For most adults, school trips to museums, theatres or outdoor camps make up a positive and important part of their school memories. Nationally, however, school trips appear still to be in long-term decline http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-14000093. This is both surprising and unfortunate given the considerable benefits to the students.
A well-planned and well-timed trip can be truly inspiring, bringing classroom learning to life and invigorating subsequent lessons. A regular Geography trip to the coast at Holderness makes the reality and urgency of coastal erosion apparent to GCSE students in a way that even the best time-lapse sequence of maps 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 practical and exciting 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 data collected can be analysed in future classroom lessons to ensure that field 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. Of course, video links and recordings and the internet can bring these experiences into the classroom but without developing the physical connection with people or artefacts that often changes a student’s approach to a topic.
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.
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 with the growth of mobile devices and electronic educational materials almost anywhere and at any-time.
Recent, praiseworthy government reforms to the health and safety guidance and consent arrangements for school trips allow simple one day trips to be organised more 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. http://www.hse.gov.uk/services/education/school-trips.htm 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.
A quick summation from the termly diary reveals that this term Birkdale students have taken part in more than 20 trips, ranging from the very local visits to more ambitious expeditions to London and Newcastle and to study trips to Mallorca and Cologne. This total does not include the various local competitions within Sheffield which have attracted Birkdale teams or the numerous speakers who have visited the school; I am delighted that the students have such rich, varied and stimulating opportunities. As I write this piece a group of History students are touring the battlefields of WW1 and WW2 and a more intrepid group of students are in Nepal, part of an annual trip, trekking in the Himalaya but also teaching in schools in Kathmandu supported by Birkdale over many years. I know from my own experiences in Nepal last Easter what an important event this is for many students, combining physical, mental and emotional challenge with an exploration of a very different culture and lifestyle and transforming their view of the world; this is surely part of the purpose of education.