The importance of an off-site education

James Millichamp, of Wolverhampton Grammar School, explains how school trips can bring the curriculum to life

Teachers all agree that trips, visits and off-site activities all provide a much-needed richness and value for pupils. But what else? There is a wealth of research proving that sporting achievement has a direct positive effect in the classroom. In terms of developing cultural capital, of getting students out of comfort zones, of pushing boundaries, extending experiences, rounding character, expanding horizons, building confidence and independence, maximising learning with consequences, engendering leadership and teamwork skills, forming trust, encouraging decision-making, and building confidence and motivation, visits are essential.

Parents buy into a culture of trips, visits and learning outside the classroom when they invest in independent education, expecting that their children will be exposed to a wide range of curricular and extra-curricular experiences that will prepare them for life. CVs and university applications come to life with trips abroad, outdoor education, charity work in other countries, life experiences and knowledge of languages and cultures, demonstrating an ability to cope with a range of situations and a confidence of character.

But ask yourself what do you remember about your time at school? I’m the person I am because of these enriching activities that I undertook as a youngster. I can’t remember much of the lessons I took part in, but I do remember going to the Towers (an Outdoor Education Centre in Snowdonia) in second year and freezing, literally petrified with fear, halfway up a rock face, and the feeling of achievement when I managed to scale to the top was amazing and is still tangible today. 

I remember going skiing in third year, I spent more time on the snow than on the skis, but what an experience. I had my first homemade burger whilst at a home-stay on the French exchange, and I’ve never had a burger as good since. I also remember my art teacher taking me to the Royal Academy in lower sixth to see the ‘Sensation’ exhibition and I remember the buzz of looking at Damian Hirst’s work for the first time. 

I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that this experience changed my life. I recognised for the first time the power of art. I wouldn’t be in the job I am now if it weren’t for that taste of something new, exciting and different.

So, trips can bring the curriculum to life, extend it, and expose youngsters to things outside of the curriculum, whilst preparing them as people for the big exciting world that’s out there beyond the school gates. The experiences we offer our pupils today will help to form their world view tomorrow. 

I am very lucky to work at Wolverhampton Grammar School, with an expectation of a large number of trips and international expeditions every year. We have taken expeditions to Uganda, Mexico, South Africa, USA and this summer we travelled to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands for 24 days. Our youngest children participate in residential trips from Year 3 and annual trips include a week’s work experience in France, a ski trip, Coast 2 Coast (a charity relay run for 24 hours), the German exchange, battlefields trip to northern France, Duke of Edinburgh expeditions, geography field trips to name but a few, not including the scores of fixtures and day trips that take place throughout the working week. Forthcoming trips include a Rugby tour of Italy, a classics trip to Greece, Wagrain ski trip, and an art and culture trip to Madrid.

It’s also true, that as a teacher, running a school trip, even just a day out, is one of the most stressful elements of my job. There is always a degree of paperwork with these things and whilst we try to keep it to a minimum we all understand how necessary it is to protect us and ensure that we are operating the very best practice. I remember a time when my union was advising teachers not to organise school trips. So why do we do it? There is no better CPD than running a school trip; coordinating and leading colleagues, planning, managing budgets, all good stuff for the CV. The great thing too is that you get to travel to places you would not otherwise see, and although you are not on holiday – you are at work 24-hours a day – you do get to experience other cultures. For me personally, there is no better job satisfaction than seeing our pupils develop and mature through life-changing experiences.   


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