Interview: A Headteacher’s Advice on School Trips
We wanted a real headteacher’s advice and top tips on planning and executing school trips. Lara Jeffries has worked in Education for almost 20 years; starting as a teaching assistant in Warwickshire, while studying for her PGCE.
She worked her way up and became a fully qualified teacher, deputy head, acting head and then finally a headteacher. Lara was acting head at The Willows C of E Primary school in Stratford-Upon-Avon, headteacher of Heathcote Primary in Leamington and headteacher of Tregolls School in Truro, Cornwall. Now stepping back from her headteacher role, Lara is considering her next move within education. We asked her some questions helpful for those planning in the future:
What school trips have you organised/attended before?
I have organised residential school trips to Marle Hall, an activity center in North Wales. This was great, as the “experts” guide the whole trip when you are there and by the end of the day every child is thoroughly exhausted after pushing themselves doing activities such as climbing, abseiling, rafting and gorge walking.
I have taken 60 children to the Isle of Wight for a week, multiple times. Initially, we followed an age old agenda, a real tradition of the school I was working in. But I changed it up and used a company, which opened up lots more opportunities; it was always a real hit.
Daily trips have included Zoos, theatres, parks, trekking, nature reserves, eco days, forest schools and lots more!
What are the first things you consider when planning a school trip?
Every headteacher’s advice will say the same, the first thing any school leader must consider is budget. Schools have very little spare money for school trips and also do not want to ask for too much from parents. Keeping costs as low as possible whilst also providing a rich extra curricular experience is essential.
A school trip needs to be accessible for all and provide “cultural capital” an experience pupils may not otherwise have, if it were not for school. Linking with the national curriculum is important, to provide a practical a memorable context so children can remember learning. At the same time, a school trip should not be all about “learning” in the traditional sense; it should be fun and allow children to develop their social skills, build relationships with peers and remember for years to come.
Ease of organisation is key, a big plus if companies offer to organise all the elements of a trip, such as travel, insurance, food and accommodation. Taking children on any trip, whether it is residential or just for the day is hugely stressful and loaded with responsibility, so any help to organise is very welcome!
How do you decide where to take your students?
This depends on the experience you want to offer. Are you wanting to make learning memorable and link in the curriculum? Or are you wanting to provide an experience children would not otherwise have? Looking at your local environment and what is in your region is a really good starting point, as it keeps travel costs low. Also somewhere you can get to and from after and before the school bus rush is good as it keeps costs lower with coach companies. Making the most of what your area has to offer is a really good starting point. I am always surprised when doing something relatively local and realising the children have never been there…like the each in Cornwall for example!
However, if you really want to provide a once in a lifetime experience, then choosing a destination abroad can be an amazing opportunity for children. There are obviously a lot more organisational issues to consider, but many companies can really help you with this. I was planning a Paris trip and then the pandemic hit… so we had to cancel. It was a real shame as many of the children we were taken had never left the county, let alone the country.
How do you make sure the children are safe throughout the trip?
This is the fear when leading a school trip. The fact of the matter is, you cannot always guarantee the safety of children… there could always be something beyond your control that happens. But planning is the absolute key. I plan my school trips to the minute, exploring every possible eventuality.
Rehearsing crossing the road with children and staff, so everyone knows how we do it, watching coach safety videos so we all know what to do in the event of an accident, writing those risk assessments in as much detail as you can; all of these things help keep children safe. Your staff must be experienced, confident and know the trip details inside out. Ratios of children to staff are vital, varying depending on the age of the children and the type of trip.
What should teachers consider when building a risk assessment?
Risk Assessments are one of the biggest jobs to consider when planning a school trip. Once again, using a company can really help take some of the load, with pre planned risk assessments written specifically for the trip/activities undertaken. However, even with these RA’s it is always vital to personalise for the needs of your pupils. For example considering physical disabilities or Special Educational Needs.
If you are writing your own RA you really do have to consider every eventuality, from travel risks to crossing the road, to getting lost or worse. Schools have had to learn from some awful accidents in previous years and mitigate as much as possible against those risks. You can never take the risk away, but planning for it should take the risk level from high to low. If you can’t take the risk to low, then you would usually consider planning something else.
Click HERE to take a look at a comprehensive guide to writing risk assessments.