Teacher Talk: Matt, O'Grady, West Hordon Primary School

Date Posted: 04/10/2014

Head teacher Matt O’Grady stresses the importance of planning and preparation.

Matt O’Grady is head teacher at West Horndon Primary School in Essex. He has been teaching for over 20 years and is passionate about educational visits and learning outside the classroom, and the benefits they bring.

Q What school trips have you organised previously?

A I’ve organised a large number of school trips over the years, including week-long residential visits, numerous day trips to museums, attractions and outside spaces, and even a whole school trip to London on sightseeing buses.

Q How much time do you spend preparing for a trip?Matt O Grady

A As long as it takes. A pre-visit and thorough risk assessment and emergency plan are essential. But as important to me is making sure we squeeze every bit of learning and experience out of the visit that’s possible.

Q How do you decide where to go, and what are your main criteria?

A My main criteria are very simplistic; the trip must provide an experience and a learning opportunity that we cannot create at school in the classroom.

The whole point of going is that it enriches learning with something extra. The second criteria is that it must be fun.

I strongly believe that children learn best when they are happy and learning is enjoyable. As an adult I can still remember those school trips which punctuated my own education.

Q Could you describe some of the main challenges?

A School trips are easy to do badly and tricky to do well, but when well-planned they are fantastic.

Some of the main challenges I have found over the years include ensuring that all the staff and accompanying adults share the vision and understand the desired outcomes for the trip.

Another challenge is visiting a popular attraction where there are several schools visiting simultaneously and sometimes finding that pupils from other schools are not behaving in the same way that you would expect yours to behave - this can be really frustrating.

I have found the best way to tackle this is to include the pupils in the risk assessment process right from the outset, and to actually teach it as a skill.

The final challenge in my top three would be the variable quality of workshops at various attractions.

These can range from brilliant to very poor, and there is no way of knowing until you get there. I tend to avoid them and do our own thing.

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

A Yes. Teachers often plan and risk assess a visit in their own time, such as school holidays and weekends.

It would be really helpful if they offered free entry to attractions not only to teachers planning a potential visit, but also their families as this would make visiting out of directed time more attractive and economical.

Q What’s been your favourite trip destination?

A That’s a really tricky question; everywhere is unique and has its own appeal. If I had to pick just one, I’d choose the residential visit we do to Ironbridge in Shropshire.

There’s something really special about being away overnight in a contrasting locality with brilliant attractions and scenery.

I’m also a massive advocate of Forest Schools although I see it as a philosophy and part of pedagogical practice rather than a trip.

Q What advice would you share with other trip organisers who may have concerns?

A Start by being really clear what you want the outcomes to be. Don’t necessarily go for the obvious. Involve the children in the planning and have regular routines for safety and behaviour during visits.

Also, don’t underestimate the importance of planning and preparation. It’s crucial to know where the nearest toilet is and where you can and can’t get a phone signal, etc.

Finally, don’t underestimate the importance and value in the journey to and from your destination. You can learn loads on a train.

Q What are the main advantages of teaching outside the classroom?

A There’s a whole world out there. We are really missing a trick if we keep children in the classroom all day!

We all learn in different ways and some children will flourish given the chance to be outside.

There’s no substitute for first-hand experience as a stimulus for creativity and as an environment to make cognitive links.

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

A Yes, it sounds cheesy but I’ve seen children engage with school and learning for the first time after regular Forest School sessions or a residential visit. It’s like suddenly they see a context for what has gone before.

A well-planned trip will be bespoke enough to meet the needs of participants and so all should flourish, as after all, it should be really good fun too.

School Travel Organiser's Guide