My first experience of a residential trip was as a Year 5 pupil in 1972, when 16 of us went to London for four days. I learned lots in that idyllic week; that if you are hungry, you eat what you are given; that it is almost impossible to run down a steep hill in Greenwich at full tilt without falling flat on your face; and that you don’t always get out on the same side of the train that you got in.
This year, I will clock up my 47th residential trip as I take our Year 4 pupils to the Isle of Wight for three days.
I have always been convinced of the value of residentials and I believe it is crucial that they remain part of the primary curriculum, regardless of budget constraints, fears of risk or looming tests.
'Out of their comfort zone'
Many children seem so mollycoddled these days that they rarely have the chance to do things on their own and, consequently, they can become stumped when in a situation that needs some decision-making or initiative.
The increased perceptions of danger in society have led to a lot less risk-taking, so taking children out of their comfort zone for a few days is no bad thing.
Residential visits are vital in helping schoolchildren to develop greater independence, organisational and teamwork skills, and an ability to understand others. There are so many life skills to be learned away from home: making your own bed, being on time, making sure possessions are looked after and realising that once pocket money is spent, it is gone.
Of course, cost does have to be a factor. Visits to English Heritage sites are free, so why not take advantage of that? Getting the children out walking – a novelty for many – is not only free, but also a good option for tiring them out. Children can sketch or conduct surveys as a way of introducing them to fieldwork that they may do later at secondary school.
For staff, residential visits are not holidays, and being on call 24/7 with someone else’s children is a huge responsibility. However, they are also hugely rewarding and have provided me with so many unforgettable high points: late-night singsongs around campfires, losing all the bags (except my own, strangely...) from the roofrack of a mini-bus and being told by one Year 4 “I usually have smoked salmon in mine” when asked if he wanted ham or cheese in his sandwich.
With all the pressures on the timetable and the cost and sheer hard work involved in running a residential visit, it would be easy to not do them. But they are not only a rite of passage – they’re also a crucial element of children’s learning. Long may they continue.
Richard Bullard is headteacher at Combe Down Primary School. He tweets from @richardbullard2
Read this article in full in the 20 May edition of TES. This week's TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here