Why do we do so many school trips and what are their true educational value?

Over the last half-term, almost all our year groups have enjoyed an out-of-school trip. These included a day out at Bosworth Fields where the children re-enacted battle scenes, a visit to a city mosque and a field trip to a local Norman keep.

The typical worry regarding school trips is that pupils will miss out on material covered in class during their absence which put them at a disadvantage with their peers. Whilst this may be a strong concern in older years, when public examinations are looming, at a prep school the cost-benefit analysis is quite different. Educational trips linked directly to the curriculum bring learning alive and are very valuable.

Ask any adult to think back on their school days and almost all will be able to recall a school trip. At their best, the stimulation of visiting a place connected to children’s learning, whether it be historical, cultural, geographical, linguistic or scientific, means the curriculum becomes more connected to the real world.

Children learn best when they are having a bit of fun mixed into their learning. Indeed in the Early Years curriculum, learning is led by play. That playfulness does not end abruptly when a child leaves Reception. Instead, throughout the subsequent years, it remains a wonderful way to motivate children to learn.

Educationally valid trips make the contents of lessons more accessible by making them more real to the child. What is otherwise just studied in a textbook can be made to lift off the page and be brought to life. For example, recently our Year 5 class enjoyed a trip to the Victorian town of Blist Hill where they dressed up in period costume, had a taste of a Victorian classroom and spent Victorian coins in a fairground. Their imagination for this point in history was fed by their real-world experience of wearing the costumes, handling the 19th Century coins and following the instructions of the very stern teacher!

VAK learning like this, that is to say; simultaneous visual, auditory and kinaesthetic stimulation, is one of the best ways of learning. It lights up many areas of the brain simultaneously. A school trip such as this one, seeing, hearing, touching and even smelling Victorian Britain, stimulated all the children’s senses and will make a much longer-lasting impression in their memories.

This is very noticeable when asking a pupil about their day on their journey from school. After a typical day at school, children may not have much to recount to their parents but after a school trip, they will often recall enthusiastically and in rich detail, all that they did. And, in the very act of retelling their day, they are further committing their experiences to long-term memory.

At S. Anselm’s we believe this form of learning is very beneficial, particularly when done at the beginning of the year. The real-world experience provides not only a memorable set of experiences in itself but also a stronger base upon which to hang further teaching, often causing children to consider more deeply what they are taught by comparing the content of their lessons to their recent experiences. These are the higher-level thinking skills of Bloom’s taxonomy which are required at Advanced Level and beyond, which we are already nurturing years in advance.

We were pleased to see that in the pupil survey for our recent inspection, many Year 6 pupils mentioned the recent trip to Bosworth Field too and were truly excited about having been there personally to see the site. Other year groups mentioned the Roman Experience in Chester, the mosque visit to Nottingham and the medieval tour of our hometown of Bakewell.

The typical worry regarding school trips is that pupils will miss out on material covered in class during their absence and putting them at a disadvantage with their peers. Whilst this may be a strong concern in older years, when public examinations are looming, at a prep school the cost-benefit analysis is quite different. Educational trips linked directly to the curriculum bring learning alive and are very valuable, enhancing and extending learning in the classroom.

Children truly do learn best when they are enjoying school life. School trips are one way in which this happens and are particularly good at creating long-lasting, rich memories that form the solid foundations for deeper learning.