Have a nice day

10th January 1997 at 00:00
From besotted French boys to unsuitably dressed girls, Phil Revell points out some of the hazards teachers are likely to encounter when going on a school outing.

So there you are. One term under your belt, your own mug on the staff-room rack and the other teachers have stopped asking whether you are on work experience. Then a colleague, hitherto unaware of your existence, sidles up and murmurs: "Would you be interested in joining the school trip?" At this point many newly-qualified teachers forget the first rule of volunteering: check what you are letting yourself in for. A school trip could be anything from a half-hour journey to the local library, or a trek across the Himalayas involving white-water rafting, survival training and most of your summer holidays.

School trips take you away from the comfortable routine of the day and expose you to situations which your Certificate in Education certainly didn't prepare you for. Willy Russell's play Our Day Out chronicles some of the possibilities and is recommended viewing. As the school group in the play leave Chester Zoo, they are stopped by a number of keepers who recover the animals that the children were planning to liberate. The leader of the school party looks on in horror as a succession of koalas, monkeys, snakes and spiders are returned to their real owners. Non-teachers believe that Russell is slightly over the top at this point in the script. Most teachers, however, can usually recall something similar or worse having happened to them in the past.

On one school trip to the Continent two Year 9 girls chatted up two boys on the first French campsite. The girls were 13 going on 25 and the boys were very interested in les jeunes Anglaises. The next day the teachers were horrified to discover their bus being trailed by the two boys on their motorbike. The boys followed the bus through France, Germany and Austria. At each campsite the boys checked in and hovered patiently near the school group. Staff took shifts guarding the girls, who made frequent attempts to escape and rendezvous with their admirers.

Teachers on a residential trip are on duty 24 hours a day. For the first couple of nights this will almost certainly involve staying up until the wee small hours to make sure that everyone is asleep. Going on an organised activity holiday doesn't necessarily eliminate the problem. At dusk the activity staff melt into the darkness only to be called out in a dire emergency. Getting the group to bed is your job. And be sure, someone will have woken up the whole group about half an hour after your own head has hit the pillow.

The responsibility is terrifying. On a trip to Norway a girl repeatedly fainted for no apparent reason. The local hospital diagnosed hyperventilation and a paper bag was prescribed to solve the problem. Passengers on the return ferry were horrified to see teachers trying to treat a distressed young girl by putting a bag over her head!

Party leaders become obsessed with counting. Pupils are counted on to the bus and off it again, into and out of the museum and up and down the mountain. And things can still go wrong. Half an hour after a school coach left the car park at Pistyll Rhaedre in mid-Wales, a lone 12-year-old strolled off the mountain and enquired at the cafe as to the whereabouts of his teachers. In that particular case the boy was not even supposed to be on the trip and so was not on anyone's list.

Even day trips can have their interesting moments. Just what do you do with 49 eight-year-olds on the hard shoulder of the motorway when the coach has broken down? And what do you do when faced with Tracey, who plans to walk the nature trail in high heels and a boob tube?

Back in school you will be dismayed to discover that the group seems to have forgotten the educational highlights of the trip. But they have perfect recall of the midnight feasts, the pop star they saw on the ferry and the fact that Mr Jones was stopped and searched by Customs on re-entering the country.

At this stage newly-qualified teachers may be wondering why any teacher would want to organise a trip, often in their own time, involving a great deal of work, much of it unrecognised.

However, despite appearances to the contrary, children do learn a great deal from trips, and, because the learning takes place in a real environment, they make connections that would have been difficult to establish in the classroom. Primary practitioners are able to build a term's work from a trip, working the experience into different parts of the curriculum.

But it's the personal and social aspects of trips which many teachers regard as important. Both sides of the classroom fence see each other differently after a trip. Pupils reveal aspects of themselves which teachers could not have discovered in the more formal atmosphere of the classroom and teachers step out of role to become real people. Pupils and staff benefit from the experience and for many children it will be something they will remember for the rest of their lives. You never know, as they are getting off the coach, one of them might even thank you.

Phil Revell is a former teacher with 20 years' experience of taking school groups on trips in the UK and on the Continent

* There are 101 things to consider when organising a trip, and it is probably best to gain experience with another member of staff before attempting this on your own. Your school or LEA should have guidelines on essentials like pupilteacher ratios, permitted activities, charging policy and safety.

Parents need to be informed about all trips, even brief visits during the school day. A letter should go home giving full information and including a return slip for the parents to sign. For residential trips a parents' meeting should be held to allow parents to meet the teachers who will be in charge of their children.

On coach trips a kitchen roll and several bin bags are vital supplies, along with a first-aid kit and a phone card.

A sense of humour is essential, so don't go on a trip without one.

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