Joan Sallis answers governors'questions

We had quite an acrimonious discussion on our governing body about school trips. We have a lot of outings in term-time in our comprehensive, and every year group also has a residential. Costs are reasonable and we subsidise where necessary. But they are not very exciting compared with what some other comprehensives do - winter sports, Eurodisney, music festivals.

I was arguing for us to branch out - in fact, I initiated the debate - but I lost. A few governors were political about it, and talked about divisiveness, but they see education so narrowly and make us sound "worthy" because we do educational things. The head agreed with them. But travel is educational and some things I had in mind were more cultural than some of the holidays so-called poor families manage to pay for. Am I wrong about this?

It isn't a matter of right and wrong. Lots of schools have this argument and in the end you have to go with the majority, having made sure you are arguing from the right information and taking into account the character of the school and neighbourhood. Circumstances vary, and I think that schools sometimes have to be concerned about divisiveness. Whatever the rights and wrongs, be clear about the different legal position of trips wholly or mainly in term-time, and those wholly or mainly in holidays. The former have to be curriculum-related (I'd sooner use that term than "educational" because people could argue all night otherwise) and no charges can be made. Payments made by the family count as voluntary contributions and it's legal to fix these at a level which enables the school to subsidise those who can't afford them. Many schools also fund-raise or get help from charities. But holiday trips have to be charged at cost.

You said you "think" your school trips are subsidised. It is definitely the governing body's responsibility to lay down a policy on charging for school activities, in the light of the legal provisions. This should distinguish between school-time trips and others. If you have only recently been appointed, ask if you can see the latest edition of that policy. You may want to suggest that it is time to revisit it as you have been discussing the subject recently.

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