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Post-COVID school visits – What teachers may have forgotten about field trips

Silhouetted photo of a tour group at an aquarium

Daniel Harvey presents a refresher for teachers keen to organise their next school trip – because for most, it’ll have been quite a while since the last one…

Daniel Harvey
by Daniel Harvey
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The novelty of a seemingly-normal new school year has seen staffroom chatter turn tentatively to the topic of planning trips outside the classroom. Even – whisper it proper school visits abroad…

Yet while many of us have became rather good at online teaching and overseeing hybrid lessons over these past two years, our trip-planning expertise has taken something of a backseat. So if you’re needing a timely refresher on how to plan the perfect, stress-free school trip, read on…

Learning and enrichment

The first thing to note is that all varieties of school trip – from simple afternoon jaunts to take in the local art gallery, right up to the 5-day Barcelona extravaganza – are popular with students. Very popular. Discussions among teacher friends indicate that while most of them could barely remember a specific classroom lesson when they were at school, they could all speak with genuine enthusiasm about school visits they’d been on. The question we should therefore be asking is how we can recreate that same joy for our pupils – who surely deserve it all the more, following the tribulations of the pandemic.

School visits broadly fall into one of two categories – those that are an integral part of your curriculum (e.g. geography fieldwork), and trips which offer enrichment opportunities that complement classroom work by giving students different perspectives or boosting their engagement.

Meet with your school trip co-ordinator to ensure you’re clear as to the charging policy for any given trip, and the numbers needed to make it financially viable. You don’t want to announce it, only to then withdraw it due to a cash crisis. Your school trip co-ordinator should also be able to guide you through the process of securing approval for the trip. Some schools require approval from governors; at others, the headteacher or delegated school visit co-ordinator may have the final say.

Non-negotiable in getting any school visit off to a great start is thorough planning. Use the school calendar to make sure that your proposed school trip is well timed to avoid parents’ evenings, exams or any clashes with other trips taking place at the same time.

Having secured a date, lock it down in the school diary and start getting quotes for transport, admission, accommodation (if needed) and so forth. Your school or trust will already have a list of suppliers and service providers – such as coach companies – they use regularly. You don’t have to go with the cheapest quote, but you’ll need to justify your reasons for not doing so. Perhaps a more expensive supplier will be better placed to ensure the trip is successful for students with SEND?

Time to absorb

Now comes the fun bit – actually planning the visit itself. Here, however, I would suggest caution. Think back to when you were new to the profession – did you ever over-plan your lessons, to the point that the bell would ring with the ‘best bits’ yet to be covered?

This can easily happen with any school visit. Okay, so you’ve devised a great itinerary that takes in the Tower of London, the Houses of Parliament and the British Museum in the morning, followed by the Natural History Museum after lunch. What could possibly go wrong? Well, like many a military strategist before you, you may find that taking London takes time….

Groups of students travel more slowly than you’ll be used to. They need comfort breaks, somewhere to eat their lunch and supervised road crossings, so don’t go planning too many activities in a single day – otherwise, you’ll end up rushing from one stop to the next without getting to enjoy any of them. Give your students time to absorb what they’re seeing, and they’ll benefit from it all the more.

Finally, launch your school visit to your chosen group only. If you’re inviting multiple classes, have them find out at the same time, if possible, and be ready to answer lots of questions.

If you can be certain of one thing, it’s that a well-planned school trip will benefit teachers and students alike for far longer than the time investment demanded by said planning.

Daniel Harvey is a GCSE and A Level science teacher and lead on behaviour, pastoral and school culture for an inner city academy

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