Standing in bitterly cold winds with sideways rain and an ill-fitting cagoule may be the first memory that springs to mind when you think back to your own experiences of school trips as a child. I personally remember trying to draw a diagram of a cliff face in torrential rain on paper that had returned to pulp, with fingers that were so cold I wasn’t entirely convinced they still belonged to me.
Despite the frequently inclement weather and seemingly never-ending coach journeys, I’m sure that many people’s fondest memories of their school lives come from eventful outings with their fellow classmates.
School trips are important whether they are liked or not. The learning opportunities, the chance to be independent, the experience of new places and the cultural benefits all make them crucial to a student’s development.
But from a teacher’s point of view, they aren’t exactly easy to organise. In fact, we’re given little official training in how to run one – most learning is done on the job and leading your first trip can trigger sleepless nights.
All schools should provide a professional studies session for new staff and trainees on how to run a class excursion – including how to complete all the dreaded, if necessary, paperwork. But, in the case that there are no such sessions available, here are my top tips for organising your first trip.
1 Set a date
Ideally, the dates should be planned a year in advance, so that you can submit your request in plenty of time for the senior leadership team to make sure there are no potential clashes. Only when dates have been agreed and the SLT have given their blessing can you proceed.
2 Send a letter out to parents
This needs to be checked over by your head of department and should outline the dates and purpose of the trip. The initial letter must also outline the cost and how much the deposit will be. Your finance office will need to be consulted at this stage so they can set up any systems they usually put in place. Attach a medical form in which parents must declare any issues that their child has that staff need to be aware of. You must also ask for information on any special dietary requirements and allergies.
3 Staff the trip
Once the letter has gone out and the deposits have come back, you need to decide on staffing. Check with your school’s own policies as there will be staff-to-student ratios that must be adhered to – roughly 1 to 10. And when you know how many staff you need, don’t just pick your mates. Try to offer the trip to as wide a range of staff as possible. If someone you’ve picked drops out at the last minute, it’ll be useful to know who else was interested.
4 Sort the first aid
Some members of staff in your school will be first-aid trained, so it would be a good idea to invite them along. You should also have a first-aid kit with you at all times when out and about – and preferably more than one if you are taking a large group. If you have a school nurse, they should be able to prepare this for you and it may need to contain specific medication for some students. This can include epipens, which you must have access to within seconds of a student having an anaphylactic shock. At least one member of staff on the trip should have had epipen training.
5 Complete the paperwork
Complete any documents that your school requires. A member of the SLT or the bursar’s office can tell you what this involves. I would suggest producing a booklet for everyone going on the trip that includes the following:
a copy of any letter that has been sent out to parents;
a list of the school staff attending and details of their school-trip experience;
contact details of all the staff who are going and their next of kin;
a list of all the students, including any relevant medical notes and their parents’ contact details.
6 Do a pre-visit
If you have not been to the place you are visiting before, do a recce. This will help you plan your activities, identify any potential problems and carry out your risk assessment.
7 The risk assessment
Hopefully, there will be risk assessments from previous trips that can give you an idea of how to set them out. You won’t be able to list every eventuality; it is a common-sense document designed to ensure that the trip leader has considered all likely hazards and has taken reasonable action to try to prevent them from happening. You are not expected to consider the potential defensive strategies that should be put in place should an alien attack occur on the Dorset coastline. A risk assessment looks at two things: severity and likelihood. Each is scored out of 4. As a rough rule, if severity multiplied by likelihood equals more than 12, the activity might be worth avoiding.
8 Be mindful of minibuses
If your getaway requires use of the school minibus, make sure that anyone who volunteers to drive it is eligible. The rules surrounding this can get quite complicated, so consult the relevant member of staff at your school, possibly your finance office or bursar. When using minibuses, factor in the cost of fuel to the price that you will charge the students. Work out how far you are going and how much fuel you’ll need to get there and back, and then take into consideration the current cost of petrol or diesel (and make sure you know which fuel your school’s vehicles use).
9 Final queries
With your payments coming in, staffing sorted and paperwork submitted, you are ready to hit the road. Speak to the travel company and/or venue as often as you want to ask any questions that come to mind. Remember, you are a customer paying them a lot of money.
It can be very stressful and you may not receive much thanks at the end of it, but, ultimately, school trips are an essential tool for sparking genuine passion for your subject.
Chris Powell is head of Year 10 and specialist Leader in Education at Parmiter’s School in Hertfordshire