Running school trips is a mammoth undertaking but a rewarding experience. It’s always been a daunting task but, in recent years, the challenges have become greater than ever.
So, before you even consider taking a trip on, it’s worth asking – what are the real benefits, not only for the young people travelling, but all the other stakeholders involved? With many lively debates active across social media, and the heightened sense of social responsibility this has created, students rarely regard a proposed trip as an opportunity for fun alone and want to be comfortable that it is the right decision for them to sign up.
The aims and outcomes of any proposed trip must be clear from the outset because the work involved in taking students overseas cannot be under-estimated. First there’s finances, budgeting, and payment scheduling and then the planning, endless paperwork, risk assessments and the assembly of medical data, passport and visa information.
“Before you even consider taking a trip on, it’s worth asking – what are the real benefits?”
And, alongside this desk-based activity, there are parent evenings, internal staff briefings, kit lists and final reminders to issue. In addition, in this post-Covid era, you have increased risks and restrictions, as well as travel disruption unknown on such a scale in recent decades.
Ensuring that the party has the correct insurance cover that will provide a proper level of protection for all travellers is absolutely essential and critical to easing the concerns of both parents and school leadership teams.
You must also consider the impact any travel will have on the environment and whether to invest in carbon offset projects to match the emissions produced by flights being taken. Finally, is the trip open to all? At a time when most schools are increasing their bursary programmes, how will you ensure your trip is inclusive? There’s a lot to do – and all this before you have even left the school grounds.
Then of course there’s the trip itself. Taking young people overseas is a huge responsibility, where a responsible adult needs to be available 24/7 to deal with anything that may arise.
Defining the benefits
So, if you are thinking of running a trip, you should be very clear from the outset exactly what you hope your students will gain. Of course, any school trip needs to be educational. You can bring a curriculum to life with a geography trip to Iceland, led by a knowledgeable and enthusiastic teacher, for example. Or you could inspire and motivate your Classics students with a tour of ancient monuments in Italy or Greece.
“We need to encourage a sense of social responsibility in young people.”
Equally, how wonderful to be able to give your students the opportunity to paddle through the Ardeche with their friends, or the chance to learn to ski – experiences some parents may not be able to provide themselves.
Then there are more adventurous experiences that take the students out of their comfort zone by drawing them further afield and introducing them to unfamiliar customs, cultures, and people, often with the aim of doing some good or helping others.
I believe this kind of experience has great value. We need to encourage a sense of social responsibility in young people by helping them develop a world view that goes beyond themselves. It can be too easy for young people to fall into a downward spiral of social media that damages self-confidence, inflates the superficial and creates a harmful culture of self-absorption and a skewed sense of what is real. Focusing on other people in different life situations helps to break down barriers, gives young people a better grasp of the reality of the world around them and a stronger sense of what positive impact they can make on that world.
I believe that educators must not shy away from encouraging their students to help others who are less privileged for fear of “white saviourism”, but that support must be provided sensibly and sensitively.
“Educators must not shy away from encouraging their students to help others for fear of ‘white saviourism'”
Surely what an overseas experience should provide is unique access and experiences. In my view, we shouldn’t be charging exorbitant amounts of money for young people to travel simply to paint a school or dig a ditch. That’s something the local people can do for themselves.
A learning experience
It is always interesting when students realise that poverty doesn’t equal unhappiness and that so many of the people they meet in the developing world, although materially poor, have lives full of joy, gratitude, and abundance. Through these school trips, students will see first-hand how people live in communities and support each other, which makes them reflect on their own materially-rich lives.
Although it is the students who travel with the positive intent of giving back and “making a difference”, it is they who gain. As one student said, “This experience has made me think about my own advantages and how I can use positively the education I have had to benefit others.”
Of course, the success of overseas school trips of this nature is dependent on using trusted local contacts who can provide direct access to the people who live in the community being visited. It is wonderful to see barriers break down as students meet people from very different backgrounds to their own, and start to share real, unfiltered stories.
“The success of overseas trips of this nature is dependent on using trusted local contacts.”
In a similar vein, a colleague of mine had a long-standing partnership with United World Schools (UWS) and, through that connection, was able to take a group of Sixth Form students to a school in Cambodia.
In preparation for their visit, the girls developed lesson plans, and devised activities for the children who they were to spend three weeks teaching. This was a “raw” real life experience that provided the students both with life-influencing insights and practical skills which will enrich their own lives.
These students were taken out of their comfort zone and exposed to a completely different culture and way of life. They also heard first hand about the ongoing impact of activities of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime which previously ruled Cambodia.
This kind of extraordinary experience brings the history you learn in the classroom to life and can spark a life-long intellectual curiosity as well as a willingness to learn more. Students can study war, famine, global inequality, lack of sanitation, disparity of education, etc as academic concepts but have little idea what they look like in practice.
What is the impact on real people and real families? I believe giving young people the opportunity to travel and work overseas, albeit briefly, develops empathy, respect, resilience and genuine understanding – all such important qualities for the next generation.
Looking to the future
The question arises: what will school trips look like in a post-Covid world? I believe there will be fewer of them, but that we will all work harder to ensure they have greater impact – both on the students themselves, and on the world. That said – with all the best aims and intentions – the students will vote with their feet. If it’s a trip they want to do and which they feel is worthwhile, they’ll sign up.
Largely through social media, today’s students have been exposed to the debates around social and environmental responsibility to a greater extent than many of their predecessors. They have developed a finely-tuned sense of what they believe in and what they question. These are issues which, increasingly, will inform the choices underpinning future school trips and are likely to contribute to the evolution of these seminal experiences of many students’ school lives.
This article first appeared in the latest print edition of School Management Plus magazine, out now.