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School Trips – Why Do We Bother Taking Students Beyond The Classroom?

It’s a question Chris Curtis has often pondered...

  • School Trips – Why Do We Bother Taking Students Beyond The Classroom?

Anybody planning a school trip will have asked themselves a question at least once during the process: is it really worth it? Can I truly justify the paperwork, the stress and all the anxiety?

And of course, every teacher – primary or secondary – will have at some point shrugged, realised they’re not sure, and gone ahead and done it anyway.

As children, we treasured the time our school went to the Welsh Folk Museum for a day, because we could get a rubber or sweets without our parents moaning at us.

As adults, we are aware that taking students away from the classroom isn’t always a walk in the park, zoo, museum, cinema, or even theme park. The calm security of school is replaced by chaos and unpredictability – and we are in charge of it.

Simply rounding up the children can be a challenge. Regardless of age and maturity, they have a tendency to turn into the equivalent of a bunch of unruly puppies as soon as they realise they’re off timetable – you have to guide them onto the bus and then control their every action when you get there.

Teachers have to be like hawks, ready to swoop down on any stragglers, avoiding traffic or the gift shop. In the past in our school we have resorted to insisting all youngsters in the group wear bright yellow caps. Yes, it is embarrassing, but at least none of the students gets lost. In fact, nobody will go near them because of the shame of the garish headgear.

Then, there’s the constant counting. You double check. Triple check. The fear of leaving a student behind is one we all worry about.

Expect the unexpected

Working with children, you know that the possibility of students getting ill is always there – and indeed, the further from the school sickroom they are, the higher the probability of this happening seems to rise.

On a day trip to France, somebody forgot to warn the Year 7 travellers not to eat all their snacks and sweets on the coach. Two hours in and we had students, like dominoes, vomiting in the aisle. Kindly, the gentle movement of the bus swished the fluids up and down the carriage. Therefore, the coach – and I – smelt of sick for the whole journey, including the return one.

Plus, you can never predict what will happen on a trip: I couldn’t have foreseen, for example, that I’d have to remove two female students from a production of The Woman in Black because they were screaming like they were being murdered slowly in the audience.

I couldn’t have realised that a play we took students to see would contain every obscenity under the sun, when the leaflet had informed us it was “suitable for teenagers”. And I couldn’t have predicted that when we stopped at a service station for a toilet break on the way home, in the café in the foyer there would be a meeting of men dressed as women. Although I could probably have guessed the questions raised in the bus afterwards as a consequence.

Reasons that resonate

After an unnaturally lengthy day of screaming, shouting – and possibly vomiting – trapped with your students on a bus for several hours, it is easy to wonder if it has really been worth the time, blood and sweat it took to get them there. So let me give you my opinion on the matter.

Yes, it is worth it, because a student is more likely to remember the visit to the factory than their English lesson period five.

Our Year 11s struggle to remember the fact they studied Macbeth in Year 8, but every single one can recall vividly and in great detail the time they visited the Harry Potter studios (and what they learnt there, which was a great deal).

Yes, it is worth it, because at least one of those students will never have had the experience of visiting a theatre production before, and might never again.

I’ve had parents thanking me for giving their children an opportunity that would have been simply out of their reach as a family.

And yes, it is worth it, because students get a chance to see more of the world. Our children from leafy rural Derbyshire were shocked to discover that Eastenders is not an accurate representation of London.

School trips make memories. Memories that will live longer than the knowledge we teach them in the classroom. I know, because while I can remember my Y9 French exchange trip in exquisite, glorious, gory detail – I cannot recall a single word of French.

Chris Curtis is a teacher and head of department in a secondary school in Derbyshire. He blogs at Learning from my mistakes: an English teacher’s blog and tweets as @xris32.

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