Teacher Talk: Martin Otter, York House School

Date Posted: 05/06/2013

Martin Otter with some of his class.

Pictured: Martin with some of his pupils.

Martin Otter from York House School, an independent preparatory school for boys and girls in Hertfordshire, shares some of his school trip experiences and tips for learning outside the classroom. Martin teaches Key Stage 1 pupils.

How many school trips have you organised?

Martin: I organise (or help to organise) three trips each year, one per term. These relate to an area of study for that term. We also go on a department ‘outings’ day, which is not related to the curriculum but might be to places like Chessington, Legoland or 360 Play.

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

Martin: If it's a place we haven't been to before then it takes quite a bit of research. We would always go to the venue prior to taking the children there to do a risk assessment, talk to the staff there, plan the day in detail and work out how best to use our time.

We also have to liaise with the coach company for travel arrangements. Internally we would discuss any trip, particularly to new places, with the Headmaster who has final sign off on all trips. It all needs to be costed too which takes a little bit of time.

Apart from that, it's a case of sending letters to parents and making sure we're organised with things like allergies and medical requirements before the trip.

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

Martin: Obviously the main criteria is how much value it adds to the children's learning for that area of study. It needs to be impactful and memorable for the children.

Also important is the quality of the venue and how well set up they are for children to visit: Do they have specialist staff who are experienced in offering these kinds of trips to this age group? Is the building user friendly for us, will we have spaces to sit down for lunch?

Martin's pupils at the Living Rainforest.

Pictured: Some of Martin's pupils at The Living Rainforest.

Venues that have adaptations for children, like play areas or interactive information areas are always a winner. Distance from school is important, it all has to fit into a relatively short day, including travelling by coach, normally in rush hour.

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

Martin: Balancing child safety with academic outcomes and fun is the main challenge, particularly with younger children.

To overcome this you have to plan really well, make sure you've got your teacher/pupil ratios right and ensure you've been to the venue before and thought about all the different potential outcomes.

This way you can spend the day making sure the children learn as much as possible on the trip rather than just worrying about what might go wrong!

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

Martin: There isn't a great deal of publicity for a lot of the attractions, particularly smaller ones. If they've got something unique to offer and can show teachers how that links with particular areas of the curriculum and what value they will add, then they should be shouting about it, we'll be there.

Having the right staff there and child-friendly environment are the main things they can work on to encourage us to visit.

Where have you taken your pupils on past trips?

Martin: London Fire Brigade Museum (link with Great Fire of London topic), The Living Rainforest in Berkshire (link to our Rainforest topic), Bhaktivedanta Manor (link to our Hinduism topic), Chessington World of Adventures (as a department outings day).

We also use our local environment a lot. We take our children on nature walks (link with Science) and whenever we can, learn outdoors across the curriculum.

Martin and his class from York House School.

Do you have a favourite destination?

Martin: The Living Rainforest. It's really well set up for children, the staff are enthusiastic and knowledgeable, they have play areas for the children and plenty to see and do while you're there.

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

Martin: Plan! If you have planned well in advance then less can go wrong on the day. Make sure you have been there, don't just look on a website and think you are ready to take children there.

Also, it's the little things that will be important so make sure the children have snacks and a good lunch; make sure the toilets are easy to find and that there is more than one for 30 children; and make sure you've got enough adults with you.

Finally, make sure you've got a good camera, the children love looking back at their trips and good photos also make great displays or assemblies to consolidate learning.

What are the main advantages of learning outside the classroom?

Martin: There are so many advantages to learning outside the classroom, but the main one is pupil engagement.

If they sit in a classroom all the time, then there's the potential for them to switch off or lose interest. Getting them into a new and stimulating environment suddenly sparks their interest again.

It might be that a child learns best through experience and practical methods rather than listening to their teacher talk at them. Trips are the perfect way of ensuring you are aiming the learning at all children and all children's learning styles.

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

Martin: Absolutely. The enthusiasm for a topic after a trip is incredible. It brings it all to life and can really benefit those children who might have seemed less enthusiastic or perhaps struggled previously with concepts or ideas.

Pupils at Legoland in Windsor.

Pictured: Legoland is a destination that Martin would choose for an outings day, rather than a curriculum-based school trip.

After one visit to the London Fire Brigade museum the children produced a display for the classroom. The detail and understanding for what might be relevant for the display and their enthusiasm for making it was in a large part down to the trip.

Any final tips you can pass on?

Martin: It's worth thinking about when you take children on the trips, depending on what you want to get out of it. If you want to consolidate learning and make sure it sticks with them, then you could aim to go at the end of a particular area of study or topic.

If you want to make an impact at the start of a topic then plan it for before you even start teaching the children about that subject. Starting a topic or area of study in a really enthusiastic and ‘big’ way with a trip to somewhere exciting is a sure way to get the children's interest for the duration.

Also, plan and over-plan. It's best to be over-prepared than under, anything to make the day go more smoothly for the children so they can get on with learning and enjoying themselves.

School Travel Organiser's Guide