How are independent schools dealing with trip restrictions?

School trips have been cancelled or postponed as teachers grapple with travel restrictions and coronavirus rules. But as James Higgins finds out, pupils will find a way to have fun whatever the circumstances

Students and teachers are settling back into the routine; there will be hand sanitiser and one-way systems where once there weren’t, and the list of outings this term will be a great deal shorter than before.

But it’s not just the glitzy fixtures in the school calendar, like the ski trips or foreign excursions, that will be abandoned – field trips, excursions and inter-school sporting fixtures will likely tail off as teachers face the increased burden of risk assessments. The cost of trips – at a time of economic recession – is a burden some parents may prefer not to wrestle with. It seems likely school trips will become a thing of the past, and of the future.

Schools in the independent sector rightly prize extracurricular opportunities, but are there other means by which pupils can gain the experience, excitement and independence of a school trip?

See it all

There is a high-tech answer: virtual school trips. With no need for expensive virtual reality headsets or cumbersome equipment, pupils can join these e-outings free of any technical hindrances.

As with any school trip, students need guiding – whether by a questionnaire or a group activity – to help them engage constructively with the experience.

Many of the country’s best-known organisations – like the Forestry Commission – offer virtual trips to students of all ages. The non-ministerial government department’s executive arm, Forestry England, manages and hosts the virtual trips with technical support from Google; the tours give students the chance to explore and understand the precious flora and fauna found in England’s 1,500 forests.

For inner-city schools, miles from a Forestry England-managed site, these virtual solutions could prove a useful learning tool for pupils at a time when conservation is a vitally important conversation in classrooms.

The National Theatre offers its own suite of virtual experiences – available to fee-paying schools via a subscription to the NT Collection via Bloomsbury or ProQuest. There are Shakespearean productions for all ages – including adaptations of Romeo and Juliet and The Winter’s Tale for younger audiences – and productions of classic plays featured on many GCSE and A-level English literature and drama reading lists. Recordings from 30 productions and 10-years’ worth of behind-the-scenes footage underpin this impressive resource.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has an impressive collection of interactive, self-guided tours and learning resources, complete with multimedia tools; as a free, online teaching tool, it really sets the standard for museums everywhere. Even the Louvre, probably one of the busiest cultural attractions in all the world offers free, interactive, self-guided tours: watch out, however, as the lighting in the gallery does impair the viewing experience in some places.

There are live webcams in several of the African national reserves and several of our nation’s zoos, including Edinburgh’s. Much like any school trip, research is key; the quality of tours and learning resources provided does range widely.

school trips
Wetherby Senior took their usual field trips online back in May

Online opportunities

One boys’ school in Marylebone has taken full advantage of these digital opportunities. Wetherby Senior School normally organises a termly day trip to places like Bletchley Park and the Globe Theatre. But with these day trips cancelled last term, and the highly anticipated annual Canadian ski trip out of the question, headmaster Seth Bolderow was keen for the boys to take their field trips online.

Wetherby teachers settled on digital trips to Ancient Rome, the Nasa Mission Operations Room, the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Korea and the Tate Modern. Pupils visited the attractions online and followed up with a report about their visit, highlighting what they learned.

Bolderow said back in May: “Despite the challenging times for everyone, we wanted to supplement the excellent work the boys are doing from home with a fun, immersive and virtual field day. This is certainly the first field trip at Wetherby that allows the boys to step back in time to Ancient Rome or travel the 5,000 miles to visit Nasa. We hope this will add breadth and more independence to what is an unprecedented period in their education.”

With the boys now back at school, Bolderow says: “Planning is still ongoing for the autumn term field day and co-curricular activities. As the boys are in year group bubbles, we are hoping that the field day will go ahead as usual. However, the boys’ health and wellbeing is paramount so we will adjust our plans in line with government guidelines.

“Our co-curricular clubs will be held internally this term but will include a broad range of activities including music, STEM, culture, and art and design clubs to cater for the diverse interests of the boys and will be run in year group bubbles. Barometer, the half-termly magazine led and produced by the boys, will be run remotely to maintain participation from all year groups.”

school trips
Kilgraston School is offering outdoor sport as an alternative to trips

Trips on your doorstep

Some 400 miles north of Wetherby Senior, a girls’ boarding school in Perthshire hopes to make the most of the scenery in the Tay Valley.

Kilgraston School offers senior pupils a biennial exchange with Unison World School, an all-girls residential school in Dehradun, at the foothills of the Himalayas. The school also offers cultural trips to Greece and Italy during the half terms and a European ski trip at the end of winter. With travel restrictions and quarantines likely to remain in place for the next six months, Kilgraston has ditched its exciting international itinerary and replaced it with more outdoor activities.

Kilgraston’s fleet of minibuses makes travelling away from campus easier from the perspective of risk-assessments.

The school has organised trips to Arthur’s Seat, Glamis Castle, Elie and Tentsmuir beaches, the Jupiter Art Gallery, a sculpture walk in Perth and even a trip to Edinburgh’s IKEA.

Our co-curricular clubs will be held internally this term but will include a broad range of activities including music, STEM, culture, and art and design clubs

Their abundance of outdoor space has given the school ample opportunity to organise educational nature trails. While the Scottish weather remains favourable, the school is pushing outdoor yoga and tennis, which can be played on the school’s newly installed hardwearing, year-round courts.

The school has even hosted highland and jazz dancing in the evenings for the boarders in its well-ventilated atrium. “It’s a return to the trips I remember as a child,” one member of staff explains. “Apart from shopping trips, the pupils aren’t missing the old routine.”

As the cold draws in, more of the pupils’ weekends will be spent in Kilgraston’s cookery rooms, workshops, rehearsal spaces and studios. The entire school site is now open to boarders at the weekends to facilitate social distancing and extracurricular clubs.

The school opened 10 days before rules on mandatory mask-wearing were introduced in Scotland, which meant the pupils had an adjustment phase, but the masks and the rules have not stopped lively conversation in the dinner hall, teachers say. Whether it’s treasure hunts, inter-house tugs of war, or hide-and-seek tournaments, the students and staff are finding there’s no end of fun to be had on their doorstep.

The lockdown and rules have not dented pupils’ desire to enjoy themselves: long may that ebullience last.


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