Review - Books - Mind how you go
The Essential Guide to Successful School Trips
By John Trant
It is, I suppose, a sign of our health and safety-obsessed times that teachers now need a 200-page book to tell them how to run a school trip. But the fact is that a trip that goes wrong can ruin a career, damage a school's reputation and, at its worst, devastate a community. So with just a slightly nostalgic backward glance to the days when our sole responsibility was to order the coach and count heads on and off it, John Trant's exhaustive book is to be welcomed as providing a thorough and professional guide to an activity that offers immeasurable richness to children while putting their teachers at risk to a degree many now consider unacceptable.
The extent of this risk is dismissed slightly summarily by the statistics Trant quotes in his opening chapter: "Of the thousands of school trips taking place each year only a very small number result in any sort of accident or incident. In fact, between 2001 and 2006, only 18 fatalities and 519 non-fatal injuries, relatively small numbers nationally, occurred to children between the ages of one and 15 as a result of activities in education, training, research and recreationsport."
Granted it is not clear how many of these are directly attributed to school trips, but 18 fatalities in six years is still 3 per year - with all the disastrous media consequences, not to mention personal grief that every one of these will have produced. If Trant's intention is to reassure, he does not succeed.
Let us be clear: while agreeing with the author that trips are of immense value to pupils and staff, the risks involved should not be underestimated. As a veteran of numerous national and international school outings, I am convinced of their value, though as a head I was on tenterhooks until everyone was safely home. Our aim as professionals is to provide the richest experience for pupils with maximum concern for their safety and minimum risk to ourselves. So can it be done?
Trant argues pretty convincingly that it can and maps out procedures by which that delicate balance can be achieved. Be warned, though, that it is a painstaking process. The first half of the book is devoted to planning, health and safety issues, putting an effective team together, risk assessments, the threat of litigation, bus breakdown procedures, distributed leadership and all the other nuts-and-bolts issues that need to be addressed by way of preparation.
There are also practical tips born of experience, including advice to take two mobile phones so that your personal calls are distinct from the ones associated with the trip and your personal number is not available to pupils or parents. All this, of course, comes with a considerable workload for the staff involved, although the forms provided in the excellent appendix should mean nobody is starting from scratch. But it crossed my mind that more teachers may be deterred than encouraged.
The same thought occurred even more strongly when I reached part two, a collection of "trips gone wrong" stories - or should that be re-phrased as "trips offering challenging opportunities to leadership"? Whatever, the case studies here are fascinating. Should a sixth-form lesbian couple, with parental support, be allowed to share a room? What action do you take when two girls on the back seat of the coach "perform an act" on one of the boys and his mate films it on his phone? Or when your flight is diverted 150 miles away from your destination? Or when a girl drinks herself into an alcoholic coma?
This was a book I gradually warmed to, having initially been a little put off by the rather academic and sometimes pedantic tone and a natural aversion to little boxes asking me rather didactically to "reflect on my practice". The author's research for his MEd in educational leadership and school improvement has obviously formed the bedrock of what is on offer here, but it is also clear that he has a passion for the educational opportunities offered by out-of-the-classroom experiences.
Reading this book and mastering its contents cannot help but produce better run and safer school trips - and staff and pupils will surely benefit from that.
See our resources section, p35, for more on educational visits
About the author John Trant
John Trant is currently head of design and technology at an independent senior school in Hertfordshire. His long-term interest in trips and expeditions led to research into teacher learning on school field trips while completing an MEd in educational leadership and school improvement at the University of Cambridge.
The verdict 810.