After leaving university Mary Driver initially went to the William Ransom School for two weeks as a supply teacher - and has now been there for 36 years.
She became a teacher specialising in Drama (which she studied) and English and Maths, and is a keen advocate of taking children to the theatre and learning outside the classroom (LOtC) in general. Head teacher for the last 11 years, we give her centre stage to share her experience and tips on educational trips.
Why are school trips so important?
We believe children must be able to learn outside the classroom. Today’s children spend much of their time in front of a screen, whether it is TV, tablet or iPad and everything is delivered to their living room. We want to show them there’s a big, wide world out there and learning can take place anywhere.
You go on many theatre trips, tell us about the benefits of live performance.
One of our philosophies is that children should never be pigeon holed or given limitations. We want them to leave us believing they could do anything and if they develop a passion for Drama, Dance and Music that is an avenue they could explore in later life. We start by taking the Reception class to a local pantomime each year and trips culminate with Year 6 going to The Lion King.
Many teachers might worry about children’s behaviour in the theatre, is this a concern for you?
No, because part of the preparation is teaching them theatre etiquette. We always go to mainstream performances rather than special school productions, and have successfully taken autistic pupils without any problems. At The Lion King a Canadian couple turned around and started talking to the children, who in turn told them a lot about the show because we use Disney’s educational resources to study it in school. Afterwards the couple told me they were a credit to me, which made me very happy.
Tell us one of your top practical tips for taking children to the theatre?
A Line them up in height order outside before they take their seats. We were in four rows last time, so this ensures the smallest children are at the front and taller ones are not blocking their view. It is important to organise where all the children are sitting, along with adults on the trip, before you go inside.
How do theatre trips link to other studies?
The Lion King is a perfect introduction to Shakespeare as it has uncanny similarities to Hamlet, and the children are able to point this out when I read them an abridged version of Hamlet.
Do you ever go on any residential trips and what are some of the outcomes?
Along with the trip to The Lion King, our annual Year 6 trip to Snowdonia National Park is a rite of passage. It’s the only residential trip we do and the main focus is developing independence and resilience, and each year we see the same outcome. They go as little children and when they come back they have matured. We have no hills in Hitchin and we climb up part of Snowdonia with a ranger, and for many of the children it is the first time they have climbed a hill let alone a mountain. Also, some of them have never been on a beach, so it is amazing experience. The children also get to see me in a different light and not just as the head!
What are your top tips for organising a trip outside the classroom?
It’s all about preparation. You need to do a recce and be 100% confident about where you are going and what you are going to do. Wherever I go I always know where the nearest toilets are, public or paid for, and the younger the children are the more important this is! And if you are organising an outdoor trip what are you going to do if it pours with rain? These are important considerations.
What is your advice to teachers who are nervous about taking school trips?
Go for it! If you are feeling nervous then find someone who is more experienced to go with you, such as someone who has done the trip before.