1 | Don’t rush!

It falls under the category of ‘common sense’, but in teaching, where time is often in short supply, it bears repeating: allowing adequate time to plan is essential, as a rushed trip will be both a more stressful experience for you as organiser, and at risk of underperforming educationally.

One of the key findings of Ofsted’s 2008 Learning outside the classroom report was that learning outside the classroom (LOtC) was “most successful when it was an integral element of long-term curriculum planning and closely linked to classroom activities”.

2 | Know your objectives

Amongst the other advantages, planning well in advance gives you plenty of time to work out what it is you want to achieve – as the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom (CLOtC) highlights in its guidance, “The objectives for the visit should be defined carefully and must relate closely to classroom work.”

In its 2008 report, Ofsted noted that, “Too many residential and other visits […] had learning objectives which were imprecisely defined”, though this was more of an issue in primary schools.

“It’s vital to be clear about why you’re going. What’s your intention? What do you want to get out of it?” headteacher Tracey Bowen stresses.

“We spend a phenomenal amount of time planning our trips, checking what the content of a workshop is, explaining what our needs are.”

3 | Tailor your trip

If you can’t quite find what you’re looking for, don’t be afraid to ask for it, advises deputy headteacher Grace Shaw – many museums, galleries, zoos and the like are more than willing to be flexible: “Rather than picking off the menu, you can tailor-make what you need,” she explains.

“Museums are usually very happy to adapt their offer, because they’re so thrilled to share what they’ve got to share.”

4 | Choose wisely

Related to the above, it’s important to think carefully about where you choose to go – as Tracey Bowen points out, “You can get brochures through and think, Oh that looks great – we’ll go there!

But unless you’re careful you can end up thinking, That’s not what it said on the tin!” More fundamentally, your choice of destination should be informed by your learning objectives.

The CLOtC advises that if your outcomes can be “successfully achieved in the grounds of your school, or within easy access in the local area, then it is unlikely that travelling for hours to reach a more distant venue will enhance the learning experience” – but of course there will be many instances in which an external provider located further afield will be essential.

5 | Manage the risks

The very thought of being responsible for the wellbeing of 30+ unleashed teenagers can be enough to put teachers off school trips for life, but there has never been more guidance available for those responsible for carrying out risk assessments.

The DfE’s new ‘Health and safety on educational visits’ resource, which draws upon the work of both the CLOtC and the comprehensive ‘National guidance for the management of outdoor learning, off-site visits and learning outside the classroom’ published by the Outdoor Education Advisers’ Panel (OEAP), is a useful starting point – you’ll find links in the ‘Find out more’ box below.

6 | Arrange a preview

“Be sure to give staff the opportunity to visit beforehand; if you haven’t been there to actually plan out the experience, you’re not going to get the most out of it.”

Tracey’s words of advice apply wherever you’re headed, and making time to head to your destination ahead of the trip proper can help clarify issues as trivial as ‘where do we park?’ as well as more important issues relating to health and safety.

In its National Guidance, the OEAP notes that, “While accreditations and other sources of information provide essential assurances, they are not a substitute for a preliminary visit and being able to clarify issues face to face.”

7 | Work in partnership

On trips where venue staff are taking the lead in guiding students, don’t be tempted to switch off, Grace advises: “Some teachers think, ‘I’ll get to my workshop, then the workshop leader will have the children and I’ll get them back at the end.’

Actually, you need to work with staff, because while they’re experts in their field, you’re the expert in your children. You’ve got to develop a partnership.”

8 | Keep it going

Making the most of a school trip isn’t just about ensuring its smooth-running on the day – the point, after all, is for the visit to have a measurable positive benefit on students’ learning when they return to the classroom.

As such, it’s equally important to give due consideration to how you plan to continue the learning – in some cases post-visit resources may be available to help you –and to reflect, in partnership with students, on the experience: evaluate its effectiveness in terms of improving educational outcomes, and learn lessons for next time.

Find out more

  • Council for Learning Outside the Classroom
    CLOtC’s website is a trove of information, inspiration, resources and training, including details on how the LOtC Quality Badge accreditation can help you plan your next school trip. It also offers a range of CPD opportunities and the LOtC Mark, for schools that want to demonstrate their commitment. Visit lotc.org.uk.
  • Outdoor Education Advisers’ Panel
    OEAP’s ‘National Guidance’ is a must-read for any teacher planning a school trip. Downloadable checklists and training are available. Visit oeapng.info.
  • Department for Education
    The DfE’s latest health and safety guidance can be accessed here.
  • School Travel Form
    STF offers information for the organisers of school trips as well research on the benefits of LOtC. Visit schooltravelforum.com.
  • Learning Away
    For help with planning a brilliant residential, visit learningaway.org.uk.