Tips for running effective residential trips

Written by: Lindsey Simpson | Published:
Image: iStock

Lindsey Simpson offers some tips on how to organise and structure effective residential trips for your pupils

At best, residential learning can transform pupils’ relationships with teachers, learning and school.

At worst, they risk being a glorified holiday. So how can schools ensure that their residentials are effective? Helpfully, last year York Consulting completed their independent review of Learning Away, a £2.3 million, five-year charitable initiative studying residentials. Some powerful lessons emerged.

Curriculum in 3D

When residentials are integrated with the curriculum they have greater impact by adding a new dimension to learning. To do this effectively, you need to create firm links between the classroom and your residential.

This means that on the one hand, activities at the residential reference learning from previous class lessons. On the other, output and activities from the residential are used and discussed as part of subsequent classroom-based lessons. So integrate curriculum learning goals into activities and reference specific links to classroom activities past and future.

Turn parents into raving fans

Any parent knows that letting your young ones out of your hands, particularly for the first time, can cause heart palpitations. It can also provide parents with a well-earned break – and if kids come home energised and inspired, then their parents are likely to be pretty chuffed too.

Parents need to be involved and enrolled in your residential plans. Moreover, by doing this the residential becomes an opportunity to turn your parents into raving fans of your plans and your school.

Call a meeting and invite them along. Offer this as a forum in which they can ask questions and chip in on what they would like to see their kids gain from the experience. Pitch the residential as both an integral part of the term’s work and a way of broadening pupils’ life experience. You could even offer them the chance to come along as volunteers.

Finally, schools normally pass the costs of residentials onto pupils’ parents. Therefore, it helps with winning parental enthusiasm if you have chosen a residential option that offers clear value for money.

Teachers as team mates

Spending an extended period of time in a new environment, with different rules, can break down barriers between pupils and teachers. To make the most of this opportunity a residential should give pupils and teachers the opportunity to work and play together in ways not normally possible in the classroom.

One powerful way to do this is to create opportunities for teachers and pupils to become actual team mates in certain activities. Genuinely on a level, equal, working together towards a common goal. It is incredibly powerful for teachers and pupils to be truly on the same team for once, especially if they take this back to the classroom.

Teach ‘em how to lose

Most of us realise the importance of resilience and know that some children give up simply because they are afraid to lose, or afraid to care. Residentials offer the opportunity for teachers and pupils to engage together in activities and to win or lose together.

As such they offer a special opportunity for teachers and leaders to “model” how to lose. So when designing your programme ensure that you plan for games and activities that yield winners and losers. And prepare your staff to lead by example: real team spirit is cultivated by deciding to fight back from weakness, as well as celebrating successes together.

Let them lead

As teachers, we try to avoid losing control so the idea of pupil-led sessions can feel uncomfortable to say the least. Yet residentials provide an opportunity to do just that and the benefits to pupils can be enormous.

Learning Away found that among residentials that encouraged pupil leadership, the proportion of pupils that saw themselves as being a role-model to others rose from 40 to 67 per cent. Of course, the appropriate amount of “empowerment” should depend upon the age and maturity of the pupils concerned. For example, for a primary pupil you may give guidance to run an activity and then support them as they explain it to everyone else. Figuratively putting them in charge, even for a short period, can really boost confidence. So encourage younger pupils to lead small group activities with the support of staff and teachers.

Treasure every moment

A residential trip is often a new experience for all involved. When you go on holiday to a new country for the first time what do you do? You take pictures, videos, and talk about it when you get home.

Taking photos and/or videos is a great way to celebrate and help keep memories alive. Moreover, a residential is more than just a trip, it is also an investment and a learning opportunity. So celebrating and evidencing its outcomes is of particular importance. A robust evaluation will help identify strengths and weaknesses in the residential experience, and how successful it was in meeting your objectives. Photos and other take-aways such as pupil diaries will help keep memories alive and provide reference points for future pupil-teacher interactions in the classroom.

  • Lindsey Simpson is the business manager at TeamCamp, a provider of residential camps. Visit

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