Learning Away has explored the influence and impact of residentials on the quality of the learning experience.

Impacts

Through action research during the initial phase of the project, we found impacts in three key areas:

  • The informal relationships between staff and students that develop on residentials, and the relationships between students themselves, lead to impacts that persist long after the return to school. Relationships between students in the playground and the classroom became more constructive, leading to less bullying, better attention and new friendships. Teachers said that they understood their students better and trusted them more; this allowed them to use new teaching methods, some of which were first developed on the residentials. Students agreed that they had more trust in and respect for the adults working with them.
  • The involvement of students in the leadership and co-design of residential programmes grew out of the enhanced levels of trust and reflected the opportunities for progression and responsibility. Students’ sense of involvement and responsibility in their learning continued in school, especially when leadership roles were identified and encouraged. You can read more about how to involve students in leading and co-designing brilliant residentials in our free resources.
  • The development of resilience, confidence and wellbeing through residential experiences transformed into optimism and constructive attitudes to learning in the classroom. Students often reported increased persistence when they found tasks difficult and more belief in their ability to cope. On occasions groups of students independently planned approaches to support each other’s progress.

We also found that residentials can provide considerable support for transition at all key stages, and especially between primary and secondary school. Students involved in transition residentials consistently reported being more at ease after transition; staff claimed that behaviour was much improved and classes made more rapid progress through the curriculum.

As our thinking developed, informed by the practice of our sixty partner schools and findings from our independent evaluators, we came to understand why and how residentials’ ability to foster these qualities (deeper relationships, resilience, confidence, and leadership skills) builds a ‘Learning Away community’.

Learning Away has developed a diagram, setting out our theory about the changes that happen to learning through brilliant residential experiences – and explaining why we think this sense of community can translate so powerfully into short, medium and long-term outcomes for students.

We hope this theory, supported by York Consulting’s robust evaluation evidence and the many inspiring case studies developed with our partner schools, will encourage more head teachers and governing bodies that high-quality residential learning should be firmly embedded in the curriculum as a part of each young person’s entitlement.

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Relationships

Learning Away schools see a boost in relationships between staff and students, and between groups of students, both during and after their residentials.  Spending extended time together in a variety of contexts is a key factor.

  • Residentials provide opportunities to break down existing barriers and hierarchies – for example, students and staff often spend informal time together; students take on leadership roles.
  • Students and teachers take part in different challenges and activities than cannot take place in school. A significant number will be new to everyone, and the teacher is not automatically the expert: residentials are a leveller.
  • Students see different qualities in each other, which impacts on their interpersonal relationships both on residential and back at school; existing power relationships are changed.
  • Students learn specific social skills that help them make and maintain strong relationships with peers and adults.

Staff-student relationships

Brilliant residentials are improving relationships between teachers and young people. Many Learning Away schools report that their residentials give staff and students time to understand each other better, and that these improvements transfer back into the classroom.

Hear the experiences of teachers and school leaders involved in the Learning Away partnerships:

Our research findings suggest that relationships are benefiting from changes to group dynamics. These changes result from new learning contexts and environments that lack the stress and pressure that some young people associate with their school and home life. The enhanced knowledge and understanding staff and students have of each other by being together in new, informal and close situations creates a mutual bond.

Teachers also feel that residentials enable them to see their students as individuals, to see them differently and to better understand them. Young people also see their teachers from a different perspective, appreciating when they are willing to take on new challenges alongside them.

“Seeing the children in a different environment and for a continuous length of time has helped us view them in a more three dimensional way. Having a significant shared experience has enriched relationships.”

Primary school teacher, Christ Church Partnership

Student-student relationships

There is strong evidence of improved peer relationships (reported by 74% of students in surveys during the first phase of Learning Away). Students become more tolerant and caring of each other while away on residentials and develop a wider circle of friends.

Evaluation focus group discussions have identified that residentials help develop new and more trusting relationships between students (including friendships across year groups and between schools), which were deeper because of the shared experiences and the time spent together. These relationships have a noticeable impact on their participation, with subsequent activities and group tasks benefiting from these new and closer relationships.

“The kids, in that environment, are a lot more happy to help one another, especially those children that don’t necessarily talk to one another… in school they normally stay in their little groups”.

 Secondary school teacher

The key elements of residentials that support improved relationships appear to be:

  • challenging teamwork activities, especially those that involve problem-solving or engage students in moral dilemmas
  • working with others outside of normal friendship groups
  • extended time beyond the normal school day
  • informal ‘down’ and social time when relationships made during organised activities can be cemented through play, eating together and conversation
  • different activities, places, clothing, sleeping arrangements, food and other new contexts.

The impact on relationships back in school

The action research findings from the initial phase of Learning Away show that these changes in the quality of relationships persist, making a significant contribution to engagement in learning and the emergence of a learning community.

“On a residential students have to trust your judgment… trust everything you’re setting up for them and that improves relationships. So they trust teachers more back in the classroom and understand they are being asked to do things for a reason”.

Secondary school teacher

The evaluation of the first phase of Learning Away found that, back in school:

  • Staff and students trust each other more after the residential; students feel better able to approach staff for help back in school. 71% of students felt that as a result of the residential their teachers had a better understanding of how they liked to learn best.
  • Student-student relationships are enhanced – student feel more comfortable with each other having got to know others better on the residential – the sense of community is sustained. 87% of secondary students and 49% of primary pupils remained in touch with new friends made while away.
  • Students have a greater ability to empathise with others.
  • Longer-term, changed relationships persist in class and around school.

There was also evidence of the impact of residentials on the quality of relationships within families and with people outside of school and not part of the experiences.

“From being involved in Learning Away, the pupil has benefited by building a better relationship with his sister, mother and staff/school. They continue to play well together, as a family. They communicate better, listening and compromising.”

Family support worker, Smile Partnership

Leadership

High-quality residential learning can offer rich opportunities for student leadership, co-design and facilitation of learning. As a result, many Learning Away schools are involving young people more actively in the development and delivery of residentials.

Secondary students are involved in leading primary-aged children in outdoor, team-building and problem-solving activities. Older students are also mentoring younger ones, following appropriate training.  Year 6 primary school pupils are leading activities on their school residentials and continuing to take on leadership roles in the classroom and playground.

Action research outcomes from the first phase of Learning Away indicated that the wider impacts of young people taking up leadership opportunities included:

  • increased confidence, particularly being given responsibility to lead activities;
  • providing a role model for other students;
  • improved organisational and presentation skills;
  • improved independence and maturity and the development of interpersonal skills learning to communicate with a range of individuals (staff, parents, professionals, peers and younger children);
  • an enhanced learning experience as a result of student involvement in designing and planning the residential.

Involving students in the co-design of residentials has also had significant beneficial impacts on engagement; it provides rich pre- and post-residential classroom activity, ranging from contributing to planning or making decisions about residential activities to organising the whole residential.

As a result of residentials, teachers in Learning Away schools noted that:

  • different children were coming forward as leaders
  • there was evidence of students showing increased empathy towards each other
  • students were beginning to compromise more when working in groups
  • students were involved in decision-making about when and how activities were delivered.

Impacts were also felt by young people under student leadership:

That we wasn’t getting taught by teachers, we were getting taught by students so it was kind of fun. It was better cos you didn’t have as much pressure as you would with the teacher. You both understand each other and it’s better.”

Secondary school student

This increased engagement has resulted in increased confidence and cooperation among students, and has helped teachers better identify young peoples’ strengths and leadership skills. Evaluation evidence suggests that brilliant residentials provide a context and activities where students can become leaders and demonstrate their leadership skills in ways that have not been possible within the school environment.

Watch this short film to hear staff and students discuss the student leadership programme at Bulwell Academy, the ways it supports their Learning Away residential programme and its impacts on the school, community and, most importantly, the students themselves.

Resilience

During its initial phase, Learning Away gathered evidence that showed brilliant residentials can significantly improve students’ resilience, self-confidence and sense of wellbeing.

Teachers reported changes in behaviour post-residential including more:

  • supportive behaviours
  • collaboration
  • pro-active behaviour
  • participation.

Collaborative and supportive behaviours on residentials are widely reported by both students and staff. Young people support each other to participate in challenging activities, or simply when scared of the dark or nervous about being away. Both students and teachers feel this support helps develop empathy and understanding.

As well as encouraging everyone to be supportive, challenging activities can build independence and help students to experience success. Students have talked about these successes with enthusiasm, even when they are a personal rather than a group ‘best’. Sometimes, even when they fail, they are proud of having a go.

“I feel like I can fail in front of people and just be all right about it”

These experiences are shared with the whole group, building firmer friendships and supportive relationships even when students wouldn’t describe themselves as friends.

Below, teachers leading Learning Away’s action research describe some of the impacts they have observed:

In June 2015 York Consulting published its final independent evaluation of the first phase of Learning Away residentials. The teachers’ views in the film above are backed up by this report, which shows that the majority of young people taking part in Learning Away are proud of what they achieve on their residential.

During evaluation focus group discussions, students frequently referred to improvements in their confidence as a result of attending the residential. They also said that they were less likely to give up when they find things difficult at school.

Focus group discussions with staff provided clear evidence of how students’ confidence, resilience and wellbeing improved as a result of the residential, particularly for those who were quiet at school or less academic. Residentials give these students the opportunity to ‘shine’ and show others different skills outside the formal learning environment.

“Before the residential, he was very passive and sat back relying on the teaching assistant. He’s now more likely to put his hand up, he even smiles at you now… I didn’t know he spoke so much!”

Survey results showed that these changes in attitude and behaviour, and the feelings of confidence and raised esteem, are sustained over time. For some transition-focused trips, results suggested that the changes last across school phases and into a second year. The best results were reported from classes in which the staff went away with their own students and had a reasonable amount of time with them on return. It may be that this time allows staff to observe the changes in students and relate them to the residentials, but it may also be that time back in class is an important ingredient in embedding new-found confidence in everyday life.

Aspiration

It was an explicit aim of some Learning Away partnerships during the first phase of the project to raise the aspirations of their students, whether this was in relation to their progress and attainment in class, their ambitions for further study or their future careers.

These partnerships’ programmes included residentials to environments beyond the normal experience of the students, and partnering with business, a university or another school in order to raise awareness of other ways of life and wider opportunities. In some schools success was quantified by the number of students applying to university or an increase in the number of students applying to universities beyond the nearest city.

One primary school partnership conducted exchanges raising rural children’s awareness of the city and urban children’s of the seaside. However, this exchange went beyond the contrasting destinations and made the most of the facilities in each others’ schools, giving the visiting pupils the opportunity to experience new subjects and skills unavailable to them at home.

For others raised aspiration was a secondary benefit of a residential experience. In the first phase of Learning Away a number of staff reported students, who had previously found school challenging, gaining confidence in their new-found abilities and improved relationships. Staff reported that this new confidence led to students becoming more engaged with learning and making more effort to take personal responsibility for their achievement. In other cases a greater knowledge of the concerns or interests of students developed through time spent together on residential allowed staff to steer students to appropriate subjects or career possibilities on return to school.

Raising aspiration involves suggesting new identities perhaps not felt to be realistic (or sometimes even desirable) by students and their families and communities. Yet creating social mobility remains a key task of education. One of the more novel approaches to this task was the family residential run by the Smile Trust partnership. The school had been working to raise the aspiration of the whole community, including their students. Residentials were a very effective tactic in supporting specific families in which both children and parents were struggling with school in various ways. The ripple effect of this work throughout the community and the school contributed to an ongoing shift in the aspirations of the neighbourhood.  This was partially evidenced by the growing number of students entering the newly-created sixth form, including some of those involved in the family residentials. Our findings indicate that residentials can support communities in their development well beyond the boundaries of the school.

Developing a Learning Away community

Residentials provide the opportunity and experience of living with others. They also provide opportunities for group reinforcement and support, as well as the chance for participants to learn more about themselves and others in ways that create a ‘virtuous circle’ of behaviour.

In focus groups, both staff and students spoke of the strong sense of community developed on the residential and the sense of belonging that this engendered. Everyone was working towards a common purpose/goal and there was a strong sense of mutual support within the residential context. The contrasts provided by a new place, new activities, different approaches to teaching and learning, informal social time and even different clothes and food all contributed to a relaxation of the social norms established at school and the emergence of more inclusive and constructive ones that were appreciated by staff and students alike.

“It empowers us [staff] but it takes away our power as well in that we can actually be on a level with the kids and we can sit down on the grass with them. Whereas in a classroom situation it is ‘I am teacher, you are student’. You’re actually physically levelled, and I think that has a massive impact on relationships with students.” 

The sense of community was reinforced by participants facing common challenges and overcoming adversity together. They were learning how to work together as a team to solve problems and achieve the outcomes central to the residential experience. The residential context was seen as an environment where success could be celebrated and where students were less judgemental and more collaborative. It was felt that the sense of community developed on the residential and engagement in teamwork activities and challenges facilitated the development of these more positive attitudes.

You do everything together: you wash together, you eat together, you wash up together, you sit by the fire together… that’s quite a big thing. 

The memorability of the residential experience and the shared memories of participants helped to maintain the sense of community developed on the residential back in school and also helped to sustain the positive impacts seen on the residential, including:

  • improved staff-student relationships
  • improved peer relationships
  • learner engagement in and out of the classroom
  • a growth in student leadership
  • an overall shift in the mood of the school
  • an enhanced and shared sense of purpose.

In addition, schools noticed that, after implementing their Learning Away programmes progressively over a number of years, the sense of community in the school changed. Incidents of poor behaviour declined, the atmosphere between students and with staff was more friendly in and out of the classroom, learner engagement improved, play grounds became more inclusive and fun, student leadership became pro-active and staff engagement with extra-curricula provision increased. The mood had become more collaborative and participative, more equitable and with a stronger sense of a common purpose, transforming the school.

In this short film, a secondary Maths teacher from Canterbury Academy shares his experience of how and why this sense of community developed on the Learning Away residentials he was involved in.

 

Supporting transition

The Learning Away partnerships in the first phase of the project had plans to use residential to support the transition between each key stage. It was the impact of this approach at the transition from primary to secondary school that stood out the most during the study. Nevertheless, significant benefits were also found at the boundaries of Key Stages 1-2 and 3-4.

At the transition from Key Stage 2 to 3 it was relationships that were of most significance. The Learning Away approach of inviting schools to work in partnerships brought primary schools together with each other and with linked secondary schools. Offering residentials that brought together primary pupils from several schools so that new friendships were forming before the move to the big school was a common tactic. This strategy was enhanced when students from the secondary school were also involved in Year 6 residentials, especially when they supported them as student leaders. Likewise, spending time with the teachers who would work with the children when they entered Year 7 was of considerable value. Year 7 teachers reported that they could be half a term ahead by the New Year because students settled quickly and were engaged with their work.

The Walney partnership invited year 6 pupils to co-construct their transition residential. They started by asking them what they thought the challenges of going to secondary school might be. They then asked them what, from their experience of being away on residentials, could help them to face up to these challenges and what activities would best support this. This then became the programme for the residential. It resulted in some surprising suggestions such as ‘telling scary stories to each other in the tent at night’! This partnership also created a student-led evaluation activity using beads to represent different transition skills. These were awarded during the residential by anyone to those they thought deserved them and served to highlight the development of resilience. You can read more about co-constructing brilliant residentials with students in our free Co-construction resource.

One secondary school ran subject-based residentials with a vertical age structure across the Key Stage 3-4 boundary. This had the impact of increasing recruitment to the subjects involved and raising the attainment of the older students. In addition, the senior students took on leadership roles in extra-curricular clubs such as PE and drama and assisted primary staff in their teaching, creating an unanticipated transition benefit at Key Stage 2-3.

Several primary school partnerships found the same benefits could be gained by running residentials for pupils across the Key Stage 1-2 transition boundary including employing Key Stage 2 pupils as leaders on the residential and, later, in the school. If you would like to read more about taking younger children away on residentials, have a look at our free Early Years and Key Stage 1 resource.