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In the face of the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, many families find themselves tightening their belts. One of the first things to get sacrificed is often family holidays. Likewise, many schools are cutting back on trips and residentials. However, we must not underestimate their importance in providing a holistic and well-rounded education for young people.

For many pupils, school-led residentials are their only chance to access such enriching experiences. Their impact on pupils’ learning outcomes and socio-emotional development cannot be overstated. According to a survey by Learning Away, a staggering 82 per cent of key stage 2 pupils reported that residentials enhanced their learning. Furthermore, 78 per cent expressed increased confidence in trying new things, and 71 per cent felt they could connect better with their classmates.

Residentials not only enhance academic understanding but also nurture essential skills, promoting better interaction with peers, teachers and the community while boosting confidence and fostering meaningful bonds.

In an effort to continue to offer such opportunities in a low-cost way, our leadership team embarked on a mission to provide these transformative experiences ourselves. After careful consideration, we decided to host camps on two of our school grounds, with our main site conveniently located near the sea.

We accommodated more than 350 pupils from six schools across nine intakes. Each group of pupils spent a night under the stars, camping in tents, exploring the local area, and, of course, singing around the campfire.

For those pupils visiting our main campsite, there was also the opportunity to visit the beach. Many were seeing the sea for the first time, an experience they will never forget. Such residentials are always hard work but our approach was a resounding success thanks to these key strategies, which will hopefully provide a helpful blueprint for other schools.

A comprehensive logistics plan

One of our biggest challenges was procuring and organising camping equipment promptly. We were lucky enough to be able to draw on in-house experience; having access to an experienced outdoor education adviser can be a huge help.

As a result of this work, we opted for ‘blackout’ tents, for example, which helped ensure pupils and staff received a good night’s sleep. Ordering well in advance and purchasing a storage container to store equipment on site also proved invaluable.

Prioritise safeguarding

Safety was a key concern. Thorough planning and risk management ensured we could deal with a range of issues, should they arise. In turn, this work informed a comprehensive camping handbook for staff, laying down clear procedures for the camps. It was also reassuring to know that school staff at both sites were extremely supportive of the initiative and could provide additional support if necessary.

Staff training

To ensure smooth operations, it was crucial that every staff member knew their role and responsibilities. Prior to the event, we conducted an extensive staff training day covering procedures, activities and emergency protocols. It was essential that our staff understood the profound value of residentials in shaping our pupils’ experiences, motivating them to create lasting memories for each child.

Keep the pupils engaged and well-fed

Young people often have boundless energy, so keeping them occupied and well-fed is key. We designed a range of engaging activities from making campfire s’mores to exploring the beach, a sandcastle competition, completing a quiz on local town features, learning about the moon and tides, and enjoying beach and field games. For dinner, we partnered with a nearby chip shop, providing individual meal boxes with fish and chips, which delighted the pupils and made mealtime hassle-free for our staff.

Ultimately, the challenges of offering enriching-yet-affordable residentials for pupils can be overcome with careful planning, comprehensive training, and engaging activities. These experiences not only enhance learning but also nurture essential life skills, making them an invaluable part of a well-rounded education.

We are proud to have provided our pupils with these opportunities to grow, learn and create lasting memories – and all for much less than a commercial residential might cost.

Better still, we’re equipped and prepared to do it again for even less.