Make the outdoors your classroom

One of the main barriers to offering residential experiences to all students is cost. The Youth Hostel Association explains ways to fund such trips, as well as the many benefits overnight trips can bring

According to Learning Away research, teachers agree that learning outside the classroom makes lessons more memorable, improves student motivation to learn and improves engagement with the subject matter.

There is growing recognition of the unique value of learning outside the classroom. Ofsted recognises that when planned and implemented well, learning outside the classroom experiences significantly contribute to raising standards and improving young people’s personal, social and emotional development.

To promote the benefits of residential school trips, last year the Brilliant Residentials campaign was launched by the Learning Away Consortium, which is led by the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom (CLOtC) and chaired by Joe Lynch, YHA (England and Wales) commercial director.

The campaign was developed following extensive research amongst more than 60 primary, secondary and special schools in 13 partnerships across the UK. The resulting report, which was published in June 2015, contained powerful research and statements to support the benefits of residential school trips. Both secondary and primary staff involved in the research phase stated that the residential was “worth half a term” in terms of the progress students had made.

Supporting the campaign, Joe Lynch said: “YHA wholeheartedly shares CLOtC’s vision; we want more children and young people of all ages and from all backgrounds to benefit from the life‑changing experience a school trip with an overnight stay can bring. This is at the very heart of YHA.”


YHA has extensive experience of the benefits of learning outside the classroom for pupils and teachers through YHAs hugely popular School Trips programme which has been running for many years. In 2016 more than 140,000 young people from 4,158 schools enjoyed school trips to YHAs in England and Wales.

More than 70 of YHA (England and Wales) network of properties are also Learning Outside the Classroom (LOtC) accredited properties. LOtC accreditation significantly reduces the red tape for the thousands of education providers that use YHA’s Youth Hostels and learning experiences provided there each year.


However, one of the main barriers to offering residential experiences to all students as an integrated and progressive part of their curriculum, is cost. As a consequence, for many schools residentials are provided as an enrichment, rather than as an entitlement.

There are 3.5 million children living in low income households which, research has shown, impacts on their physical and mental wellbeing.

Joe added; “Working together, the combined membership of the consortium can influence virtually every aspect of current residential provision. As well as campaigning for ever increasing quality of provision, we will also be looking to encourage more residential opportunities – especially low cost accessible stays, that will open these great learning opportunities to even more young people.”


Pupil Premium funding can successfully part fund the cost residentials for these children. Alongside this, YHA offers bursary funding of up to 50 per cent of the cost of a residential school trip from its Beaks for Kids fund, for pupils in receipt of free school meals, this ensures that the financial pressure to attend the school trip is not placed on the youngster or the school.

The Breaks for Kids fund together with more than 70 of which are Learning Outside the Classroom (LOtC) accredited properties, means that the YHA School Trips programme is playing a key role in enabling young children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to participate in activities in rural and urban areas of England and Wales.

Residential school trips have been able to demonstrate their impact on raising the attainment of disadvantaged pupils and helping to ‘narrow the gap’ between them and their peers. In fact, the causal link between poverty and poor literacy is well documented. Research by Hart and Risley in 2003 showed that children as young as three from lower income families have a third of the vocabulary of children in higher income families. One in five children struggle to learn to read, in part because their parents have literacy issues themselves.

Linking the outdoors to literacy is at the heart of YHA (England and Wales) Key Stage 2/3 action-packed residential YHA School Trip Alex Rider Spy Academy which was developed in 2015 in conjunction with Walker Books and author Anthony Horowitz. The residential spy academy brings the first novel in the Alex Rider series – Stormbreaker (2000), to life to life in the grounds of 15 Youth Hostels in England and Wales.

Available as a three or four-night residential experience, the focus is very much on real experiences in the real outdoors as students learn how to become the next teenage spy hero, Alex Rider, with a primary aim of encouraging young boys to read.

Joe added: “Research has proven that outdoor learning has a long lasting impact on young people throughout their school career. The fact we have been able to develop the Alex Rider Spy Academy – giving young people real experiences in the real outdoors – is testament to the fabulous network of properties YHA has. Bringing the books to life in this way is an excellent way to get young people reading.”

To further encourage students to read, all participating students attending a YHA Alex Rider Spy Academy receive a free copy of Stormbreaker courtesy of Walker Books, and there are also exclusive discounts on the Alex Rider boxset for participating schools.


Year 6 pupils from Oasis Academy Wardon in Worcester, were the very first educational group to sign up for the Alex Rider Spy Academy. The school had a two-night stay at YHA Broad Haven. The accompanying class teacher Louise Rowland said: “It was really good to see how this encouraged them to read. A lot of them read on the way back, including those who struggle with reading or are not really excited by books, particularly the boys who became very engaged.”

She added: “A lot of the children come from deprived areas and many of them were doing things for the first time, such as the coastal walk and being beside the sea, which one pupil described as the best day of his life. This was one of the reasons why we decided to book again.”

As well as the Alex Rider Spy Academy, YHA offers a range of fully flexible residential options that are ideal for school groups of all shapes, sizes and abilities, from self-led adventures, a National Curriculum‑linked package to revision breaks or field study follow up, which can all be delivered by YHA’s own team of qualified instructors. With more than 160 Youth Hostels throughout England and Wales, from 26-bed self‑catering hostels in Cornwall to 300+ bed hostels in central London, YHA literally has accommodation and a school trip to suit everyone.

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