'We need to treasure awe-inspiring school trips – their impact on pupils is immeasurable'

Giving pupils the opportunity to meet credible authors, illustrators and other arts professionals sparks joy – and even future careers, writes one veteran educational journalist

Richard Garner

News article image

There was excited chatter from the hundreds of primary school children entering the Old Vic theatre that morning.

The outing was obviously preferable to sitting behind your desk at school studying for your Sats exams – even if you did have to brave squally showers to do so.

The pupils, all from primary schools in the area, were at the London theatre for the Children's Book Show to hear from children's authors and illustrators, John Burningham, aged 81, and Judith Kerr, aged 94. (Nice to see the age gap between the authors and their audience meant very little to the children.)

Judith Kerr read from her book, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, about how she and her family had escaped from Nazi Germany before the Second World War. Her father was a Jewish journalist hated by the Nazis. Judith revealed how she nearly scuppered their escape attempt by talking too much when a security guard was checking their passports.

"I was 9 at the time," Judith told her audience. "I wouldn't have survived for long – none of us would have done – if I had given the game away. As it was, I've had 85 extra years."

Asked by the children about her experience, she added: "I think obviously about the people who didn't get out who would have given anything to have had a similar lifespan to the one that I had."

There was a faint whiff of naughtiness and anarchy in the air as John talked about how one of his books carried an illustration of a peeing dog which led to it being taken out of 50 libraries and being banned from shops.

Judith revealed that she had failed to gain her qualification in illustration from a further education college while passing her history exam ("a subject I know nothing about") with flying colours.

It was the sort of admission that would have education traditionalists holding up their hands in horror at the thought of someone credible extolling the virtues of not passing a test (or at least if not exactly extolling the virtues, making a joke of it.)

It was, though, inspirational for the children. They were in awe of the Old Vic, whose history had been explained to them by their teachers, and many of them attending the event harboured aspirations to become writers like John and Judith.

One child sitting next to me, an 11-year-old (I was surrounded in the theatre by a sea of primary schoolchildren) turned to me and asked in a hushed tone: "Are you an author?"

"Yes," I replied truthfully. My first attempt at writing fiction had actually been published that morning, ironically. "Do you write children's books?" he asked.  I had to be honest. "No," I said, "I'm a crime writer." "Wow," he replied.

I hasten to add I had done nothing to earn this adulation, but it was good to see a young boy inspired by the thought that he might be in the presence of a writer.

Which brings me back to a point I made earlier this summer. We should be treasuring these kinds of school trips – not forcing teachers to cancel them because of a lack of funding. (There were a few spare places in the Old Vic last Friday, although you would not have thought so by the response of the children to the events that were happening.)

Happily, though, the Children's Book Show has secured Arts Council funding for the next four years – thus ensuring that future year groups enjoy the same experience all around the country that these children did.

Richard Garner was education editor of The Independent for 12 years, and previously news editor of Tes. He has been writing about education for more than three decades

To read more columns by Richard, view his back catalogue

Want to keep up with the latest education news and opinion? Follow Tes on Twitter and like Tes on Facebook

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Richard Garner

Latest stories