Sandwell's Residential Education Centres aim to provide as many high-quality learning* experiences for as many children as possible. Maximum impact, maximum value. So, there are two prorities: consistently developing and delivering high quality provision, and maximising uptake and opportunity. 
The second of these, then:  
Every child matters and, ideally, they'd get several opportunities througout their school years to go on residential visits. There isn't always an obvious reason as to why some schools regularly recruit a good number of participants for residential visits, whilst others - apparently similar - schools struggle. Or, indeed, why some schools run loads of visits and others less so. 


A combination of factors may be at play here, including: 
ambition and experience of school leaders and staff 
attractiveness of the courses on offer 
lead-in and planning time 
how well established the residential is in the school plan 
the time of year 
group dynamics and peer pressure 
cultural background of families 
parental peer influence. 
I wonder, though, how much we should consider the influence - or at least the potential influence - of the age and generation of parents and teachers. Is the school residential visit sometimes seen as less relevant than it used to be? 


"it was easier to get £30 for a visit to a theme park than it was for an educational visit" 
The proud claim "when I was a boy, we'd play outside all day and our mums wouldn't worry about us till we came home for bread and dripping"** might nowadays prompt 2 immediate thoughts: 
1. you're even older than I thought you were and 
2 how irresponsible were your parents?! 
Over the last thirty or fourty years, corresponding with the increases in road traffic, IT, rolling news, social media, and a risk-averse approach to health & safety, it has become the exception rather than the norm for children to be allowed the freedom to explore and play freely, and to crerate their own advenures. 
** note to younger readers - that's a saturated-fat sandwich. 
Adults influential in the lives of children - parents and teachers - are mostly of this more recent era; indeed it may be that for some, their only exposure to these types of adventure was on school visits. How reasonable, then, is it to expect parents and teachers to value residential visits and the experiences they involve, and persuade children to go? A teacher once told me that it was easier to get £30 for a visit to a theme park than it was for a subsidised educational visit.  


There are some good signs. First of all, most people of any age that have been on school visits will remember them as special times, shared with friends, doing something different and exciting. That memory gives it value. Secondly, the increasing public concern with well-being, physical health, environment and the arts provide a groundswell of opinion that these types of experience are, quite simply, a good thing to do - and most parents want good things for their children. The latest Ofsted framework also give license - indeed, strong encouragement - to school leaders and teachers to plan learning outside the classroom, including residential learning; and to get out there and do it. 
"there is more need than there has ever been for our service" 
But we cannot be complacent. In my opinion there is more need than there has ever been for our service; because I believe in the strength of the beneficial outcomes for children, and because most children no longer have the opportunity to achieve those outcomes themselves, as part of their childhood, as previous generations did. 
So how do we influence any generational reservations or barriers? One tried and tested approach is to run family days and events. Our Family learning Days bring groups of families together to share quality time, and experience simple outdoor adventures - shelter building, feeding animals, making camp fires, following trails. Run in advance of recruiting for a residential visit, a few families who have visited a site and experienced it for themselves have been influential in persuading others at the school gate that it's going to be brilliant. 
That's one small example of how we can try to raise awareness and angagement. 
Do you have any others to share?  
Richard Oakes is Sandwell Residential Education Service's Manager, and school governor 
Our Family learning Day flyer can be downloaded HERE 
* See "High Quality Outdoor Learning" by the Outdoor Education Advisers' Panel The guide and outcomes apply equally to all types of residential courses - remember that great residentials can be built around a range of learning activities and not just outdoor learning. Take children on a residential arts visit, for example, and they'll have the most amazing creative adventure! 
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