Do we have to go back to school?

Lynne Horner, Principal at Westholme School, explains why school trips don’t need to be expensive to be effective

‘Do we have to go back to school next week?”

‘Now I understand what Shakespeare meant!”

‘This has been the best day ever”

‘I thought it would be boring but it was amazing seeing how it all works!”

Four comments from students relating to day five of a ski trip to Italy; a theatre performance of Macbeth; white water rafting in Australia and a visit to a cement works in Lancashire respectively. There were no GCSE results at stake here, indeed lesson time is lost to such trips and yet the response from the young people is powerfully compelling.

The value of learning beyond the classroom is well documented and the independent sector prides itself on providing a rich programme of educational visits, residential and overseas trips.  Such opportunities undoubtedly give unique learning experiences that can inspire, stretch and challenge students beyond their comfort zone.  This can build confidence, self-esteem, resilience and significantly enhance social skills. As educators we have a responsibility to ensure that all children enjoy the widest range of enriching experiences to develop their academic skills in tandem with their character and personal attributes.

For teachers (especially those who are inexperienced) the paperwork however can be daunting. Risk assessments, planning costs or payment plans for parents, booking transport or tickets, arranging cover for classes not taught and all of this even before the trip takes place.  Encouraging colleagues to accompany a visit (ratios are crucial), first aid provision and ensuring that all the necessary medical and logistical needs for individual students are fully met, may prove professionally challenging but the benefits far outweigh such reservations.  Teachers also have the chance to be inspired by an uplifting visit to a sculpture park or energised by speeding across a zip wire to the delight of their on-looking students.  A shared experience for staff and students can have reciprocal positive value on the return to school and the classroom.

The most creative school programmes do not have to be the most exotic or expensive.  Community projects in developing countries such as Uganda maybe alluring and can give life changing experiences for young people, but they can be prohibitively expensive and therefore cost exclusive.  However, visits to art galleries, studying the impact of erosion on the coast or completing an expedition in the hills are often free apart from the cost of transport, therefore all schools can and should embrace such possibilities openly. 

Time out of school is often a great concern for staff but the benefits greatly outweigh this.  A strong and well planned programme of visits across all year groups enriches school life and makes a significant contribution to the personal character development of a young person.  Academic learning can be truly brought to life; children relish the chance to explore and work informally with their peers.  So often it is these memories that children cherish and carry with them into adulthood –it is these opportunities that prove such a positive formative experience for young people.  And when asked on the recent ski trip, ”Can we stay another week – I promise I will try and speak Italian?” I was sorely tempted to say, ‘YES!’

For more information about Westholme School, visit their website

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