentials has had on their relationships with colleagues.

Understanding students and families

Understanding students

“Working with children in a different environment highlighted how little we knew about our children as individuals; their leadership skills, their ability to innovate, their fears, their co-operative skills (or lack of them!). Staff involved in the project brought this new knowledge back with them.” (Final Staff Survey) 

The vast majority of staff involved in the first phase of Learning Away commented that the project made a significant or transformative impact on them seeing their students in a different light (82% in the final survey), and on them developing a better awareness of students’ strengths and limitations (78% in the final staff survey).

The residentials gave staff space to discover things about students they could not see in the classroom. For example, the more trusting relationships developed between staff and students on residentials meant that students often shared more about themselves, which enabled staff to better understand their behaviours. As a result, staff on the residential developed more effective ways of working with students, both on the residential and back in school. These new strategies were shared between staff on the residential and with staff back in school, so students were managed more effectively across the board following the residential. Secondary staff noted that residentials provided a context where they could learn – from each other – how to manage more challenging behaviour, and that they also continued this learning (particularly within the residential staff group) back in school.

The trust and understanding built up on the residential meant that staff who had been on residentials with students were more effective at, and felt more confident about, diffusing student conflict back in school. Staff felt that when they needed to step in, students listened and responded quickly because of the relationship formed on the residential. Staff also noticed that students were more likely to come to them to ask for help with problems following the residential, as they felt confident they would be listened to respectfully and given practical help.

Understanding families

Working with family groups changes relationships between staff, students and parents in significant ways.

Through the vehicle of the family residentials during the first phase of Learning Away, staff were ‘allowed’ into home and family life. This is a shift in power that can’t be undone and can be of great benefit to the student at home as well as to relationships with teachers at school.

‘A lot of our parents feel they are not good parents. Interventions have been very task focused with not much nurturing. I think what our programme does is work with people in that very supportive, mentoring, enabling way.’ (Teacher, Staff Focus Group)

The residential context also gives students and families opportunities to be immersed in a positive community environment they may not experience at home:

 ‘It’s about promoting positive change. I think for a lot of our families embroiled in daily living, and the stresses of that, for a lot of our parents meeting the needs of one, two, three children on top of their own life difficulties can be a challenge and they can’t see a positive. But taking them out of the community and saying you’re here, this is your family and these are the things you can do, little tweaks can make so much difference. They’re not distracted by the telly or the door. They’re not distracted by the neighbours. They’re not distracted by that sense of overwhelmedness around life’s difficulties. So those two days almost make them see them [their children] as babies as they brought them into the world. It gives them that space and opportunity because even a family holiday can be a challenge.’ (Social Worker, Staff Focus Group)

Learning Away partnerships that have run family residentials found that it was often easier to involve non-teaching staff in these residentials. Catering staff, family support workers, social workers and sports coordinators developed significant relationships with parents and students, providing informal educational support during and, crucially, after the residentials. This support comprised a variety of informal ‘corridor’ encounters, helping to maintain enhanced engagement and aspiration, and more significant support with challenging situations.

‘One student I worked with on the residential was an elective mute. Following the residential – we’d made a pact before we left that when we met each other we’d signal with our hands because on the last day of the residential we were singing and dancing with this broom while sweeping up. She sees me and we wave and signal with our hands at each other. It’s just lovely. She’s made another friend in school, someone she can talk to if she wants to.’ (Catering manager, SMILE Trust partnership)

These new possibilities for supporting struggling students were reinforced by involving the staff, parents and students involved in further activities at school. For example, one school set up a lunch club for parents, catered by their children and also attended by the staff they have got to know through the residentials.

Developing family residentials is not simply a matter of enhanced knowledge of the family, greater respect or trust between the staff member, parent and young person. Working in a triangle of parent, child and educator requires new skills and approaches, as one family support worker illustrates:

‘It’s not conflict, it’s not challenging, it’s gentle and subtle persuasion and negotiation about how you might challenge that child or how you might encourage that child to do something rather than dictate.’ (Family support worker, SMILE Trust partnership)

 The teachers involved in family residentials valued the new knowledge and skills they gained to work in closer partnership with families. Non-teaching staff not only had the chance to develop new skills, they expanded their roles within school, creating a greater sense of a community of diverse professionals all capable of providing valuable support to students.

In both the partnerships working with families the coordinator was not a qualified teacher and, in one case, held no professional qualifications. Both received support for professional development and training from their schools, leading to new qualifications and career opportunities.

Quantitative evidence provided by the SMILE Trust demonstrated the impact of family residentials on the attendance of students who were living in families in need and often in crisis, and were at risk of disengaging from the school community. The attendance of more than three quarters (76%) of students involved in family residentials improved following participation in the programme and, for approximately two thirds of these students, these improvements were maintained in the longer term.

Read more about how to work with families on residentials in our free Families resource.

In this short film, two teachers and a teaching assistant talk about the transformative impact their involvement in their school’s Learning Away residentials has had on their practice and their understanding of their students and their family backgrounds.

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