The downside of tripping

24th February 2012 at 00:00

I'm amazed that teachers ever organise school trips. My school has contrived to make the whole planning process so difficult that you need to be a modern-day Hercules to attempt it. Slaying the nine-headed Hydra is a walk in the park compared with organising a field trip for a Year 9 class.

For a start, you have to run the gauntlet of permissions. Before you're allowed through the gates you have to clear it with your line manager, your line manager's manager, the deputy in charge of raising impediments and Eileen, a part-time Avon rep, who seems to run the school budget.

These systems are obviously there to safeguard the kids, but end up disadvantaging them. Simply to make it to the approval stage, you have to jump through more hoops than a collie at Crufts, so most teachers give up at the first hurdle.

For some reason our senior managers are all deeply suspicious of trips. They seem to think that a Duke of Edinburgh weekend is some kind of scam to get out of teaching Year 11 last thing on a Friday, whereas in fact only a geographer or someone with severe psychosis would conspire to spend two days in a tent with a can of beans, a soggy OS map and nowhere to plug in their hair straighteners.

Mainly they refuse permission in case it opens up the floodgates to a sea of out-of-school requests. This week it's a history trip to the Hadrian's Wall, next week it will be The Woman in Black and a rugby tour of South Africa. Permission is rarely given. They'd sooner see you set fire to the school than "set a precedent". Precedents come next to paedophiles in their list of things best avoided. And if your visit requires any cover, it's already dead in the water. You could have front-row seats to see Usain Bolt run the Olympic 100m final but if it meant missing an exam class, you'd end up in volleyball, or watching women shoot guns.

If your trip does get approval, then the real work begins. You have to write to parents, collect money and emergency contact numbers, book accommodation, practise jabbing the school nurse with an Epi-pen and complete a 10-page risk assessment; the greatest risk being that you collapse in a stress-induced coma before you make it to the minibus.

During a recent trip away, I failed to identify one major risk: that my son and his mates were dim enough to lock themselves in the garage.

It's a shame that school trips have become so problematic, because they help broaden cultural horizons. And now, more than ever, that's important. The rising cost of university tuition fees means that pupils remain at home to study, and the prospect of regional pay deals increases the likelihood of a stagnant population. The North will soon be a no-man's-land whose indigenous young people are too poor to migrate south and too English to make it in Scotland.

In the past, universities aided social mobility. My generation had the benefit of grants, European rail cards and Lolita-loving lecturers who'd take you to the National Theatre in return for a quick squeeze of your thigh, or the opera if you'd go the whole hog. But nowadays the buck stops with schools. It's our duty as teachers to facilitate social mobility and encourage cultural enrichment. We have to organise trips to Oxford, Cambridge and Stratford so the kids can see for themselves that while their streets are full of Lidl supermarkets, others are paved with gold.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the North of England.

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