I had a presentation to do to the whole staff two years ago in my capacity as Educational Trips Co-ordinator and it worked out that I have spent roughly fifty weeks of my career on day and residential trips. This included Duke of Edinburgh, various day trips in London and the South East as well as ten Battlefields trips. However, the highlights were three long haul month long challenges in Venezuela, Vietnam and Argentina. I then devised a three week trip of my own which my school used for three years trekking and doing charity work in Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey.
This trip down memory lane was not just a self-indulgence it brought back many memories that really were the highlights of my career. From students reaching the Angel Falls and having a couple of nights just like the Celebrity Jungle characters ( with the dreadful loo ) to laying wreaths at the Menin Gate and doing some really meaningful interactive work with Bulgarian orphans these were lifelong experiences that I often think back on fondly.
However, the presentation a case of “riding two horses” On the one hand it was necessary for the school to be seen to be a vibrant, exciting and culturally rich trip provision. As line manager for Marketing in the school I was acutely aware of this. On the other hand, it was also essential for trips to be safe, risk managed and staff to be aware of their legal responsibilities.
And this is my core point. The highlight of many students (and staff) years are the trips. They can often create lifelong friendships, provide a dynamic within a group that would never exist otherwise and give students the opportunity to see their teachers as not just Mr or Miss. The evenings spent at the local trattoria, the awards evenings and the coach sing a longs (given the right driver!) are priceless and irreplaceable. Ask anyone about a school trip and they will have a tale to tell. They are an essential part of school life and the whole school experience. They should never be marginalised or removed because of fear or unfounded fears.
There are of course many points for staff to be aware of before deciding to run or go on a trip.
- Are you up to it? This is not meant to be patronising or some sort of tough test question. But school trips are hard work, long hours and although you may see sights that you would not normally see it is NOT your holiday and the safety and enjoyment of the students has to be managed 24/7. The colleagues you go with, your personal situation, your tolerance levels will all have to be assessed before making this decision. Some people are not suited and you must be self-aware enough to realise this before committing. You will do your own wellbeing and your colleagues and the students experience any favours if you are a misery or just homesick.
- Ensure that you have had an input on the Risk Management strategy. I went to a couple of talks by top brass in the HSE and was so encouraged to hear them talking much more about Risk Management than Risk Assessment. One enables the other limits. However, if there is an incident you all need to act as a team and ensure you follow through the agreed RM plan. Therefore, you will be able to answer the questions that will inevitably come your way.
- Choose trip colleagues not just on a friendship basis. It is essential to have a balanced team with plenty of experience. It is amazing how the great guy down the pub on a Friday can become a pain in the proverbial when the going gets tough.
- Ensure that your EVC or point of contact at the school is always available and can be contacted 24/7. It will not wash that a serious incident escalated because the contact had no signal or had switched their phone off. If that occurs call the Head immediately.
- Social Media. This is now a thorny one. Try to ensure that all photos and videos are “official” and posted on the schools official social media platforms. Keep them fun, but be aware that there are a wide spectrum of parental attitudes and what you might consider humorous might not be seen in that light by others.
- This might be your time but it is not your trip. There may well be a policy in your school about staff behaviour on a trip but without being a killjoy the whole landscape has changed and I would now think seriously about having a Diet Coke rather than a beer.
- Finally, be aware that some of the real horror stories on trips often occur locally or domestically and not often on far flung shores. Ensure you know that your school has a robust Critical Incident Plan in place and you are aware of it!
Taking in to account all of the above, the issues over rooms, the patrolling of corridors, the headcounts, the lectures, trips are an amazing experience and should be a central part of most teacher’s experiences and memories just as much as the students.