Residentials aren’t just a jolly week away at Bangor

12th February 2016 at 00:00

For many pupils, they are the most memorable experience of their school days; for their teachers, they are rewarding, if knackering. Now new research has declared them as “providing opportunities and benefits/impacts that cannot be achieved in any other educational context or setting. The impact is greater when they are fully integrated with a school’s curriculum and ethos.” They were once described as “worth half a term in school”.

I am talking about “residentials”.

The research commissioned by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation to evaluate its five-year Learning Away programme is unequivocal and comes as a timely boost to those who have always been sure that residentials make a huge difference both cognitively and affectively to the pupils who go on them.

I’ve never needed any persuading, but I have sometimes found it difficult to persuade some school leaders of the difference that they can make to pupils’ attainment, achievement, attitude and character. Those of us at Hamlyn who monitored Learning Away included some sceptics, but they were persuaded by the evidence.

At a time of real-terms cuts to school budgets, residentials are under the cosh. Many flagship centres run by local authorities have either closed or been quietly handed over to charities. Those that remain are expensive. But as the Hamlyn publication Brilliant Residentials explains, expense need not be an issue – Nottinghamshire in its heyday ran 18 tented villages (bit.ly/HamlynResidential).

And, in any case, residential costs are a legitimate charge on (and effective use of) the pupil premium.

One reason residentials are powerfully effective is obvious.

While children spend just 15-20 per cent of their waking life in school, they spend the remainder at home and in the community and, for disadvantaged children, that’s when and where they “lose” vital learning.

On a residential, however, we have them for 100 per cent of the time. Moreover, residentials are keenly anticipated – at least by the students. – offering the chance of intensive immersion learning when the senses arguably are heightened and more receptive to learning.

Of course, there are more and less effective residentials, and that’s where the Hamlyn work is so useful. To be what Hamlyn calls “brilliant”, residentials need to be well-planned and followed up. At all costs, they should avoid the “jolly week away at Bangor” approach, in favour of a clear rationale with learning expectations for each and every pupil.

One school I know sees residentials as part of the rationale of what it calls its “second timetable” and “set of experiences” guaranteed for every student. Without the support and sustained interest of the school leadership, residentials will founder. They work best if CPD programmes include elements relevant to their improvement. These and other helpful “dos” and “don’ts” are among the outcomes of the Hamlyn Learning Away programme.

To end on a positive note, how would you like a timeshare in a brand new metal barn-like residential centre on the Warwickshire/Leicestershire border – sleeps 35 – which, phoenix-like, has arisen from the ashes of its burnt-down predecessor thanks to the efforts of some Birmingham primary heads who work as a co-operative?

It costs each school £5,000, as a one-off, to become a member, followed by minimal annual running costs. Well, of course, it’s too late; all 20 memberships have been taken but there’s a message here for multi-academy trusts and school partnerships. It may be beyond one school to have its own centre, but it’s certainly within the reach of a group of schools or a multi-academy trust. You couldn’t spend your money to better effect.

Sir Tim Brighouse is a former schools commissioner for London

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