Graham Hart takes a look at the issues surrounding school trips and some of the organisations dedicated to ensuring they are safe and offer value.
In one week at my daughter's school they were collecting money for two outings: a pound;2 donation for a bus journey to the local arts centre and pound;440 for a two-week rugby coaching extravaganza in South Africa, with safari and Sun City included. School trips have come a long way. Happily, my daughter doesn't like rugby.
Visitors to the Education Show can go to more than 25 stands relating to the business of school trips, ranging from travel agencies and consultants to pressure groups and individual attractions. They will be encouraged to spend - but what will be the key issues?
Safety, in every respect, is always going to be the top priority. Claire Nichols, of PGL Travel, explains: "Our customers, both teachers and parents, have an expectation of, and a right to, the very highest levels of care. Standards have risen so much."
PGL Travel has close links with local education authority advisers through the inspection process. Ms Nichols says: "It is all about providing schools with exactly what they want from a trip." PGL's stand will feature their new centre in Chantilly, France, where school parties can enjoy a mix of foreign language, culture, geography - and Euro Disney.
World Challenge Expeditions, specialist providers of trips to remote and developing countries, is another company that works hand in hand with education, and will be promoting its new interactive website (www The Field Studies Council also demonstrates a strong commitment to professional training for teachers and others involved in education. In the context of school trips, the FSC believes that key skills and competencies are important, especially for vocational qualifications. "Problem solving, team and group working, leadership, time management - they can all be a part of the experience," says Anthony Thomas, the FSC chief executive.
The FSC is focused on the post-16 education changes. The new sixth form examinations will provide fresh opportunities for out-of-school activities but they will also increase pressure on staff and resources. There is no simple answer to this conundrum, so schools and field study centres are having to wait for developments.
Opportunities for educational visits should improve in the near future. As David Anderson, one-time government adviser and currently education director of the Victoria ad Albert Museum, explains: "At present we see the carrot approach at work. Museums, galleries and others are being tempted by funding opportunities. One recent change saw the freeing up of National Lottery rules so that services can be funded in addition to capital projects. All this means that attractions are thinking very carefully about exactly what they can offer.
"But if progress is not rapid enough," he warns, "expect the stick approach."
In this year of the Millennium Dome there has been a greater general awareness of school trips. The Dome has, quite rightly, been challenged about its purpose. Should we compare it with the Festival of Britain or Disney World? The language of business has been applied: we have been told that "managing expectations" and "assessing added value" are key issues. Education has been doing these things for years, just not using the same language.
One aspect of added value that teachers consistently request is pre-visit materials in order to maximise value from school trips. The absence of such resources has been one major criticism - of many - about the Millennium Dome. Stealing a march on its near rival, Tower Bridge takes pride in its cross-curricular key stage 2 resource pack for teachers and photocopiable worksheets.
Attractions run by the Merlin Entertainments Group, which include the York Dungeon, Sea Life Centres (all over Europe) and the Wedgwood Story at Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, will also be displaying new materials at the show to make school trips easier and more focused. Some link maths with marine life and include teachers' notes, task sheets that can be used as a stand-alone resource or to back up a Sea Life Centre visit, and a board game.
The three attractions that make up the Manchester Museums and Galleries Project are also trying to provide a dedicated service to schools. Manchester has emerged stronger than ever from the devastation caused by the IRA bombing in 1996. With pound;60 million invested, the Manchester City Art Gallery, Manchester Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry have each worked hard on new educational facilities. Their stand at the Education Show should be a showcase for best practice.
Field Studies Council stand SJ47
Manchester Museums and
Galleries Project stand SJ15
Merlin Entertainments stand SJ60
PGL Travel stand SJ27
Tower Bridge Experience stand SJ20
World Challenge Expeditions stand SJ22