Teacher Talk: Jemma Virgin, Abbeyfield School

Date Posted: 20/03/2013

Jemma Virgin, teacher at Abbeyfield School in Chippenham

Abbeyfield School’s Jemma Virgin shares her school trip experiences and tips for learning outside the classroom.

Jemma Virgin is head of Brunel House at Abbeyfield School in Chippenham, Wiltshire where she teaches Business Studies, Economics and IT across all year groups. Jemma is a keen advocate of learning outside the classroom, and here, she shares some of her experiences and tips.

Q: How many school trips have you organised?

A: I’ve organised numerous trips. Sometimes they are just local and day trips, and some longer residential trips. I tend to run three or four trips per year and will go on a couple of others as a supporting member of staff.

Q: How much time do you spend researching and preparing for a trip?

A: It really depends on the trip, the duration, number of students going, location and nature of the activity. Obviously residential trips take a lot more planning and researching than day trips. There is a significant amount of organisation involved in overseas trips and these can take a whole academic year or more to organise. I generally find I spend around four to five months organising a UK residential-based trip and perhaps a couple of months organising a day excursion, but it does depend. For example, we are taking around 400 students to Thorpe Park on the last day of this school year as a rewards trip, and we started organising that before Christmas.

Q: What are the main criteria you are looking for in deciding where to go?

A: Again it’s dependant on the purpose of the trip. If the main purpose is educational then you have to look at the level of educational benefit to the pupils and link it to their course so that it can be brought back into the classroom and used. You are looking to see how this is going to widen the students’ understanding, then you start to look at whether it will bring other benefits to pupils, such as cultural and social, and then obviously safety implications. Given the current economic climate, cost is an important factor, as the trip must be affordable for students otherwise you won’t get the numbers in order to run it.

Meerkat at Longleat Safari Park

Pictured: Business Studies students have visited Longleat Safari Park.

Q: What are the main challenges and how do you overcome them?

A: Organisational aspects are one of the biggest challenges. There is a lot of paperwork involved in planning and risk assessment, particularly with residential trips and especially overseas. The best way to overcome them is to make sure you have other staff to support you. Overseas trips require one member of staff for every ten students, which means a lot of staff you can rely on to collect passports, organise parent meetings, collect and chase payments etc. Getting other staff to help can really reduce your workload and make the trip run more smoothly. It also ensures staff feel really involved, and have confidence in what will be happening when you are on the trip.

Q: Do you think attractions could do more to encourage teachers to take their pupils on visits?

A: The best attractions are the ones that have an educational programme. This may mean they have a range of talks that link clearly with subjects and courses. For example, we take our Business, Travel & Tourism students to Longleat Safari Park, and they have talks the pupils can attend as well as allowing them to enjoy the attraction. If the attraction can be flexible as well then this helps, and the Longleat staff are more than happy to adjust their talks based on the students we take.

Q: Where have you taken your pupils on past trips?

A: A range of places. I have organised lots of day trips to places like Cadbury World, Thorpe Park, local businesses and universities. I’ve taken some of my A-Level students to regional competitions run by organisations like the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW). Residential-wise, I have taken trips to Devon and run an A-Level Business and Economics outing to London for three days every year. Internationally I have helped to organise and been on two ski trips to Austria and a trip to the Gambia. This year I’m lucky enough to be off on another ski trip and a week in Italy for the first time.

Abbeyfield school students tree planting in the Gambia

Pictured: Abbeyfield school students tree planting in the Gambia.

Q: Do you have a favourite destination?

A: It has varied. I really enjoy taking my Year 12s to London. I have run the trip for a few years so I am confident that the students enjoy it and get a lot of benefit from it.

Personally, my favourite trip was when we took Year 12 to the Gambia in 2010. It was completely different to anything I had been on before. The trip had been run for a few years as the school is partnered with Mahaad Secondary School in Brikama. We stayed at a small lodge where the staff and students were camping in tents around the grounds. During the week the students spent time in the school, helped to plant an orchard in the grounds with Mahaad students and did cultural visits with local people. We were also lucky enough to do some teaching and leading sessions in the school, which was a totally different experience to teaching in the UK. The whole trip was culturally inspiring for the adults as well as the students, and it was fantastic to see the change in the students over the week as they settled into being in the Gambia. I think everyone on that trip took a huge amount from it.

Q: What organising tips can you to suggest to teachers to overcome concerns?

A: I suggest arranging your first couple of trips through an educational organisation. There are many good specialist organisations that plan and run school trips and it takes a lot of the pressure off school staff. Also, ask staff to accompany you that you are happy working with or you know have taken trips out before. This will help you to feel confident that they will give you a lot of support whilst on the trip as well as in the organising.

Abbeyfield School students at the ICAEW competition

Pictured: Students perfecting their presenting skills at the ICAEW competition.

Q: What are the main advantages of learning outside the classroom?

A: Students can apply what they are learning to the outside world. As a Business teacher, I find this hugely beneficial for students. On the London trip we listen to entrepreneurs and this is something I can talk about when we get back to school, and the same applies to all subjects. You can’t underestimate the other benefits, outside of subject knowledge, that students gain from going on trips, particularly residential. You see students develop in confidence and also embrace and learn from the cultural differences.

Q: Have you seen pupils flourish as a result of a trip?

A: Students flourish and gain in a variety of ways. I took six Year 12 students on a day trip to an accounting competition where they were asked to present to 150 students. This was a big ask for all of the group, but there were a couple that had never done any public speaking before. Now one of those students is head boy and finds public speaking easier.

Every year on my London trip there are students that have never been to the city or used the tube, and by the end of the three days they are confident and can navigate around. On the Gambia trip all the students realised how lucky they are with the opportunities they have and they all returned more confident to take advantage of these opportunities. And on ski trips students flourish from beginners to potential Ski Sunday competitors by the end of the week!

Q: Any final tips you can pass on?

A: If you haven’t taken trips before, start small. Smaller student numbers are much easier to manage and the logistics are simpler. Surround yourself with experienced staff you feel comfortable with, and for residential trips communicate with parents all the way through the planning process. Finally, enjoy it! If you are doing something you enjoy and can see the benefit of, then the students will too.

School Travel Organiser's Guide