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Residential Outdoor Learning and Achievement

During a 5-day residential, young people develop at a step change from where they were before.   The residential experience is an holistic and integrative approach and in many ways epitomises progressive learning.  In fact, it is so effective it is perhaps difficult to be fully appreciated.  However, it is possible to evidence:

  • A strong focus on skills development – skills for life and for employability;
  • Development of relationships and confidence;
  • Very specific changes meeting individual needs;
  • Multiple outcomes delivered simultaneously.

Development of Confidence & Relationships

A 5-day residential experience equates to 2 full weeks in school. This immersion creates opportunities when teachers and pupils spend time together and see each other in a different light.  With a teacher and specialist outdoor educator working together, the ratio of young people to adults is often nearer 6:1. Opportunities for in-depth conversations, the development of shared understanding and meaningful relationships are greatly enhanced, which in turn creates a strong foundation for respect and good discipline.  This potential was captured by a secondary teacher with responsibility for transition who said, “it has been great. In 5 days, I have developed a rapport with the pupils that would have taken 3 months in school.”

Residential Outdoor Learning is particularly effective at developing confidence. Through a programme of carefully planned challenges and achievements, young people emerge with an enhanced understanding of their potential. Residential Outdoor Learning is highly effective because of the skill of SOECs tutors to judge the right level of challenge both for the groups and for individuals within the group.  After just a few days, an SOEC programme will change their self-perception and self-belief. All young people leave us clear in the knowledge that their potential is far greater than they previously thought.

Meeting Individual Need

Residential experiences trigger behaviour changes away from those which impede personal development and learning.  For example, one class included 2 pupils who had restricted their diet while another pupil was self-elective mute in school.  During their residential, two were eating a wide range of healthy food types and the other was talking to teachers and SOECs outdoor tutors and singing in the shower.  In fact, for the staff teams at SOEC, such changes are a regular occurrence.

However, it is noteworthy that these pupils had attended regular meetings with the relevant specialists (dieticians and educational psychologists) for 6 years with no noticeable improvement.  It is the combination of being in the outdoors, engaged in motivating activities, and in a safe and nurturing environment, that enabled these young people to trigger their own fresh starts. Teachers who spent a great deal of effort encouraging such change were delighted that they can return to school and build on the changes that have been triggered on the residential.

More on Multiple Benefits and Outcomes

It is important to note that the residential experience delivers not just one or two, but multiple benefits and outcomes.  While the pupils above were making important changes to the benefit of their health and well-being, they and their class mates were also learning about rivers and the hydrological cycle, co-operative working, and many other things that supported the work of the class teacher.  It is the ability to produce specific, tangible and multiple outcomes, that makes the residential experience so highly cost effective.

It should be no surprise that Residential Outdoor Learning contributes and delivers in all education and youth work policy areas.  Being outcome focussed, Residential Outdoor Learning can  deliver all Curriculum for Excellence outcomes as well as the Youth Work Strategy, Skills for Learning, Skills for Work and Skills for Life, and other Government policy areas such as Getting it Right For Every Child, Bridging the Gap and Sustainable Development Education.

“The Royal High School has been using SOEC to provide an outdoor residential experience with all our S1 pupils for the last 5 years.  We keep going because the people make it an outstanding experience. The Leaders, instructor, cleaners and catering staff go out of their way to get it right for every child. In partnership with our school staff we are able to provide an experience which positively impacts on pupils’ skills for learning, life and work. 

So many outcomes are possible. For this reason, SOEC can claim to support teachers in the development of the qualities and skills, knowledge and experiences that young people will need in their futures, in their homes, their communities and at work.  These include:

  • Confidence
  • Communication skills
  • Decision making
  • Specific outcomes including literacy and numeracy
  • Personal management (e.g. time)
  • Resilience, tenacity and determination as well as adaptability
  • Positive attitude toward problem solving
  • Enhanced motivation
  • Teamwork, cooperative working
  • Leadership and the ability to delegate
  • Creativity and innovation
  • Appreciation for a healthier and more active lifestyle
  • Understanding of risk and risk management
  • Ability to reflect on their own potential and contribution to society/group
  • Appreciation of others, their place, and potential contribution
  • Positive, “can-do” mindset