Our goal was to go visit the local pet shop to price birdseed, as part of our enterprise class. It's a good project - involves weighing out the seed, managing to get it into bags, eliciting orders from staff, handling the money, counting and keeping accounts.
The walk meant opportunities to practise crossing the road, gave us a chance to look at the turning leaves and talking (in sentences) - as well as stroking a puppy! And importantly, for these children who are taxied in and can't really manage a lot in PE, it is exercise as well as being an enjoyable jaunt.
The nightmare is the admin behind this very mundane trip. We usually involve our pupils in the planning process when we go out of school - and there are some 20 steps. Filling in forms, seeking permission, those damn risk assessments, informing staff, changing registers, signing staff out. Permission slips need to go out to the parents, and they are pages long. One little lad wasn't ever allowed - until we realised that mum couldn't read either - and was quite happy to let him go if we phoned to ask.
Do risk assessments prevent accidents? Over all the years and with all the fun of taking kids out, I have known only one case - a youngster who fell and broke an arm while ice-skating. Would we just not be allowed to go nowadays, because there is a chance that could happen?
How can you quantify the benefits of these trips? The school was an hour's drive from the skating rink, but we had a ball, usually stopping for chips on the way home. On trips out of school, you get to know the pupils and they learn to trust you. You might have a rowdy bottom section, but they never behaved badly when we were out. I have no doubt that it really helped in the classroom too.
There have been very real tragedies on school trips, and it is every parent's worst fear when their offspring are clamouring to go. No one can dispute the horror for the teachers involved - whether it was their fault or not. No one deliberately makes mistakes.
But does the process have to be quite so complex? Do the forms have to be so long-winded? Has anyone looked at them critically, with the intention of streamlining them? Why do parents have to fill in the same form each time? Can't we get the information at the start of the session and just have a simple form signed by parents on each trip?
In fact, why do teachers have to do the admin? Couldn't that be delegated to school assistants or office staff?
Working with children who have additional support needs, I can't emphasise the importance of getting them out of school - going to the Post Office with a parcel, shopping for ingredients for macaroni and cheese, going out bowling or to the cinema. Many of our children wouldn't be going anywhere otherwise. And it is the "hidden curriculum" that really benefits them - the chatter, road safety, handling money. The real world is our classroom in their education.
Make it easier for us!
Penny Ward teaches in a secondary school.