Making field trips affordable

When finances are stretched, how can headteachers make residential trips more cost-effective and affordable so they can continue to offer the all-round learning experiences that such trips offer? Mark Castle, CEO of the Field Studies Council, explores the options

With budgets getting tighter all the time, headteachers need to make the money they have available work as hard as they do.
While many schools are looking for “non-essentials” to cut from the budget, it’s vital that the proven value of residential field trips is not discarded in the cost-cutting.
Residential trips have been shown to boost academic, social, mental and physical development, particularly for disadvantaged pupils for whom it might be their first experience away from home.
So, when finances are stretched, how can headteachers make residential trips more cost-effective and affordable so they can continue to offer the all-round learning experiences that such trips offer?

Careful planning before the trip can help you make the best use of available resources, including time. Think about making the trip cross-curricular – a destination which is good for studying geography, for example, also probably has something to offer for English, history, possibly languages, and maybe even science and art. Writing a poem or keeping a diary about their trip and experiences for example, can boost literacy skills.  
This means you can offer the trip to a wider group of students to help spread the fixed costs. If you are travelling by coach, make sure you fill every seat (although don’t forget your staffing ratios). If you can’t fill every seat, talk to the travel company to see if a smaller, cheaper coach is available, or consider making use of group discounts for train travel.
Consider your accommodation options carefully. An all-inclusive study centre, such as those run by the Field Studies Council, could be the most cost-effective option and saves the hassle of arranging meals for the party every day. Field Studies Council also includes the equipment you may need for your studying as well as any wellies and waterproofs so that your learners don’t have to bring their own or buy them specially.
Hostels and out of town budget hotels are also much more cost-effective than city centre accommodation and offer a nicer location – especially valuable if your students don’t usually have the chance to leave a built-up urban environment.
When you travel can also have a major impact on the overall cost. A trip in the autumn or spring term is likely to be significantly cheaper than the summer term, when schools are competing with the holiday market for deals.
The Field Studies Council, for example, offers special off-peak rates for all its sites, and hotels and hostels are also cheaper outside the peak summer months. Booking well in advance can also secure much better prices.
Residential trips also don’t need to be far-flung destinations. Choosing somewhere closer to home can save you a fortune in travel costs, as well as allowing more time for actual activities. Just being somewhere different and away from home can be really exciting.
Once you have decided where you’re going, and where you’re going to stay, thoroughly investigate the local area and find out what free or low-cost activities are available.
There are free museums all over the UK – with more than 30 in London alone – but don’t restrict yourself to the big “names”. Many smaller, local organisations are happy to run workshops and activity sessions - check the local council website for a taste of what might be available in the area.
You might find if you book a residential trip with some providers like The Field Studies Council that the accommodation is in such beautiful, wide-open spaces that there’s more than enough options for activities on site that you don’t need to venture further afield.

Keeping residential trips affordable for all pupils is hard, especially for families in financial hardship, looked after children and those with additional needs.
To make sure everyone can still be included, you are likely to need some careful financial management to cover costs for disadvantaged children without financially overburdening your better-off cohort.
Grant funding is one option worth exploring. The Field Studies Council Grants for Schools scheme, for example, has been offering grants of up to £7,500 to help schools with more than 10 per cent of pupils eligible for pupil premium to pay for residential visits. These grants are often awarded on an annual basis and can be a real help towards the overall cost of a trip.
Look to local charitable organisations for help too. Most towns have Rotary or Lions clubs which might be able to make small contributions towards the cost, especially if it can be shown that the trip will benefit disadvantaged groups.
For specific themed activities within your trip, think big! Many of the national academic societies offer small grants to run activities to stimulate interest, and some charities will make grants to support specific groups such as children with disabilities.
Word your application carefully to make sure you meet the criteria of the funding available. Several small grants could make a big difference in the overall cost of your trip.
Fundraising is also a good way to supplement the budget, as well as a good opportunity to teach your students about working together, planning and budgeting, and resilience. As soon as you have rough numbers signed up, set the students a fundraising target to achieve as a group, and let them enjoy planning and executing how they can achieve it.

Bag-packing is a popular and relatively easy way to raise money, and most major supermarket branches have slots available. They are limited though, so will need to be booked early, and bag packing does rely on enough people turning up to help.
Sponsored events, charity concerts, bingo and fashion shows are just some of the events students can organise to help towards the total. Obviously, though, students shouldn’t be given personal targets to raise themselves – not everyone has a large network of relatives and neighbours who will be able to chip in.  

Choose carefully
When money is tight it’s tempting to cut corners and take a DIY approach to organising your trip, but choosing an established and reputable provider could save you money – and hassle – in the long run.

Established operators like Field Studies Council have almost 80 years’ experience of working with schools and will make sure that all the essential details are properly covered.

Still can’t afford it?
If you decide that the budget really can’t stretch to a residential trip this year but you still want to give your pupils an enriching experience, it’s worth thinking creatively to find a solution.
Does your school have a field where you could camp out for a night, or a sports hall where your pupils could have a big fun sleepover? Activities can then be tailored to the resources you have available, using a raft of online tools such as the Field Studies Council Digital Hub.
The hub is a subscription service with everything you need to create a virtual field trip, and complements the free resources offered by the Field Studies Council.
Online resources can also be used if you decide day trips are the best option, with activities that can be transferred to your local park, riverbank or woodland.
If your staff lack the confidence to create meaningful fieldwork themselves, the Field Studies Councils’ teacher twilight series in November could help. These sessions will help biology and geography teachers build confidence and knowledge, and help them to support students in their outdoor learning.

However, you decide to deliver your field trip, the educational and social benefits for your students will be felt for years to come.

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