Learning Outside the Classroom; from pet shops to Ghana

Date Posted: 16/03/2017

STO talks to School Travel Champion finalist Becky Baldwin about her passion for school trips and learning outside the classroom.

Becky Baldwin is outdoor learning coordinator and educational visits coordinator at Castle Manor Academy in Suffolk. The school in Haverhill, with just over 600 pupils, seeks to instil a sense of pride in all children in a learning environment that is exciting and inspiring.

Becky was one of four finalists shortlisted for the first ever School Trip Champion Award at the inaugural School Travel Awards. Before she started in her role some of the school’s students had never been on a school trip.

What is your main criteria when organising trips?

I support other staff to plan affordable learning outside the classroom (LOtC) opportunities that enrich learning in a range of subjects and develop the whole child. I have written a policy for both areas and have been working hard to embed LOtC into our school curriculum. A good trip has a big impact, brings people together and gives new opportunities. I like trips where everyone is involved, and often these trips are local and quite simple in their planning.

What are some of the examples of trips you have organised?

I’ve planned and taken part in lots of trips over the last 20 years of teaching. As a young teacher I used to volunteer to go on all the residentials and had some brilliant experiences, from hiking in Wales to gallery visits in Madrid and skiing in Austria. 

I’ve organised teacher exchanges to and from Ghana with the Global Schools Partnership and recently went to the USA on a NASUWT /English Speaking Union professional develop scholarship, which I was really excited about.

Last year I took all Year 7 camping and I’ve taken all Year 8 to the NEC Birmingham Big Bang Event. I’ve supported staff on theatre trips, trips to the coast for photography coursework and I recently took a minibus of local children and their families to be on the BBC’s Springwatch, which was brilliant. We all got Chris Packham’s autograph, and I felt like a groupie waiting for him to sign my copy of his book!

What has been your most memorable trip and why?

I passed my minibus test last summer and I’ve taken out lots of small groups to local areas of interest. We have a National Trust schools’ membership so we’ve made use of that and Year 10 ASDAN students planned their own trips for part of their adventure and residential course to Ickworth House. We’ve been three times and each time I felt incredibly lucky to have the freedom to teach in such a lovely environment. The students really flourish.

Pictured: One of Becky's students learning about butchery.

One student said “I’ve learnt more in the two hours being here than I did in school all this week”. I’ve no doubt that was true as we’d watched an arborist cut trees and we talked about careers in horticulture, we’d visited the church and talked about the people we had lost, and we looked at architecture and tasted apples in the orchard.

In the summer I take groups weekly to do volunteer conservation work at our local park and that is always rewarding, but I think my most memorable trip was where I closed Castle Hill middle school for the day and took six coaches to Chessington. Teachers, students and every member of staff from the dinner ladies to the caretaker came along.

I had t-shirts made for everyone saying “C’hill Dude” and we were spotted all over Chessington. This was the most memorable occasion because it bought everyone together for the last summer before our school was closed down when Suffolk returned to a two tier system. Everyone still remembers that trip.

Is there a destination you would like to visit in the future?

I’d really like to take students to see the Lion King, it looks amazing. I really enjoyed seeing the singer from the show open the School Travel Awards, what a treat. I’ve also found a lovely camping destination which you can canoe to and from, and my DofE group are quite keen to do that.

Do you run any trips on a regular basis?

I teach BTEC Animal Care and, where possible, I take the students off site to research specific units of work. I’ve managed to plan visits for every unit. We’ve been to pet shops and recently went to the Newmarket Stud to study housing and accommodation. I can really recommend the tour, excellent value and they tailor-made the tour to fit our studies.

Students at the Birmingham Big Bang Fair.

Pictured: Students at the Birmingham Big Bang Fair.

My ASDAN group is planning a trip to the Suffolk coast with the aim of sampling local foods. I take this group out regularly and they benefit greatly from LOtC. The trips have made them very confident in different social settings, an essential life skill.

Does your school face any particular challenges when organising school trips?

Paperwork is something that puts teachers off, and I can see why! I’ve tried to make it easier to do local trips by getting parents to sign a letter at the start of the year to give permission during the school day to visit places within walking distances. We now use the EVOLVE online system and once you’ve got the hang of using it you can plan trips quickly and thoroughly.

Coaches are expensive and sometimes it’s hard to fill all the places. We could do with more minibus drivers in our school. It has given me such freedom to be able to drive my own groups and I recommend more teachers take the test. It hasn’t been a burden as it’s opened more doors and improved my teaching. Being first aid trained has been useful too.

What are some of the best educational outcomes you have witnessed from a school trip?

Our students become more confident, resilient and attendance improves. I’ve seen students who are shy at school start to work with others, and more challenging students smile brightly and behave brilliantly. I’ve seen proud faces as we’ve won awards, given presentations and been on live TV. I’ve had teachers say that they’ve had the best week of teaching from being on a trip, and people in the community praise how polite our students are. We’ve just achieved the LOtC award, and there’s only one other Secondary in the UK to have it. I’m so proud of what we've all managed to do to develop LOtC at Castle Manor.

What advice would you give to other teachers who might be nervous about organising a trip?

Ask your EVC to help. Read your policy. Plan a trip with another teacher and keep it low key and local to start with. You could even go with another school if your group is small and you can’t fill a coach by yourself. Don’t make it too expensive and give time for parents to pay in instalments.

Try to have trips that are free, regular and local. They shouldn’t be just one off experiences, build them into your schemes of work and plan them in advance. Most places you visit have the risk assessments ready and first aid on hand. As an SLE in LOtC I’m available to support other schools to develop LOtC in their curriculum. Just ask!

What are your top tips for organising a successful school trip?

Share ideas, share the planning, follow Twitter and read School Travel Organiser to get ideas, say yes more to things outside your comfort zone, see extra-curricular activities as an opportunity for you as well as your students to take advantage of local facilities, give all students the chance to attend and to shine. Spend less time on the coach and more time on the activities.

School Travel Organiser's Guide