For most adults, school trips to museums, theatres or outdoor camps make up a positive and important part of their school memories. Like all schools our trip programme has come to a complete standstill over the last few months but I am just starting to sign off trips for 2022 and 2023. I do so with some trepidation, particularly for the more adventurous overseas trips, given the huge uncertainties about Covid around the globe and the pace of vaccinations.
I know that at least some of these trips will be deemed impossible in six months’ time by the travel companies, the insurance companies or my own Risk Assessments. If I do nothing, however, and wait for absolute clarity, the lead time for some of these trips means that they will not occur until 2024, robbing more pupils of the considerable benefits of the school trip.
A well-planned and well-timed trip can be truly inspiring, bringing classroom learning to life and invigorating subsequent lessons. A History trip to the WW1 battlefields, museums and cemeteries makes the reality of trench warfare apparent to GCSE students in a way that even the best sequence of maps, films or pictures cannot. The memories of the topic created by the trip are likely to be more persistent than those generated by an equivalent lesson at school given the nature of the experience. Students can be set work and complete it whilst on the trip to ensure that the key ideas are reinforced and observations made can be analysed in future classroom lessons to ensure that trip work and class work are fully co-ordinated. (This can be done without the burden of the infamous worksheet on a clipboard which can so easily spoil the experience). In Modern Foreign Languages it is easy to see how being able to practise language and experience culture at first hand can benefit educational progress as well as increasing the motivation to learn more. Art trips to museums and galleries to study masterworks and theatre trips to see plays, previously studied through script alone, brought to life by capable professionals can only inspire.
The shared experience of the school trip is also excellent from a social point of view with the chance to strengthen relationships between students as well as between students and teachers. Outdoor residential trips allowing for activities such as walking, climbing and kayaking are particularly useful in this regard, aside from the opportunities for the students to develop leadership and teamwork skills as well as resilience, confidence and self-esteem. The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme with its deliberate inclusion of expedition elements alongside skill development and volunteering over a sustained period provides real opportunities for this.
Overseas trips often combine physical, mental and emotional challenge with an exploration of a very different culture and lifestyle and can genuinely transform a young person’s view of the world; this is surely part of the purpose of education.
Learning outside of school also reminds pupils that learning cannot be confined to the school premises; learning occurs at home, on trips, during the holidays, and through mobile devices and electronic educational materials almost anywhere and at any-time.
School trips nationally were in long-term decline before Covid and it is hard to understand why. The government guidance on health and safety and consent arrangements for school trips allow simple one day trips to be organised quite easily and the paperwork for larger scale events is manageable. Even the Health and Safety Executive, usually somewhat caricatured in the public mind, has gone out of its way to try to dispel myths about the safety of school trips and the consequences of accidents. In any case the risks associated with most school trips are small; outward bound activity providers are tightly regulated and because of their highly organised nature a school trip perhaps presents a smaller risk than the equivalent family activity. The cost of such trips usually compares very favourably with the corresponding family trip given the economies of scale.
The various lockdowns have allowed us to experiment with virtual tours. Experience suggests that these hold the interest of a typical teenager for rather less time than the physical tour which can produce a real connection between student and artefact or person. The quality of many virtual tours is quite extraordinary, however, and for a quick museum visit for 15 minutes in a lesson they are extremely useful.
I suspect that virtual tours are as close to international travel as I am likely to get this summer; have a good break.