Outside the classroom trips deliver peak performances

Date Posted: 04/04/2015

School: Polygon School, Southampton
Number of pupils: 7
KS: 3 & 4

An active member of Learning Outside the Classroom, special school, Polygon is an inspirational example of how the rewards of an educational trip can outweigh the organisational challenges that are faced.

In the case of the Southampton school, the hurdles include helping pupils apply for passports, carrying the special medication many of the students need through customs, and working closely with all providers to ensure they cater to the students’ specific and individual needs.

Polygon is a 56-place special school for boys and young men with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties; the majority with a poor school attendance history prior to arrival. The school is a keen supporter of different curriculum-based activities outside the classroom, from a fire pit and fruit cage in the school grounds, an allotment rented from the local council to Forest Schools’ sessions, trips to Devon, sailing with the Ocean Youth Trust and international trips, including a Geography field trip to Iceland and an annual ski trip to France.

In total, 28 pupils from key stages three and four have been skiing and, each year, seven go on the trip accompanied by three teachers.

Head teacher Anne Hendon-John said that despite the level of planning required, the trip pays many dividends, including acting as an incentive for improved school attendance.

“The boys are aware that only attendance of over 92 per cent will gain an invitation to join the group,” she said. “For many, this is a huge task as they have arrived at the school with little motivation to participate in education. The incentive of skiing helps to encourage getting out of bed in the morning!”

Since 2011 the school has used the specialist tour operator Equity for the seven-day trip to Montgenevre on the French-Italian border.

“The company worked closely with school staff, ensuring the ski resort could support the individual needs of our group,” explained Anne. “We required the ability to ensure that pupils could be carefully supervised at all times, including accommodation that could be discreet to the group. The company worked with staff to ensure all our needs could be met. The assistance with risk assessment is greatly appreciated. We need to ensure every eventuality is covered, as our pupils are more likely than most to be able to find mischief.

“Many of the pupils have attention deficit diagnosis, so the coach journey taken by many school trips would not be possible with our pupils. We have a minibus to travel to Gatwick for the flight to Grenoble, which ensures they are on resort only a few hours after leaving Southampton. For most pupils, this trip is the experience of a lifetime. Many will not have travelled outside the country, let alone experienced a flight across the Alps.

“The trip supports the school numeracy and enterprise plans. Pupils are expected to help raise the money to pay for the trip as parents are only asked for a £350 contribution to the cost. Car washing, stalls at community events to sell home-grown produce, cake sales, quiz nights, book lending libraries and recycling clothing collections all help ensure the funds are available each year to allow the trip to take place. Pupils who have experienced more than one trip are planning to use this year’s trip to gather evidence for their GCSE PE coursework.”

A daily programme of ski lessons and practice on the slopes, followed by fun-filled evenings, ensures pupils are occupied throughout the day.

“The trip is a great adventure,” said Anne. “The pupils develop new physical skills and have a positive experience with school staff. They can develop skills of responsibility, personal resilience and build better relationships with their peers. They return home exhausted, but triumphant, full of stories of valour and humour. Their parents or carers have enjoyed seven days of relaxation while other responsible adults have taken over the role of guardianship and as a result everyone is happy.”

For more information call 01273 622111 or visit www.schoolski.co.uk.

School Travel Organiser's Guide