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Can a School Trip to an Attraction Ever be Genuinely Educational? Absolutely

It’s easy to be cynical about school trips, says John Dabell, but they are a vital slice of school life

  • Can a School Trip to an Attraction Ever be Genuinely Educational? Absolutely

It’s a day packed with drama, too much sugar and excessive tiredness. It’s the sort of day when you arrive on site and see that children from all the other schools are wearing their yellow hi-vis jackets too. It’s at this point you regret taking on the role of educational visits coordinator.

The school trip is school life in its rawest form: unpredictable, messy, exciting and full of learning curves. But what do children really remember about school trips? Being inside a baking hot coach stuck in traffic on the M1 with a toilet that doesn’t work? Throwing some Haribos to the meerkats when no one is looking?

For teachers, a successful school trip depends on coming back with the same number of pupils you left with and, just as importantly, whether they actually learnt anything on the day.

Memory makers

It’s easy to be cynical about school trips but they are a vital slice of school life, dripping in cross-curricular opportunities.

Trips are memory-makers, character builders and adventure grounds for learning and developing new skills. Learning outside the classroom is part of a broad, balanced and motivating curriculum, not an ‘extra’.

As the 2017 report ‘Work on the Wild Side’, notes, we need to see learning beyond the classroom not ‘as an enrichment activity, but rather an integrated part of the curriculum.’

Everyone knows school trips are a chance to escape the classroom, but are they really an opportunity to widen learning? The answer to that is a resounding ‘Yes!’

There is a demand for schools to provide experiences with real meaning and purpose, and one of the first things you need to do when planning a trip is justify its educational value.

It might be half a day, a day or longer, and that’s going to cost time and money, so the benefits need to stand ten feet tall, especially when budgets for schools and parents have been slashed.

Activities outside the classroom need to contribute to the quality and depth of learning, as well as being fun and exciting.

School trips can easily be justified because they boast a range of paybacks. They:

  • Give children a refreshing break in routine and move them beyond their comfort zones
  • Foster creativity and spark new thinking, interests and passions
  • Are hands-on, interactive and bring understanding to life
  • Enable children to learn about a range of professions, ideas and opportunities
  • Support an understanding of different communities and a broader perspective of the wider world
  • Help children see real-life applications of the lessons they are learning in school first-hand so subjects are more vivid and attention-grabbing
  • Fuel self-belief, self-motivation and self-confidence
  • Improve communications skills, team-building and trust
  • Help overcome difficult behaviour
  • Given the clear benefits of outdoor learning, it is important that children are provided with the opportunity to leave the classroom.

    Learning packages

    Selecting a destination is all about what you can get from it and how it can support learning goals. Planning well ahead enables you to prepare pupils with work before they go and make follow-up work more meaningful after.

    A successful visit is one that has precisely defined objectives for the subject areas you want to cover, and for the type of knowledge you want your children to bring back to the classroom.

    Some destinations offer attractive and impressive learning packages matched to the curriculum where you turn up and they take over.

    These experiences can often be the best trips, as they have knowledgeable facilitators who know what’s what and teach with insight, skill and passion to bring the content to life.

    This might make you feel superfluous to requirements, but you’re there to learn too – every teacher is a perpetual pupil.

    However, while you can capitalise on the venue’s expertise, joint teaching is important and liaising with a provider before a visit is crucial.

    A provider can’t be blamed if schools don’t share clear guidance about the expected learning and how to promote it.

    It’s a case of ‘buyer beware’ – do your research, read the reviews, do a pre-visit, speak to schools that have been there and leave no stone unturned when it comes to ensuring you are getting the best value and learning experiences that combine with activities in the classroom.

    Although every trip will have different goals and outcomes, the bottom line is always the same: what impacts will this have on children’s achievement, personal development and wellbeing?

    A top trip is an enjoyable and inspiring practical experience that allows pupils to gain a deeper understanding of different subjects and develop a variety of ‘soft’ skills. It’s one that motivates and challenges children to raise aspirations, build their confidence and support their achievement.

    Crucially, it ensures equal and full access for all children.

    Ideally pupils will come home from a trip bursting with excitement, great memories, new ideas, a few tales to tell and a big smile on their face. But they will also come back with transferable personal and social skills that simply cannot be taught inside a traditional classroom setting.

    Is it worth it?

    Children learn as much outside of the classroom as they do in it. School trips are 100% worth it because they stay with you for life. Think back to your own childhood and chances are you’ll remember the places you visited.

    The true educational value of trips is obvious when seeing the impact that they can have on children, even if you don’t see it until months or years later. You might be on break duty when some Y6 children you taught three years ago sidle up and say, “Remember when we went to that place in Y3, Miss? That was the best trip we’ve ever been on – can we go there again?”

    Repeat visits with the same year group might be tempting if things go well, but remember that there are lots of great venues to explore and changing where you go allows you and your pupils to experience new opportunities. Even if a visit doesn’t quite work out and you vow ‘never again’, you still learn something worthwhile. Enjoy the trip.

    John Dabell is an experienced primary teacher, former school inspector and author. Find him at johndabell.co.uk and follow him on Twitter at @john_dabell.

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