During the first phase of Learning Away, we worked with sixty partner schools over five years.  As a result we have a clear picture of what we mean by high-quality residential learning, and have coined the phrase ‘brilliant residentials’ to describe these experiences.

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What are brilliant residentals

Brilliant residentials are school trips with at least one overnight stay, which are:

  • fully integrated with the school curriculum and ethos
  • designed and led by teachers and, where appropriate, students
  • inclusive and affordable for all students
  • deliberately and collaboratively planned to meet students’ specific learning needs, and to embed and reinforce learning back in school
  • part of a progressive programme of experiences
  • designed to include a wide range of new and memorable experiences
  • designed to allow space for students to develop collaborative relationships with both peers and staff
  • evaluated rigorously
  • supported by senior leadership and school governors.


York Consulting were the independent evaluators for the first phase of Learning Away.  Their final report confirmed that, through brilliant residentials as described above, schools can achieve significant breakthroughs in learner engagement, attainment and progress, teacher-student relationships, and wider school cohesion. Read more about the positive outcomes for students and schools that brilliant residentials can bring.

You can explore the principles of brilliant residentials further in this section of the website.

Watch this short film to learn more about the Brilliant Residentials story and campaign.

Planning for specific learning goals

During the first phase of Learning Away, partnership schools developed a way of thinking about residentials that meant they began to plan them differently.

Rather than start from the residential’s venue or the specific activities on offer, staff began to treat residentials as they would lessons. They started from the point of the learning aims and outcomes they wanted for students and planned backwards from there, choosing a setting and activities that gave the best chance of achieving them.

Planning in this way means that residentials are naturally integrated with the curriculum and involve teams of staff from schools, providers – and often students – planning collaboratively. Learning Away’s research has shown that residentials planned in this way have a greater impact on learning.  This is because learning on the residential can be embedded and reinforced back in school, plus staff gain a greater understanding of students’ learning and what works for them in terms of teaching styles.

Staff found that planning for an extended period of learning time in this way was helped by using a theory of change, which is a way of defining and planning for all of the ‘building blocks’ needed to achieve a specific goal.  You can read more about where to start with planning residentials in this way here, and more about the theory of change, its benefits, and how to use it for planning a residential in our free planning tools resource.

Curriculum integration

If residentials are integrated with the curriculum and the wider life of the school as an entitlement for all students, they provide many more learning opportunities and have greater impact.

Residentials can be integrated with the curriculum in many ways: schools can build on and extend themes, projects and subjects introduced in school and they can develop life, work and study skills to support learning back in the classroom.

Learning opportunities

Staff involved in Learning Away link residential learning to skills development within school, such as team building and independent learning. One partnership, for example, developed a leadership model where older students ran activities on residentials as well as coaching activities back in their own school and in feeder primary schools, for which they were accredited.

The residential context allows students to experience more challenging, real-life situations that cannot be replicated within the school environment and gives them the chance to develop skills that might be difficult within the classroom context.

Residential experiences embedded within the curriculum are able to enhance leadership – and other – programmes running in school by adding a deep learning experience.


When brilliant residentials are an integral part of the school staff note that their schools shift from ‘running residentials’ to delivering a ‘Learning Away programme’, which:

  • is embedded within curriculum delivery
  • is seen as an entitlement rather than an ‘add-on’
  • boosts students engagement, skills, knowledge and understanding
  • enhances staff and student relationships in the classroom, creating a learning community.

In a number of partnerships during the first phase of Learning Away, the focus on residential learning led to a much wider focus on learning outside the classroom (LOtC). Learning Away schools came to view residential learning and LOtC as integral to the school, its ethos and curriculum delivery: outdoor learning happened on a daily basis, with teachers increasingly using school buildings and grounds to deliver a wide range of subjects and topics. This change in approach had a positive impact on students’ behaviour and engagement as they became more active learners.

In a number of primary schools, planning the curriculum around residential experiences and seeing the impact this had on learning led to a complete reorganisation of curriculum delivery within school.

Residential learning also helped staff to respond more effectively to national curriculum changes. Teachers used residential programmes to help them deliver change, finding that residential learning fitted well with the aims and objectives of new curricula. In a number of partner schools, Ofsted identified curriculum-integrated residentials and their impact on students as a key strength.  For example:

“Numerous trips beyond school inspire pupils to write about their anticipation of what they will see and do and their actual experiences beyond their local environment. This was seen first-hand when Year 5 pupils were writing about and sharing their thoughts on what they might experience during their imminent residential trip to Eskdale. The work produced was of a high standard in terms of content and presentation and pupils were keen to share and help improve each other’s work.” (OfSTED report, Barrow Island Community School, May 2014)

Staff involved in Learning Away said they were increasingly using residentials to think through the skills and knowledge they wanted students to gain. Residentials then provided an environment that deepened learning and also clearly highlighted whether students had really grasped particular concepts and skills. Staff said that, as a result, the residential programmes led to better curriculum planning.

Hear from some of the teachers involved in Learning Away’s action research:

Staff and student involvement

A strong commitment to active staff and student involvement in the planning, provision and evaluation of residentials ensures a strong sense of ownership. This involvement results in engaged, independent and collaborative learners and teachers with rising aspirations.

One of the big changes that has happened in Learning Away partnership schools is the extent to which staff and students design and deliver their own residentials, using three main strategies:

Co-construction and co-design

Co-construction and co-design of learning is a partnership between teaching staff and their students to develop and deliver creative learning. Read more about co-construction here in our free resource.

DIY residentials

Teachers are well placed to develop high-quality residential experiences that integrate with the curriculum, address specific student needs and work within the constraints of the school, its families and community. See here for more information about this approach.

Student leadership

Using student leaders on residentials can take the pressure off staff – they become a ‘bridge’ between staff and younger students, and can enhance the residential experience for all involved.  Read more about the practicalities of student leadership here and explore our free resource.

The independent evaluation of the first phase of Learning Away shows that staff and student involvement in residentials has many benefits for them, and for schools, which are outlined below.

Benefits for students

Staff and student involvement in residentials help:

  • develop activities specific to students’ needs and learning objectives
  • staff gain a better understanding of how students like to learn and like to be taught
  • develop a shared learning community where all participants are equal leading to increased ownership, engagement, confidence, independent learning, and problem-solving skills
  • students develop maturity, team-working skills, communication skills and promote democratic approaches to decision making
  • increase equity between staff and students, leading to better relationships that can be built on back in school
  • develop leadership skills, increased motivation and aspiration
  • to reinforce learning
  • students become role models.

Benefits for staff

Staff-designed and led residentials provide:

  • invaluable staff development opportunities, for example developing leadership and pedagogical skills
  • opportunities for staff to share practice and learn from other disciplines
  • opportunities for career development for both teaching and support staff
  • alternative models of curriculum delivery that identify, develop and celebrate staff skills that may otherwise remain undiscovered.

Benefits for schools

Staff- and student-designed and led residentials help to:

  • embed, reinforce and progress learning from the residential back in school
  • facilitate the integration of the residential experience fully within the school curriculum
  • develop capacity within schools by ‘skilling up’ new staff and giving experienced staff additional responsibility
  • make residential programmes more sustainable, because schools are more self-sufficient in delivering them
  • significantly develop staff understanding of experiential learning
  • create a staffing structure with progression, focusing on responsibility for residential learning
  • increase student and staff commitment to residentials
  • encourage student responsibility and creativity  that can lead to leadership roles in school and on residentials
  • facilitate parental engagement and parents’ willingness to send their children on residentials
  • give residential learning a greater profile within the school.

A range of student and staff involvement models are emerging from across the growing community of Learning Away schools.

For example, a key feature of the Walney partnership’s primary to secondary transition programme is its co-construction model. Aims and implementation are planned by a steering group of staff, but the activity programme is designed by Year 6 students.

Canterbury High School works closely with a range of local outdoors and heritage providers – negotiating with them to use the facilities and buy in expertise when needed, but running most teacher-designed activities themselves. Their residentials are also self-catered, with the Academy’s student chefs (studying for NVQ Hospitality and Catering) planning and providing meals.

The Christ Church partnership of primary schools regularly uses the same provider, carefully planning the activities on each residential to provide variety for students from year to year. Parents and children are involved at the planning stage, putting student voice at the core of residentials – as well as helping to allay parent anxieties.

Entitlement and inclusion

If brilliant residentials are so powerful, they can’t be an ‘added extra’ that only some children and young people benefit from.

When young people, staff and parents view them as normal, participation increases. Moving residentials from an enrichment programme to an entitlement for all young people as an integral part of school life shows the commitment of the school to this approach to learning and teaching.

If residentials are seen as an entitlement, rather than enrichment, they become accessible to all students and solutions must be found to overcome barriers to participation.

Learning Away schools often use pupil premium to support those students whose parents feel they cannot afford the residential, and many are exploring lower-cost models to help overcome potential financial barriers. Read more about funding residentials here or explore our free resource focusing on lower-cost models.

Learning Away schools have routinely included students with a wide variety of additional needs on their residentials, some of whom derive even greater benefit from the type of independence young people can experience on residentials.  You can learn more about how this happened in the Special needs resource.

What do teachers and teaching assistants think? Find out more by watching this short filmed interview.

Progressive programmes

A progressive programme with a sequence of coordinated, pre-residential and residential experiences from ages 4 to 18 brings cumulative learning benefits for young people and staff, grows confidence, widens horizons and raises aspirations.

Benefits of a progressive programme

The Learning Away evaluation highlights how progressive residentials:

  • Develop and enhance learning skills, and enable students to see progress and improvement.
  • Improve interpersonal skills, as this teacher illustrates: “He found team work and communication with others very challenging. He often gets very emotional if things don’t go his way. During his second Learning Away experience, he successfully integrated into team work, something he was unable to do the first time he went away when he often chose to sit out of activities.” (Student Impact Survey)
  • Give students a clear picture of how their skills and knowledge have developed, which helps them realise they can achieve and progress – both on the residential and back in school.
  • Grow confidence and independence year on year, e.g. through students working in teams, leading activities and acting as role models/mentors for younger students.
  • Lay solid foundations for learning by reducing the age of students’ first residential experience, maximising the skills and relationships developed.
  • Facilitate the engagement of students and their families, particularly those students who historically might not have participated in residential learning. For young children, running a pre-residential extended day helps build parents’ and children’s confidence about staying overnight.
  • Help raise students’ and parents’ expectations and aspirations about their children’s access to different and challenging experiences: “There’s an expectation from parents that we will have a residential every year. They talk to parents in other schools and realise their children do so many things that other schools don’t do.” (Primary Staff Focus Group)
  • Help embed and develop staff skills and confidence, as this staff member comments: “I have gained confidence in dealing with new people; I am more efficient at organising activities and my time management skills have improved… I am more adventurous as a result – I have gone abroad on my own since the first experience and feel I could tackle anything!” (Staff Survey)

Examples of progressive programmes

Here’s one primary school teacher summing up their school’s programme and the motivation for moving to a progressive model:

“Prior to Learning Away we’ve always done a final Year 6 residential just before they went to secondary school. We thought that as the children come into Key Stage 2 if we had something that was more progressive, rather than throw them into a long-term residential, like four or five days and a big distance away they can gradually build up their confidence about what that experience might be like.

We started off two years ago doing one overnight residential for each year group in Key Stage 2. We felt that as we started when they are very young, Year 3, that one night was enough but that over the next couple of years they could build up until eventually they got to Year 6. The whole of the year group wanted to go because they’d had such an amazing experience on residentials previously. Before, when they got to Year 6, because it was so daunting and they’d not necessarily been on a residential, the interest wasn’t as high. It’s given them the confidence to want to do that at the end of Year 6.” (Primary Staff Focus Group)

The Bulwell EAZ partnership in Nottingham has taken advantage of local sites to develop a progressive residential model, using both school and heritage locations as camp sites. Overnight camping starts with one night in Year 2 and Year 3-4 respectively, then two nights slightly further afield in Year 5.   The Year 3-4 camp uses the local secondary academy school site – an extremely secure setting, which also supports children to become familiar with the ‘big’ school to which most of them will go.

The Christ Church partnership in Merseyside takes its youngest students on ‘extended day’ visits to the residential centre they know they will stay overnight at in subsequent years. This allows children and parents to become familiar with the site, and supports these very young children to experience valuable informal activities, like a shared meal and campfire activities, before returning home later in the evening.

You can read more about how to get started with planning residentials here.

Watch this short filmed interview to find out more about Bulwell EAZ’s progressive Learning Away programme.

A wide range of experiences

Residentials are most powerful when they provide a wide variety of bespoke learning activities, creatively designed to meet specific objectives – not only limited to more traditional field studies or adventure activity-based models.

Staff involved in Learning Away have found that the variety of activities was important, particularly for those students who may struggle more academically, as it gives them an opportunity to shine on residentials and change their status within the group.

These bespoke activities need to be integrated with other learning outside the classroom activities (within the school grounds, in the local environment/community beyond the school gates and further afield), as well as with classroom-based learning.

The Learning Away website is packed full with case studies, showing the wide range of residentials delivered by our community of sixty schools, and practical information about how these teachers have worked with centres and other residential providers to co-design and develop residential experiences for (and with) their students.

Developing new relationships

One of the most significant impacts of the first phase of Learning Away, highlighted by the evaluation, was on relationships – both peer relationships between students and those between staff and students at both secondary and primary level. The evaluation also suggests that these improved relationships continued after the return to school and had longer-term benefits.

Benefits to peer relationships

Residentials offer a safe space for students to:

  • develop new peer relationships, including across age groups, cultural and social barriers and between genders
  • develop more trusting and respectful relationships by getting to know peers better
  • shift existing power relationships – less confident or quieter students can be seen in a new light, those students who are popular and outgoing in school become more willing to associate with less confident or quieter students, and students feel more comfortable to interact with others
  • develop students’ social skills and skills to form relationships, for example learning how to talk to different people, learning how to start conversations and make people feel comfortable.

“I felt really happy because I got to mix with different people that I wouldn’t normally mix with.” (Primary Student Focus Group)

“There was a lot more flexibility between the groups, especially between the boys and girls, who tend to be in separate sides of the classroom by their own choice.” (Secondary Staff Focus Group)

Benefits to student-staff relationships

Residentials have the potential to transform student-staff relationships by:

  • giving staff and students an opportunity to develop new relationships as well as enhance/change existing relationships by getting to know each other better
  • providing a more relaxed and equal context where attitudes towards one another can be changed – the teacher can join students as a ‘non-expert’ in activities, so flattening the normal hierarchy that exists in schools
  • providing better insights and understanding into each other’s behaviour, and how to respond to each other helpfully
  • giving staff and students time and space to develop more trusting and respectful relationships.

What I liked best about the residential: “Getting to know the teachers. It sounds strange but you don’t see teachers as teachers. In school you see teachers as scary and strict but on the residential trip they’re so much nicer. You see them as normal human beings” (Secondary Student Focus Group).

Senior leadership and governor support

As with any initiative that schools undertake, senior leadership and governor support for brilliant residentials is crucial; without it schools may develop isolated pockets of good practice but opportunities for whole-school impact will be missed.

Senior leadership support took many forms within the first phase of Learning Away, with schools reporting that the following were particularly helpful:

  • Clear expectations – eventually permeating school policies and recruitment specifications – that all staff will be involved in residential experiences.
  • Leading, or at least visiting, brilliant residentials being run by the school.
  • Ensuring staff have adequate time to plan brilliant residentials, which involve more staff and student input than more traditional residential models.
  • Enabling staff to attend residentials run by the school.
  • Allowing space and time for the profile of brilliant residentials to grow within the school.
  • Allowing space and time for the whole-school curriculum to be informed and developed by the residential experiences of staff and children.
  • Encouraging direct governor involvement in residentials through volunteering.
  • Enabling feedback to governors from staff involved in running brilliant residentials.

In this short filmed interview, Linda Abbott, the Bulwell EAZ Learning Away coordinator, explains why it’s vital to get senior leadership and governor support for progressive residential programmes and how they do it at Bulwell.