The journey is booked and paid for, you've followed your school and local authority's guidelines, arranged insurance cover and you're off. Or not. After one journey to Europe nearly ended before it began when no coach arrived, Gill Pellant, head of geography at Parliament Hill School, London, now double-checks all transport bookings.
On journeys where children are going to be in the coach for long periods, it's wise to prepare constructive activities. Anne Peacock, head of classics at Wimbledon High School for Girls, tells her coachloads stories of myths and legends associated with the destination, an activity adaptable to most journeys. It provides valuable background information and encourages quiet behaviour (which should please the driver no end).
Most students will have been asked to bring something with them such as a book, Walkman, favourite toy or pack of cards to stave off boredom. Anne Hughes, deputy head at Paddocks Primary in Newmarket, advises games which involve looking out of the window "because games where they're looking down mean they're more likely to be sick".
Which brings us to plastic bags. There is no quicker way to alienate your coachdriver than soiling his vehicle. Hang litter bags every few seats and remind children to use them rather than clog the ashtrays. Find out who suffers from travel sickness and make sure sufferers aren't sitting over a wheel or at the back.
It's always a good idea to have the rooming arrangements organised in advance if you're using dormitory accommodation. This ensures that you can avoid volatile combinations and make sure no one is left out. You may choose to keep the same groups if pupils are unsupervised. "I tell the girls they must stay in groups of four, " says Anne Peacock, "so if one twists her ankle, two can go for help while one remains with her."
Some guidelines suggest pupils should be supervised at all times. However, this may inhibit exactly the independent, investigative skills you are trying to promote and may attract unwelcome notice. "Taking a crocodile of 45 adolescent girls around Florence is the surest way of drawing attention," says Anne Peacock.
If children are to spend parts of the day unsupervised, it's important to lay down ground rules and give them the necessary telephone numbers, identification and street plans or maps in case of difficulties.
As the Geographical Society's booklet Planning Fieldwork, from their Fieldwork in Action series, says: "There is no substitute for first-hand knowledge of the area." Ideally every school journey should include a pre-planni ng visit, although this is not always possible.
Gill Pellant says if you can't visit, "phone the local authority to make sure things haven't changed". She echoes colleagues who say that any projected visit to a beach should be checked against tidetables, available through local tourist offices. One school had to wake their pupils at 5am so they could complete a rock pool study.
Companies offering teacher previews aim to impress, but they don't always live up to the brochure. One teacher, a vegetarian, recalls; "Although when I booked they said there was no problem, I had to remind the rep every mealtime. He made it clear I was a nuisance. I'm glad I found out about their attitude when I was on my own and not with 40 children needing special diets."
Sean O'Sullivan, head of upper school at the Frank Wise School in Banbury for children with special needs, recommends enlisting local help when you can't pre-visit yourself. Last year he took 12 children, three in wheelchairs, to Italy. Through a contact at the European University Institute in Florence, he arranged for 10 people with local knowledge to help throughout the week. He communicated through
e-mail and they organised things on the spot. "It made a huge difference having someone to represent us before we arrived," he says.
This year the school visited Brussels. The Town Hall supplied Sean with a list of about a dozen schools. From that list he got two positive responses of advice and help.
Having enough helpers is a recurring problem. When Anne Hughes takes children to London for the day, she can't afford to pay for her parent-helpers. "We need one adult to two or three children. Some museums let you have as many adults as you want, but others only allow one free adult for five children." With older children, Anne Peacock prefers to take teachers' partners. "The free places go to teachers, everyone else pays. "
If you're going anywhere with some open space, a rounders bat and ball allows students to let off steam. A book of simple drama games may prove your salvation if the skies open, or transport is delayed. Be clear about your
liability, and that of the travel company, and give parents copies of the insurance before you leave. If you're not sure your cover's adequate check before going anywhere.
Last, but not least, you need teaching staff who work well as a team. As Anne Peacock says "I take trips I know I'll enjoy. I take people who are competent, flexible, good fun, don't panic at unexpected situations and have good relationships with the kids."
Fieldwork in Action 1,2,3 and 4 Both published by The Geographical Association, 343 Fulwood Road, Sheffield S10 3BP
Safety Principles in Outdoor Education Published by the National Association of Outdoor Education (NAOE), 12 St Andrew's Churchyard, Penrith, Cumbria CA11 7YE
Safety in Outdoor Education Published by HMSO, available from the NAOE, as above
Safety on School Trips Published by PAT, 2 St James Court, Friar Gate, Derby DE1 1BT
SHA HobsonsSchool Travel Organisers' Handbook Available from Biblios, Star Road, Partridge Green, W Sussex RH13 8LD
Beyond the Classroom Published by the National Union of Teachers, Hamilton House, Mabledon Place, London WC1H 9BD
Face to Face: learning language and culture through visits and exchanges Edited by Michael Byram, published by the Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research (CILT), 20 Bedfordbury, London WC2N 4LN
Crossing Frontiers: the school study visit abroad By David Snow and Michael Byram, published by CILT, as above.