Keep educational visits part of the curriculum

A recent report has highlighted that schools are cutting back on school trips due to stretched finances and pressed timetables. But in the face of widening educational inequality and declining mental wellbeing, the benefits of school trips have never been more needed, writes Justine Lee from the School Travel Forum

Educational visits have long been a staple of the school year, whether for one day or a week, within the UK or overseas. They give students the chance experience a subject or what they are learning in a more immersive and holistic way. Recently, however, there has been a debate as to whether these visits are still necessary given rising costs and increasing availability of online and virtual experiences.
    
A recent report from the Sutton Trust and the National Foundation for Educational Research highlighted that schools are cutting back on school trips. Stretched finances and pressed timetables mean these opportunities are being put on the back burner. However, in the face of widening educational inequality, declining mental wellbeing, the benefits that school trips offer have never been more needed.
    
While they take time to organise, teachers, parents and students alike recognise the many up sides of school trips. And the wealth of benefits have been confirmed through numerous studies, especially for vulnerable or disengaged and demotivated students.
    
A school trip can be the first time that a student has ventured away from their local community or stepped through the doors of a museum.
    
“School trips mean the world to our students. We come from a very big school with a lot of students from very different backgrounds. To some of them it can be the only time they get to go abroad. So for us it is really important that we are able to give them this experience,” comments a KS4 MFL co-ordinator from Coundon Court School.

Increase student engagement
Educational visits can be a powerful tool to increase student engagement and motivation. When students can directly experience a subject matter and see it in action, it provides real-world context and relevancy. Consequently they are more likely to be interested in learning more.
    
Contextualising learning in this way also helps to build empathy, tolerance and critical thinking – skills that more challenging to develop in a traditional classroom environment. While venturing to a new place or country helps students to develop a broader perspective on the world as they learn about different lives and cultures as well as different points of view.
    
Interacting and spending a concentrated period of time with students outside of their usual friendship circle helps students to build their social skills, learn how to work together as a team, how to get on with new or different people and how to resolve conflict in a healthy way.
    
As well as building relationships with their peers, school trips allow students and teachers to spend time together away from school which can help to build connections and strengthen relationships which lead to improved behaviour, attendance and academic achievement.
    
Above all, school trips offer students, and teachers, fun and memorable experiences Students get to learn in a new and exciting way and will make memories that they will cherish for years to come.
    
“I think there’s something magical about a school trip. It gets passed down from brother to sister, ‘Do you remember when we went on the Germany trip?’, ‘Do you remember the battlefields trip?’ and it’s set in stone that these trips happen every year. It’s kind of irreplaceable, particularly for the children who just need to interact with the environment and actively learn as opposed to passively learning from a textbook in a classroom,” comments a history teacher from The Burgate School.
    
While the benefits of educational visits might be known and understood, it is important to note that not all trips are created equal. To be effective, school trips should be carefully planned and well-executed.

Tips for successful trip planning
Decide what you want to achieve. Before you select a venue, location or destination, think about what you want to achieve then consider where would be the best place to visit and/or which activities would be the best ones to do to help you achieve this goal. When setting your objective and goal consider the needs of the group as well as curriculum needs.
    
Talk to colleagues about their experiences. What has worked for them, what are their recommendations. Get in touch with an accredited specialist school travel provider, such as a member of the School Travel Forum, their members have decades of experience in organising and leading educational visits overseas and in the UK and will make sure the location, destination and activities are right for your group.
    
Help your students get the most from the experience by incorporating the trip into lessons leading up to the event. Give students the opportunity to learn about the destination, the places they will visit and the activities they will be doing.

Make your trip affordable
There are a number of ways to help make sure school trips remain affordable. Travelling at less popular times of the year or steering away from ‘honeypot’ destinations – try Seville instead of Barcelona, or Lille instead of Pari-s. These actions can result in considerable savings. A specialist tour or travel provider will be able to advise you on the best options for what you want to achieve and your budget.
    
Combining groups can help remove small group surcharges and spread transport costs. Would your chosen destination and activities be relevant to another subject area or could you combine year groups?
    
Setting up a school lottery has the dual benefit of raising funds and providing a reward to the lucky winner each month. Organisations such as Your School Lottery will help you navigate your way and ensure your lottery is fully compliant.
    
There are several trusts and grants that provide funding for school trips. These range from Livery Companies in London to environmental and activity bodies such as Alpkit Foundation and the Turing Scheme. Depending on the needs or family circumstances of your students, there may also be specialist funding available.
    
Educational visits and trips are a valuable tool that can help studnets learn in a more engaging and memorable way. With forethought and careful planning teachers can ensure these experiences can remain central to your curriculum and that students continue to have the same opportunities to learn and grow as their older peers did.
    
School Travel Forum is the not-for-profit trade association for school travel and tour operators, and sets the standards for companies operating in the educational travel sector. Its members hold the LOtC Quality Badge and are members of ATOL or ABTA giving schools maximum confidence to travel.

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