Dan Sayers, headteacher of Independent School St Hilda’s Primary School in Harpenden, shares his passion for school trips and learning outside the classroom.

Dan Sayers

He has been teaching for more than 20 years and in that time has led many school trips including several residentials. Now, Dan is more passionate than ever about learning outside the classroom (LOtC) and shares his experience and advice to other teachers and schools on making the most of trips.

Tell us a bit about your experience with school trips.

The first trip I organised was to the Imperial War Museum in Duxford, my first residential was about 17 years ago and I have organised many more since. While I was at St Albans High School for Girls, we went to the Crandedale Centre in North Yorkshire every year and we now run it at St Hilda’s – this year will be my tenth visit. The staff look after the girls exceptionally well and it’s a great place.

School trip to Windsor

Students from Independent School St Hilda’s Primary School on a trip to Windsor Castle.

What’s the ethos around learning outside the classroom (LOtC) at St Hilda’s?

When I joined the school back in 2010 I had a big shake-up of the trips on every level and raised the stakes to provide more cultural experiences. It may not sound too amazing but some of the first trips I introduced included the Imperial War Museum in London and Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge where I’ve visited from my last three schools. I’m a historian; another trip I organised was to Windsor Castle and St George’s Chapel. You feel that you’re drinking in History there.

I know theatre is very important to the school, tell us about those trips.

We hadn’t done theatre trips before I joined. We’ve been to some amazing things since including The Lion King, War Horse, Matilda, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factor. Theatre trips for schools are significantly cheaper than if you were taking your family; we had one family with four girls at the school who said they could never afford to take their children to the West End. They are great experiences.

How do you plan which school trips to organise?

They’re mostly based around the curriculum. For example, Year 3 study the Romans; we go to the nearby Verulamium and St Albans Abbey. We’re also quite near Welwyn where there are Roman baths which provides a local cultural experience. We have an amazing Arts teacher and this year we went to Kew Gardens where the girls spent time in one of the Glasshouses drawing and then studied the work of an artist. We’re much firmer in making sure that each trip has a specific purpose

What do you see as the main benefits of school travel and learning outside the classroom?

The holistic benefits of school trips are immense, especially where culture, adventure, practical and physical activities are involved. We try to encompass all of these in our trips and ensure that they are always valuable. LOtC allows all learner types to access the world around them and not see learning as part of an institutional process but a multi-faceted experience.

How important is it to you, and the school, that the girls have access to a variety of LOtC during their time at St Hilda’s?

It’s really important to me. We try to tailor the visits to our pupils even more, liaising with the relevant place to see if they can offer something more than that advertised. Our girls are always very interested and enjoy the challenge so this is really important that the place we are visiting is prepared.

Students during a raft building experience

What about the Residentials you organise?

Year 4 spend a couple of days at Grafham Water undertaking a range of physical adventure pursuits. Year 5 spend four days at The Cranedale Centre undertaking a Science and Geography field trip, a visit to the moorland, the beach, crabbing, stream dipping, lighting a fire, orienteering, all in a fantastic centre which is brilliantly run. Year 6 spend six days at a Chateau in Normandy, and all activities are conducted in French, including a market visit, bread making, a chocolate factory, a goat farm, a walk to Le Mont Saint-Michel and other onsite activities.

When deciding on a destination or provider, what are the key considerations?

Value for money, going the second mile in activities, well-qualified and professional staff are just some of them. Health and Safety is a premium, we need to know that the visit will really enhance the Curriculum.

Finally, what advice would you give to other schools and teachers to ensure their children get the most out of the trips?

Do a recce. If I’m not familiar then it’s essential. Many places are happy to offer free tickets to teachers beforehand. Especially in the present climate of Health and Safety, this is even more important.