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Inspiring young minds through schools trips


Education Business

The challenges involved in organising school trips have changed but with so much choice available, teachers cannot afford to neglect this vital part of education


Edwin Doran Sports Travel, part of TUI Travel’s education division
I’ve been working in travel since 2001 and have witnessed a lot of changes over the years. A decade ago, teachers were very comfortable with taking school groups away on trips and had very little paperwork to complete. Today however, they have so many hoops to jump through to organise a trip that activity trip providers support them with their administration and offer guidance on filling out risk assessment forms.

The industry has really worked hard to give teachers the extra reassurance they need and signpost quality. In 2003 the School Travel Forum was set up to raise health and safety standards on school trips and a quality badge accreditation scheme was established to make the process of choosing a supplier easier. Being a member of the British Activity Holiday Association has really enabled organisations to collaborate with other activity break specialists for the greater good. Adopting appropriate safety benchmarks for activities such as archery and high-ropes, companies regularly meet to discuss ways of shaping the industry and to drive up standards.

Common sense
The importance of safety is paramount of course but we must try not to lose sight of the fundamental benefits that school trips can bring to students, such as the opportunity to learn new skills and travel. As Lord Young of Graffham advocated in his recent government review, there is definitely a call for a “common sense” approach to legislation on public events.

School trips open doors for pupils by presenting them with new situations, they open young minds to new possibilities whether that be conversing in a foreign language to buy lunch for the class, or discovering that they have a natural talent for a new sport they hadn’t tried before.

A positive development for the industry is that with all the extra pressure being put on students to pass exams, teachers are now focusing on rewarding students for their hard work throughout the year and making them well rounded individuals. In doing so this helps them build their confidence by trying exciting new things that take them outside their comfort zone. Learning outside the classroom can empower students to become more responsible and sociable and teaches them valuable team building skills.

Added to this, learning outside the classroom can be used to meet some of the demands reflected in the government’s white paper ‘The Importance of Teaching’, namely, improving teaching standards by engaging students and instilling discipline as school trips often reduce levels of poor behaviour.

To raise awareness of the importance of school trips and learning outside the classroom, in November we unveiled the findings of our independent survey of 512 primary and secondary school teachers from across the UK and Northern Ireland. The research uncovered some compelling findings: 99 per cent of teachers said students are more animated and engaged when learning on school trips, compared to 84 per cent who said that school trips improve behaviour. Stressing the benefits of school trips, 89 per cent of teachers saw the main advantage of school trips as helping bring the subject to life, 83 per cent highlighted the social benefits and 71 per cent spoke of the cultural benefits.

A useful barometer of what teachers think, the survey also revealed what teachers thought their students favourite trips were. An overwhelming majority of teachers said students would vote theme parks and going overseas as their favourite school trips. Theatre trips including professional performance skills workshops with the stars of West End and Broadway shows and options include ‘Shrek: The Musical’, ‘Chicago’, and ‘The Lion King’ also came out top.

Sporting trips
Recent hard-hitting headlines highlighted that provision for encouraging children to play competitive sports is at risk. The Department for Education funding for School Sport Partnerships has only been secured until the end of the summer term 2011. Previously threatened by proposals to cut all £162 million of funding for School Sport Partnerships, the decision to keep it going in the short-term follows widespread opposition from students, teachers and many in the sporting world. The government has, however, pledged £65 million in 2011/12 and 2012/13, to ensure one PE teacher per school is released for a day a week to encourage competitive sports. What better way to use this time than to get the students on sports tours and sports coaching trips?

Students give full marks to sporty school trips with companies where students get to ski and discover the local language and geography, and others where they can compete against a local team of similar ability level in countries on almost any continent across the globe. Setting sport against the backdrop of an out of this world destination, hockey, netball and rugby matches are combined with excursions to sites of historical or geographical importance.

Taking on the world

Other casualties in the government’s reform of the education sector will be school-leavers who have their sights set on going to university. There will be a freeze in university places in 2011 and 10,000 fewer places in 2012. Also, with higher fees on the horizon, students will really be feeling the pinch, and may choose to condense or forego their year out and instead focus attention on using their summer holiday to go on an expedition instead.

That said, it is important to note that whether their venture be a visit to a developing world country, a longer gap break abroad, or learning a new skills helping with community projects, construction or conservation; referring to what they learned in their university application could also set them apart from their peers. Moreover, the building of a “career passport” that incorporates their academic qualifications with the skills, qualities and experiences gained from a truly educational travel experience demonstrates to admissions tutors and future employers the ability of a student to balance their study with other valuable activities.

The strange paradox in this climate of tightening budgets in education is that the demand for all schools to offer educational visits has really stepped up a gear, and the growing choice of destinations mean that all age groups and curriculum subjects can be catered for.

Taking advantage

Starting this year, the government has introduced a new pupil premium to raise the achievement of disadvantaged pupils. In light of this, we want to ensure that the choice to participate in the huge range of school trips available is open to all students regardless of their social mobility.

Where school trips are concerned, winning the hearts and minds of teachers and parents will never be an issue but they will need the support of responsible providers that will go the extra mile to support them with risk assessments. Providers must also offer genuinely engaging trips that are competitively priced and enhance students’ learning and wellbeing. After all, there is nothing more rewarding than discovering something new that you’re good at, or reaching the top of a proverbial mountain, that yesterday seemed impassable.

Written by Ian Finlay of TUI Travel PLC’s Education Division

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