Isle of Wight Steam Railway

Over the weekend of 1st and 2nd April, around 50 teachers from across the country paid a visit to the Isle of Wight to experience a school trip like no other.  

If you’re thinking of organising a school trip and can find the time (we can hear you laughing), there is great benefit in personally visiting a destination or attraction beforehand. A test or a try before you buy, if you like. 

That was the thinking behind a recent teacher taster weekend on the Isle of Wight, organised by Education Destination, a business pioneering the Isle of Wight as the go-to place for educational trips. 

The Isle of Wight features literally hundreds of learning opportunities at a surprisingly diverse range of attractions and venues, all within a compact geographic area. Over half is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Which is why it has been referred to as the ‘Island Classroom’.

The experience began as soon as the group set foot on the Red Funnel ferry from Southampton. During the one hour crossing teachers were introduced to the wide range of teaching possibilities along Southampton Water and across the Solent, especially in Human & Physical Geography.  

The first day once on the island included The Model Village, Godshill, with its meticulously and humorously crafted scale models of the local area. There is a wide range of opportunities for curriculum linked learning – examples were given in KS2 Geography (Land Use) and KS4 Combined Science (Sustainability). There were many comments about the gardening and the maintenance work of the miniature site along with the train tracks, trees and humour found throughout. As an extra treat teachers were greeted by the manager and given a little gift bag as a memento of the day. 

A short ride away saw the teachers visiting the Isle of Wight Donkey Sanctuary, home to over 110 abandoned donkeys, ponies and horses. This was the highlight of the weekend for many, with a hands-on programme delivered by Derek, an ex-headmaster, and the staff at the sanctuary. Working in four groups the tasks included grooming, walking, and dealing with those with behavioural problems. One of the teachers attending the weekend, Mrs Nahila Khan, had a fear of animals but with the help and trust of the staff, she groomed, walked and stroked donkeys. A wonderful experience for her and the entire group.

Following in the footsteps of dinosaurs a visit to Dinosaur Isle came next, an interactive museum home to a diverse collection of fossils found on the Isle of Wight. Louise Carr described the venue as a “fantastic learning opportunity and right next to the beach for a fossil hunt”.

The teachers weren’t done for the day just yet – they had chance to put themselves in the shoes of their students with an afternoon of tree climbing. With the help of a qualified instructor at Goodleaf, the bravest had chance to ascend into the canopy of a stunning old oak tree affording magnificent views over the Solent, and there was cheering from the group for those who needed that extra added boost of confidence. The aim of this experience is to encourage independent learning, foster a sense of self belief and teach responsible risk management in a fun and safe environment. 

After a day packed full of learning and fun everyone checked in at YMCA Winchester House, based in Shanklin on the eastern side of the Isle of Wight with views overlooking the English Channel. Saturday was topped off with a mini trade fair - a chance for the teachers to meet with many of the other Island educational visitor attractions.

After a fun but informative evening, it was a relaxed morning with a tour around the campus at Winchester House. Janet Symonds, an ICT teacher from Cambridge tweeted: 


Day two took the group to the UK’s oldest theme park, Blackgang Chine. There was enough time to reach for the inner child in everyone and explore an underwater kingdom, a cowboy town, interact with animatronic dinosaurs and more, including a selection of fun rides.  

Then for a short journey along the famous Military Road with stunning views of the chalk cliffs of Tennyson Down, the Needles rocks and Bournemouth in the distance, before arriving at one of the island’s newest attractions, Tapnell Farm Park. This is an all-weather eco-friendly attraction, with indoor play areas, as well as a collection of farm and more exotic animals. The group managed to get up close to some very friendly wallabies following a talk from one of the keepers. Some teachers whizzed down the zip wires in the hay play barn and posed for pictures next to the array of hand painted cows, each one sponsored by a different business from across the Island. 

The afternoon saw the group split into different directions. Some needed to take an early ferry home  whilst others chose between the Isle of Wight Steam Railway and Osborne House. 

At the railway, teachers settled back in a perfectly restored Edwardian carriage as they took the ten-mile round trip through unspoiled countryside before exploring Train Story, an interactive museum transporting visitors to a bygone era and 150 years of railway history on the Isle of Wight. 

The rest of the group visited the holiday home of Queen Victoria, Osborne House, the good venue for history teachers. They met Mrs Pilkington to learn about life “below stairs”, and then explored the spectacular home and grounds.

A thoroughly busy, informative yet fun weekend was had by all. 

Education Destination has already received some great feedback from teachers who took part in the taster weekend – here’s just one:

“It has been a great experience so far. Have loved everything, the people are so welcoming and the Isle of Wight is beautiful. Everything from the well organised Dinosaur Isle, the Loving Donkey Sanctuary, the skillfully created Model Village to the challenging Tree Climbing - it has all been amazing. Excited to see what Sunday brings. Thanks to all the companies involved in making the trip happen. Not to forget the YMCA (with great staff, accommodation and awe inspiring views of the sea).” - Theresa Russell from Lancashire

For more information or to book a school trip with Education Destination telephone Charlie on 01983 216220 or visit