Residentials – unlocking the potential
By | January 9, 2020

Time away from home with your peers – the power of the residential is something I have written on often. I credit residentials at Hindleap Warren with both turning my life around (dodgy kid) and introducing me to a lifelong love of the outdoors. Perhaps as importantly – as many of those residentials were on holidays specifically developed to mix non-disabled and disabled peers – these experiences set a career path around equity and access from the earliest days.

As we enter 2020 I have set a resolution across all of my work to ensure every child gets a residential experience – at least once at primary age and once at secondary. In truth these experiences should be annual – whether through schools, youth work or other routes – but let’s start small (ish).

Now – heads up. In my other role I am a Director at YHA so I have a vested interest in people buying and funding residentials (*shock* – someone with passion and expertise in something chooses to make it their job). I was also involved in setting up Learning Away. So do read this homage with this in mind.


But here are just 8 of many reasons why residentials should be an entitlement for every child:

1. Connections to nature

Whether rural, coastal or even urban residentials provide an opportunity to have contact with, and start connections to, nature. Experiences within school grounds or close to home residentials allow us to explore nature at different points of day (bat walks anyone?) and different flora and fauna to those that immediately surround us.

Residentials are included in the DEFRA funded Nature Friendly Schools Project (which has some useful free resources and the potential to sign up for support.)

2. Loving landscapes 

The UK has amazing National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Residentials provide an opportunity to explore remarkable landscapes in a new way (or at all) – both close to home and further afield.

The 2019 Glover Review talked about the challenges of access to these spaces and the importance of introducing young people to them. The report called for every young person to have a night in a landscape and over 2020 YHA will be working with other charities to make the Glover Review’s intent a reality.


3. Exploring heritage

There is a misconception that residentials are about the outdoors or high octane adventure. These things are great but residentials also play a crucial role in access to heritage – valued objects and qualities such as historic buildings and cultural traditions that have been passed down from previous generations.

Whether it is staying in a castle, building residentials around specific themes combined with English Heritage or National Trust or visits to museums that are too far for a day trip. Residentials can connect our present to our past.


4. Inspired writing

Whether the new findings in nature; the thrill of blackness at night; the adventures of bunk beds – residentials provide a rich vein of vocabulaory and experiences to support writing. I am biased but look at the work of the wonderful Otherwise Education to see how it is done.


5. Awe

There is increasing research on the impact of ‘awe’. Those moments when you transcend the every day. But organisations like Outward Bound have been building whole residential experiences around the concepts of awe and adventure for nearly 80 years. Now the subject of an Education Endowment Foundation trial adventure and awe are for all to experience.


6. Increased confidence 

”Increased confidence was the most common outcome of residentials identified by students and staff. Students were more willing to ask for help, try something new including ‘scary things’, push themselves and participate in class; they also had more self-belief.” 

The evidence from Learning Away showed many benefits for young people – and indeed also staff and the school. An increase in confidence – across multiple – dimensions was a core outcome with 78% of KS2 pupils and 87% of secondary students feeling more confident to try new things they would not have done before the residential.


7. Connecting communities

At a time when it increasingly seems we sit in isolated pockets – even within cities and towns let alone between counties and regions – residentials provide an opportunity to see beyond our local experience. A residential might be deliberately constructed as an opportunity for young people from different backgrounds to mix or to take young people to different parts of the country to understand a broader range of lives. The potential of stays away from home to support connections has never felt more important.


8. Introduction to travel

Travel is for life – not just for school trips. From the first walk to the shops alone to travelling the world developing the skills of travel is a progressive process. Residentials can start local and extend to travel in the home nations, and then even further afield. From one night nearby to 5 to months away exploring. From knowing the kit list to planning the menus. Understanding maps and timetables. Understanding safety and knowing how to respect fellow travellers. These skills are an important part of the tool kit for every child.


The benefits of residentials are well researched and the impact is continually evolving and improving. But as with so many things we explore at Every Child Should those who potentially could benefit the most access residentials the least – with cost being a major factor but also cultural, physical access, transport and staff time being key barriers given by schools. Some children – including those who are home educated or in alternative provision – may be even less likely to attend a residential and research also shows a too familiar postcode lottery. Learning Away explores solutions to some of these barriers, including low cost options, and as we have written before part of the solution is looking at how charities can work with and support schools.


There is much to do to ensure residentials for every child, but many reasons why we should.