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Residential trips for schools – We need collaboration and more government funding for school trips

Camping illustration representing residential trips for schools

Is a night away for every child too much to ask for, asks YHA’s Alison Stevens

Alison Stevens
by Alison Stevens
Head of education and youth at YHA (England & Wales) and Generation Green pr... more
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In 2019, Landscapes Review was published. This independent review, asked for by the government, looked into whether the protections for National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty were still fit for purpose.

In the report, lead reviewer Julian Glover called for “a night in a national landscape for every child”.

This is a bold ambition, but one which is achievable with support, collaboration and central government funding.

Only when we do this will the outdoors will be truly inclusive.

There are currently around ten million pupils attending primary schools and secondary schools in the UK. A night in a national landscape would mean at least one residential school trip experience for every one of those pupils at some point in their school career.

I estimate this to be around one million outdoor experiences a year.

Achievable? Absolutely.

Generation Green programme

In 16 months, the Generation Green project, funded by a £2.5 million Green Recovery Challenge Fund grant, reached more than 100,000 young people aged seven and above, giving them meaningful opportunities to connect with the outdoors.

This project wasn’t just the work of YHA, the organisation I work for. Far from it, in fact.

We know that we can only succeed if we work with others, which is why we formed Access Unlimited – a coalition of 15 not-for-profit quality outdoor education providers.

At YHA our mantra is “Because where you go changes who you become.” To make real meaningful change, we’ve learnt that it isn’t just where you go, but who you take on the journey with you, and who you meet on the way.

Together with Scouts, Girlguiding, The Field Studies Council, The Outward Bound Trust and the ten National Parks in England, we’ve made a real difference.

Combined expertise and experience

It is through working together, using our combined expertise and learning from one another, that we’ve been able to ensure that we reach those young people who would benefit the most from this funding.

YHA’s pot of Generation Green funding provided more than 1,800 fully-funded day stays and residential activity breaks alone.

Demand for the breaks was unprecedented. A simple digital marketing campaign in May 2021 resulted in demand outstripping places by 400%.

We were able to offer funded breaks to 62 schools – all of which were new to YHA and hadn’t been on a trip with us before. However, we are acutely aware of the very real need for more of these opportunities, particularly in light of pandemic.

Our partners reported similar levels of high demand.

This phase of the Generation Green project ended in March 2022 but over this time we’ve seen the power of the collective reach of 15 partner organisations.

We will continue to work together as a coalition to make a difference. We’re rightly proud of our collective achievements, but this is tempered by frustration and concern.

With the gap between rich and poor widening and more families falling into poverty, more children than ever are missing out because their parents can’t afford a school trip.

Proven benefits for students

According to the World Health Organisation, 75% of all mental health problems are established by the time someone is 18, and one in ten school children have a diagnosable mental health condition.

Giving young people the opportunity to see how the outdoors can be explored all year round, and introducing positive, active behaviours, habits and key skills in young people can have life-long benefits to mental health.

Experiencing a different environment

At YHA we see first-hand the benefits of residential outdoor activity breaks from the thousands of schools we work with each year.

Wayne Norrie is CEO of Greenwood Academies Trust which operates more than 35 academies in some of the most deprived areas of the UK.

He’s a residential trips for schools advocate, saying:

“When children participate in outdoor learning experiences, they benefit in so many ways. Activity programmes increase a child’s confidence, develops their independence, aids their social skills and gives them an opportunity to experience an environment different to the one they are familiar with. These are all vital life skills, and it’s so important all children are offered access to visits, not just those who have a family that can afford it.”

Covid legacy on residential trips for schools

Covid has also shown us the value so many of us place on accessing nature and culture.

The stark reality is that over two million young people faced lockdown without access to a garden or local green space.

Half a million children also missed out on a school residential during the pandemic. The inequalities of access to the outdoors and green spaces that existed pre-Covid have only been compounded by the pandemic. 

Residentials played an important role supporting young people returning to the classroom following lockdown. The Outward Bound Trust’s Generation Green fully-funded adventurous activities days helped young people aged 11-17 adjust to life post-lockdown, giving them confidence and a new motivation to return to school, as well as opening their eyes to consider a career in the outdoors.

Research by the University of Cumbria in 2019 found that the profound and transformative impact that residential experiences and educational visits can have on pupils was significantly greater for ‘vulnerable’ pupils.

Without further funding how can we ensure that all young people are being included in and given access to the outdoors?

Long-term we need central government funding. This would enable Glover’s ambition to be achieved.

In Defra’s response to Glover’s review, it said “Programmes such as Generation Green demonstrate that national-scale partnerships and coordinated collaboration can augment what our lead partners are already doing so well”, so we’re hopeful of further funding.

The future of school residentials

If you’re a school looking for school trip ideas and immediate options for support and funding, they are out there, but they’re limited.

Because YHA is a charity, it can support schools which are on the DfE/WG deprived schools list and have high numbers of children in receipt of pupil premium by offering an education subsidy discount.

Pupil premium can be used to subsidise or fully pay for the cost of a residential. A number of residential providers, including YHA, also offer bursary and funded places for pupils in receipt of pupil premium.

There needs, however, to be continued funding from central government for projects like Generation Green which are underpinned by national and local collaboration.

We know they work. If we fail to create sustainable connections to the outdoors for young people then, without continued funding, we risk losing some of the nation’s most vital assets – like youth hostels and many more social tourism organisations that enable schools to access the outdoors.

Consider for a moment the impact this would have on a young person who has never seen the sea, a sheep in a field or the landscape of a National Park.

It’s a long road ahead of us. Until we get there, we can only do our best to make residentials as affordable and accessible to all schools as possible.


How to save on a residential school trip

  • Book in low season. A residential in winter means lower costs but no less outcome for children if you take a ‘whatever the weather’ approach.
  • Save with a self-led residential. Plan and deliver your own activities rather than using an instructor. Use free resources for outdoor activities, created as part of Generation Green, from YHA and National Parks.
  • Go local. Use a local outdoor adventure centre, residential centre or provider to save on travel costs.
  • Use your pupil premium. This can be used to subsidise or fully pay for the cost of a residential.
  • Access bursaries and funding. A number of residential providers, like Rock UK and YHA, offer bursaries and funded places for pupils in receipt of pupil premium.

Alison Stevens is head of education and youth at YHA (England & Wales) and Generation Green Programme Director. Follow YHA on Twitter at @yhaofficial.

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