The Importance of Residentials and Outdoor Learning

Blog written by Marina Robb, Director, Circle of Life Rediscovery

More and more research is coming to light to support what we, in the environmental world, have always asserted – being outdoors is good for you!

There are so many ways to spend time outdoors, but nothing beats staying into the night, sleeping by a fire or in a tent and experiencing the night sounds and darkness!

Since 2004 we have been taking all age groups on camping residentials in woodlands – from one night to five days. What stands out is an urban group arriving with suitcases, hair all sorted, screaming at the sight of insects – then forward a few days, the group is giggling, relaxed, no make-up, playing games, all level headed around a fire.

Residentials have the capacity to be life changing experiences – they draw out the best in people, bringing together diverse groups, rising up and through challenges – the most difficult of which is usually using the compost toilet!

The natural world provides the space and time to feel a rare sense of freedom – and to get to know friends and other adults in a different way.

“I never knew adults could have fun” said a young woman. We forget the adulthood often doesn’t appear very appealing. “Fire is better than T.V” said another. You can choose to be silent or talkative – there is space for everyone. Eating and cooking after a day out in a circle is always comforting.

The level of tiredness after days of camping is also unique – it’s only known to those who have shed the outside world life and re-found a slower rhythm, where without mirrors we all look good and are eyes sparkle with a new clarity. With experienced facilitators you can follow the groups interests – from bigger team nature awareness games, to using tools for craft making, fire-making using a range of methods, creating instruments, making music and becoming an inventive community that is funny and interesting – all without technology and T.V!

The nature space has this unusual quality that I have witnessed throughout the years that provides a certain equality – there is room for everyone and a diverse range of experience, and the forest atmosphere is very welcoming!

Day one you rarely sleep well, then you find the deep sleep of a bear, that surprisingly opens you up to even more fun, despite you didn’t sleep enough. Then there is the possibility of seeing a sunrise – of stretching before breakfast in the very early morning, after the birds have woken you, or having a go at cooking where any mess goes happily unnoticed. You get to be somewhat independent, try out new things – and be away from home! It stretches you to live beyond what you are used to and, with support, this builds self-confidence and resilience.

How many young people do you know that have seen a sunrise? There needs to be thousands more. What about walking in the dark – playing Fire Stalk? Char-coaled faces hiding in the shadows is exciting! One of our staff can call in the owls, we usually see glow worms and, for the more patient, we huddled down together to watch the badgers emerging.

Inevitably we all want to eat! On longer camps we forage for local salad potentials, berries for pudding, grasses for cordage, and clay to make an oven. Barefoot, we squash the mud between our toes and make a make shift oven to cook bread and biscuits. We can do anything surprisingly! And on a residential we have the time to experiment and explore. Climbing, hammocks to sleep and play on, any type of shelter – we can sleep in our own debris creation, set up tarps if the weather changes, laugh with friends in a tent and hear the rain – surely a requirement of childhood.

In an educational context, children can be more active by being outside, they are also able to learn more freely, engage more readily and be inspired, encouraged, challenged, and therefore improve their confidence and self-esteem. These positive effects are amplified even more when it comes to an overnight camp or residential.

“I slept alone in a shelter that I had made, I never thought I would be able to do that. I feel more confident and have overcome my fears.” CLR Camp Participant, June 2015.

Learning Away

In 2015 Learning Away published a report, (following 3 years of action research with over 60 schools and colleges) identifying the overall impacts of residentials for young people.
The evidence collected throughout the 3-year project showed that residentials:

  • Foster deeper relationships
  • Improve students’ resilience, self-confidence, and well-being
  • Boost cohesion and a sense of belonging
  • Improve students’ engagement with learning
  • Improve students’ knowledge, skills and understanding
  • Support students’ achievement
  • Smooth students’ transition experiences
  • Provide opportunities for student leadership, co-design and facilitation

“Learning Away has shown that a residential learning experience provides opportunities and benefits/impacts that cannot be achieved in any other educational context or setting. The impact is greater when residential’s are fully integrated with a school’s curriculum and ethos” York Consulting (2015). Read the full report here.

Work on the Wild Side

In addition to the Learning Away research, a new report (May 2017), has been released that demonstrates leading schools (highest Progress 8 scores) place high value on residential experiences. The report found that “outdoor learning is valued amongst teachers, pupils, parents and inspectors and that the skills learnt outdoors are transferable to the classroom and across the academic spectrum.” Work on the Wild Side, May 2017
It recommends that given the clear benefits of outdoor learning, more needs to be done to ensure that children and young people are provided with the opportunity to leave the classroom. Read the report in full.

Circle of Life Rediscovery Camps

Circle of Life Rediscovery runs unique, nature-based camps for young people in a beautiful woodland environment in Sussex. Camps have a strong environmental basis and could include activities such as fire-making, tool use, cooking and foraging, team-building activities, art, story-telling, music and night walks. We also offer the John Muir Award, a National Conservation Award, at Discovery level.

“I didn’t think that I liked camping but I have underestimated myself. The camp was amazing, I have not only learnt new skills but I have learnt to be grateful about everything around me. I have a new sense of confidence and believe in myself” CLR Camp Participant, June 2016.

To find out more about the Circle of Life Rediscovery camps, watch one of the films below where participants explain what they enjoyed:

Please contact us on 01273 814226 or email for more information if you are interested in organising a camp for your school. Each camp is bespoke and unique to your requirements.
There are also free resources on the Learning Away website, include planning tools, models for lower cost trips and curriculum integration.

About the Author

Blog written by Marina Robb, Director, Circle of Life Rediscovery.
Marina Robb is founder and Managing Director of Circle of Life Rediscovery CIC, a leading outdoor learning organisation. She is Author of ‘Learning with Nature’, considered a must-have book for Forest School & Outdoor practitioners. Marina has been the recipient of funding from Natural England, Mind and The National Lottery, amongst other grant makers for her outdoor work with disadvantaged teenagers, families and young people. Marina is a senior practitioner for residential camps in Sussex woodlands, Forest School & training, nature-based training for adults, nature & health interventions, outdoor learning days and youth training programmes.
01273 814226

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Are school trip safety fears standing in the way of student learning potential?

It is widely reported that learning outside the classroom brings considerable positive impacts for students of all ages. Whether it be a visit to a local museum or a residential trip, such experiences can transform pupils’ learning by developing their skills and understanding, improving achievement and enhancing confidence and relationships.

“When planned and implemented well, learning outside the classroom contributed significantly to raising standards and improving students’ personal, social and emotional development.”

A study conducted by the action research project, Learning Away, concluded that residential trips provide opportunities for schools to enhance vital study and life skills, as well as promote resilience and responsibility. What’s more, they determined that ‘a residential learning experience provides opportunities and benefits that cannot be achieved in any other educational context or setting.’

But the impacts don’t end with pupils, staff also benefit from delivering outdoor learning experiences. Learning Away highlights that teachers’ involvement in trips offers opportunities to try different approaches to teaching, as well as strengthens relationships with their students. These experiences have the most impact when integrated with the curriculum, and are reinforced once back in the classroom.

This message is reiterated by Tim Hoyle, Head Teacher at Huddersfield Grammar School. As a school, they’re committed to offering pupils a rounded education by supporting indoor learning with inspiring experiences beyond the classroom:

“It’s improving their horizons, it’s improving their teaching and it’s improving their relationships with the children. Everything about going away on tour is a positive learning experience.”

Whilst the benefits are evident, there are barriers to teachers taking their students out of the classroom. Information compiled by the School Travel Forum highlights that for 64% of teachers, safety and risk are a concern when organising a school trip. Student safety is therefore a significant issue for teachers considering an educational visit.

The safety and protection of students whilst under the care of school institutions has to be of paramount importance, but with the right measures in place these concerns can be eased.

A strong supporter of outdoor education, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) fully recognises that learning outside the classroom brings the curriculum to life, as well as helps pupils develop their risk awareness and prepares them for their future. The HSE states that ‘striking the right balance between protecting pupils from risk and allowing them to learn from school trips is essential for realising all these benefits in practice.

When recently asked about the risk involved in schools taking pupils on trips, Chief Executive of the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom (CLOtC), Elaine Skates, asserted:

“To anyone who thinks that school trips are too risky I would ask them about the risks of not taking children outside the classroom for learning, the risks of not expanding their horizons, the risks of not helping them to achieve all they can.”

Elaine recommends that anyone arranging a trip should put their learning objectives at the centre of the planning process, rather than starting with a risk assessment.

“Think about what you are trying to achieve for your young people, what their needs are and what the learning objectives are. In doing so, teachers and students will gain the most benefits from the opportunities they are given.”

She goes on to say that pupil safety should be carefully considered through effective planning and prudent selection of providers:

“As long as you plan the school trip effectively and you are using venues and providers who you know are of good quality, perhaps because they hold the Learning Outside the Classroom Quality Badge, if anything does go wrong you will be recognised as having done everything possible.”

The safety of young people is a fundamental consideration when organising experiences beyond the classroom, but ultimately it is learning that should be at the heart of planning a visit.

Pupil safety should not deter teachers from offering their students opportunities to learn in a real-world setting. It’s these very experiences that enable students to put their knowledge and skills into practice in a new way, as well as gain considerable benefits as they develop as young people. Through effective planning and careful selection of providers, concerns over safety and risk can be mitigated.

Rayburn Tours are a proud holder of the Learning Outside the Classroom (LOtC) Quality Badge – a national accreditation awarded by the School Travel Forum on behalf of CLOtC – giving trip organisers confidence and peace of mind in the educational quality and safety of experiences provided. The majority of Local Authorities in England & Wales accept the LOtC Quality Badge which minimises or eliminates the amount of paperwork required, meaning you can spend less time form-filling and more time travelling. Find out more about Rayburn Tours by visiting

Further information is available at:!/clotc-interview

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The Brilliant Benefits of a Residential Experience for Students

Photo credit: Emile Holba

Teenager Ben* was reluctant to go on a three night residential with his school in East Kilbride. He was on the cusp of disengagement from his lessons and the cost of attending was too much of a financial burden on his family.

After much encouragement from his teachers, the school cajoled Ben into going and supported him with the costs. The trip was a sports development residential offering Ben a chance to take part in sports he loved but had not previously been able to study in depth.

Ben flourished on this residential becoming re-engaged with his studies. When he got back to school he took part in after school activities, and accepted a leadership role in the school, returning on the residential the following year as a sports leader. Tony McDaid, former Headteacher at Ben’s school says,

“There is no doubt that residential activity played a pivotal role (in re-engaging Ben) and it came at just the right time for him.”

Ben has now left school and is studying Sports Coaching at University.

Ben’s story is just one example from the compelling findings of the Learning Away action research programme, which spanned 5 years with 60 primary, secondary and special schools, developing and testing a wide range of inclusive and affordable residentials ranging from camping in the school grounds, to staying in a palace. The action research produced overwhelming evidence about the numerous positive impacts a residential experience can have on pupils, improving their: resilience; attainment; relationships; and engagement with learning.

Another school in Kent used their residentials to directly enhance attainment in core subjects for those students identified as borderline C/D. This made a life changing difference to student Mellissa* who had very low confidence and persistently refused to go to school.

Following an outdoor activities residential in which core subjects like Maths were integrated into activities like archery, Mellissa left school with grade C and above in English, Maths and Science and went on to study at construction at college. Her teachers are convinced that without this residential Mellissa’s refusal to attend school would have almost certainly led to her becoming neither in employment or education.

Whilst Learning Away believes all residentials have their benefits, they want to encourage schools to run highly effective ‘Brilliant residentials’ to get the very most out of these learning experiences. They are now campaigning to ensure that children of all ages from all backgrounds are provided with a Brilliant Residential experience in school.

East Ayrshire Council is one of the first in the UK and the first in Scotland to announce that all pupils across their 54 schools will be entitled to a high-quality residential learning experience during their time at school.

The Learning Away website provides all the evidence you need to ‘make the case’ for residential experiences, as well as a series of practical free resources and over 100 good practice case studies.

You can get behind the #BrilliantResidentials campaign, which is supported by further ‘legacy’ funding from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation by making your pledge or downloading the campaign pack. If you know a school who is providing high-quality Brilliant Residentials they read about the Learning Away champions school scheme.

*Names have been altered

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‘Fairer School Funding’ – what does it mean for you?

With the recent announcement of the government’s new funding formula, there are huge concerns that already cash-strapped schools are set to loose even more and make cuts on, amongst other things, learning outside the classroom activities. These activities are now more important than ever in order to extend experiences beyond the classroom, raise achievement and social mobility, and reduce the attainment gap.

‘The report, The implications of the National Funding Formula for schools, finds that half of primary and secondary schools face large real terms, per pupil, cuts in funding of between 6-11 per cent by 2019-20.’ Education Policy Institute.

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How Outdoor Play is Improving Children’s Mental Health

As our colleagues at Natural England join together with leaders in the health sector to discuss mental health,dementia and the natural environment, we bring you this guest post looking at mental health in children, and how outdoor play, and learning, can help. Mental health is often perceived as an issue for adults however over half of mental health problems in adult life, excluding dementia, start by the age of 14, and three quarters by age 18. Today in the UK, 1 in 10 of school aged children suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder – that is around three children in every school class. The Natural Connections Demonstration project recently reported that 90% of children said they felt happier and healthier when learning outside, and in addition, 72% of teachers also reported a positive impact on their health.

Our guest blogger Sam Flatman is an outdoor learning specialist and an Educational Consultant for Pentagon Play. Sam has been designing outdoor learning environments for the past 10 years and believes that outdoor learning is an essential part of child development, which should be integrated into the school curriculum at every opportunity.

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