Matt O’Grady, headteacher of West Horndon Primary School, tells us about the visits he is most excited about and the biggest lesson from 30 years of educational visits.

West Horndon Primary School on a team-building activity

Pupils from West Horndon Primary School are lucky enough to take part in a range of activities outside the classroom.

Tell us about your role and how you got into teaching

I’m the proud headteacher of a one-form-entry primary school near Brentwood in Essex with an enhanced provision for speech and language. I have been a head for 18 years and a teacher for 30.

Matt O'Grady, headteacher at West Horndon Primary School

Matt O’Grady.

I got into teaching by accidentally finding my vocation when working on children’s summer camps after a string of short-lived Saturday jobs. I am also a consultant for Chris Quigley Education and facilitate NPQSL for the National Institute of Teaching among various other sidelines.

Why are educational visits such an important part of school life for your students?

Life is too short and the world is too exciting not to learn beyond the classroom. Educational visits are great for developing personal and socials skills, helping to connect a schema and also helping to bring equity to life experiences for our pupils.

West Horndon Primary School pupils at Young Voices at the O2 Arena

Matt enjoyed taking his pupils to the Young Voices event at the O2 Arena.

We aim to raise aspiration, you can’t dream about something if you don’t know it exists. I want our offer of educational visits to be like an all you can eat buffet where you get to try all sorts of things. You might just try something new and find that you love it. 

What visits are you most looking forward to this year?

I am looking forward to taking Year 6 to the Houses of Parliament for a tour and a workshop – we’ve not done that for a long time and I had to get in quick when the booking period opened – it’s like the school trip version of Taylor Swift tickets! I am also looking forward to the Essex Agricultural Society Food and Farming day which is held at Writtle College. It’s just a brilliant day, on a mammoth scale, with so many farmers giving their time for free. Year 5 are going to visit Southwark in London to experience Shakespeare’s London and will take part in a workshop at the Globe Theatre as part of their day.

“School trips are easy to organise but hard to do well. You can’t plan what children will remember so focus on the personal development and social skills and the opportunities they provide.”

Which educational visits stand out for you the most?

My mind always goes to our annual residential visit to Ironbridge in Shropshire. It’s a bespoke, jam-packed five days which gives our pupils memories they can cherish forever. Over the years we have built up great relationships with the museum, YHA staff and even the local residents – who all help make our bespoke visits unique and successful.

A new visit we did this year was to the Sikh temple in Gravesend where we received the warmest of welcomes. The children also love taking part in Young Voices at the O2 Arena. We had a great visit to Billericay Town FC this year which was a real treat for our pupils under the floodlights - many of whom had never been to a live match before.

How do you make school trips as financially accessible as possible?

We also sequence and plan the visits, so the ‘big ticket’ more expensive trips are spaced apart. We have just started leasing our second minibus too, which means we can take a whole class on a trip to many venues without the cost of hiring a coach, which seems to have increased in price a lot over the last year or so. We also ask for half the voluntary contribution amount from families who qualify for pupil premium.

West Horndon Primary School dressing up on a history day

Students can step back into the past on a school visit that Matt organises.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your time as a teacher?

School trips are easy to organise but hard to do well. You can’t plan what children will remember so focus on the personal development and social skills and the opportunities they provide so the visit offers an equity of life experience for everyone. I am a great believer in developing professional relationships and always try to build up a link and rapport with the places that we visit. Also, never be the one who forgets your waterproofs!

How do you keep parents informed with what’s coming up?

All of our visits form part of our overall curriculum plan so parents can see what’s coming up and how they relate to the curriculum. We share the experiences with parents via the ClassDojo software so they have an idea about the trips before it’s their child’s turn to go.

West Horndon Primary School pupils at Billericay Town FC

Pupils were treated to their first football match at Billericay Town FC.

How do you come up with new ideas?

I am always seeking to improve our offer; we review the trips we have done as a team every year. If we tweak the curriculum, we’ll see if there is still a ‘match’. I’ve always got my eyes open to new places and I love a day out. I recently visited Brooklands Museum in Weybridge which was great, so I’m looking at how that fits in with our plans.

Finally, are there any silly mishaps that you’re willing to share?

I’ve stepped in a lot of dog poo over the years which seems to amuse everyone else! I think my most amusing story (not at the time) was getting a coach to drop us off at a London theatre to see Mary Poppins, only to discover it was at a different venue and not the one I’d mistakenly named. Walking Year 6 through Soho made for an interesting evening but we made it.

Would you like to tell us about the work you do in organising educational visits? Get in touch with us by emailing