Being in Year 6 has its perks; assisting in assembly, the lead role in the school play and priority on the football pitch. At my school, though, none of these compared to the excitement that surrounded the week long residential trip to Buckden. Every year I would watch in amazement as the Year 6 pupils waved goodbye to their parents and embarked on an adventure to the Yorkshire Dales. The older kids would come back with new friends, stories and a new-found mature outlook at life - I could not wait for my turn.
As a child, the experience of leaving home and spending a prolonged amount of time with classmates had a profound effect on me; I gained the confidence to speak to new people, became more independent and learned how to deal with challenging situations. Research shows that this is a common experience: attending a residential leads to an increase in pupil’s confidence, strengthened peer relationships and increased academic improvement (EEF, Fuller, Powell & Fox (2016)). Leaving the classroom not only benefits pupils, but teachers too. The Natural Connections Demonstration Project (2012) found that outdoor learning had a positive impact on teaching delivery as well as health and wellbeing.
Despite these positive outcomes, the opportunity to take part in a residential is not the norm and it is children from deprived areas who are missing out. Compared to their more affluent peers, disadvantaged pupils lag behind academically and are more likely to suffer from mental health issues, meaning that they are the pupils who have the most to gain from attending a residential.
It would be easy to suggest that funding is the sole reason as to why pupils are missing out, but it appears that attitudes within the school system are the crucial barrier. Although teachers are not against the idea of taking their students outside, they do not prioritise it. It is seen it as additional ‘enrichment’ rather than an essential part of the learning experience, meaning that it is well-performing schools with disposable funding who are using the outdoors most and as a reward, rather than a method of teaching.
As schools are increasingly scrutinised on their Ofsted rating or academic achievements, and schools are increasingly squeezed, getting pupils outside will slip down the list of priorities. Here at notdeadfish we want to change this. We believe that all children and young people are entitled to experience the outdoors and have conducted research demonstrating that both Outstanding schools and those with high attainment grades see outdoor learning as an integral part of the school environment. We believe that residentials help pupils from all backgrounds and so have presented examples in which schools have used their pupil premium to fund residentials. We hope this will inspire more schools to do the same.
There are a number of fantastic organisations working towards the same goal. Learning Away, who with their Brilliant Residential campaign are working to promote residential learning and provide tips to schools as to how trips can be made cheaper, and lots of programmes and networks throughout the UK are committed to providing amazing residential programmes for almost every topic you can think of.
Together we can ensure that all children have the opportunity to leave the classroom and experience the outdoors, and to the build the skills that will help them build their futures. After all, you never know when those map reading skills will come in handy...