From personal development and team-building skills, to encouraging a sense of adventure and enhancing subject knowledge, residential trips can bring a wealth of benefits to children and young people.
Sadly, educational trips, in some schools, are becoming increasingly rare events. A survey undertaken by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) painted a picture of diminishing opportunities for children to learn outside school. Over a third of schools in the UK reported that school trips have declined over the last three years and a mere 37% of schools reported that the children in their care had taken part in a school visit in the last twelve months; one cannot help but feel an element of concern.
Concern that school children have less and less opportunity to explore the world outside the classroom has been growing in recent years, so much so, that a report was commissioned by MPs in the House of Commons. The report found that health and safety regulation, along with the associated form-filling and fear of litigation, was the main culprit for the decline in numbers of children being taken on school trips.
One of the key recommendations of the report published by the House of Commons was that: ‘to ensure learning outside the classroom is taken seriously by all schools, there should be an individual entitlement within the National Curriculum to at least one out of school visit a term’.
Just before May half-term, children in Years 5 and 6, spent a week at PGL’s Château de Grande Romaine near Paris, whilst our younger children in Years 3 and 4, took part in, what was for many of them, their first residential trip to Windmill Hill, in East Sussex. A PGL adventure vows to build confidence and a sense of achievement. A PGL experience will see children return to school with renewed belief in themselves and the confidence to succeed.
The first test for some, however, was the confidence associated with being away from home, from familiar routine and the safety of one’s home surroundings. Children were asked to undertake some testing tasks, many of which had the overt aim of facing one’s fears, very evidently operating beyond one’s comfort zone.
One activity, in particular, met this criteria for all, adults and children alike; the Leap of Faith. The Leap of Faith asks children to muster their confidence and courage to climb to the top of a ten-metre pole and, once achieved, count to three with the faith in themselves as they jump and reach to catch a mid-air suspended trapeze. Children were gently encouraged by the team of qualified instructors to push their own boundaries as far as they wished, ranging from a few steps up the pole, to the top or to the leap; what was important, was not the leap, but the opportunity for children to take risks in a safe environment and learn from them.
Before children departed for PGL, I hosted an assembly which focussed on taking risks. Children were shown photos of the pole and trapeze in question and we discussed what one can learn from putting oneself outside one’s metaphorical comfort zone; a school hall in Wandsworth being admittedly a safe environment in which to offer advice. When children returned, however, it transpired that they all took a few steps up the pole, they all took steps to the top of the pole and, moreover, they all, took that leap of faith; a testament, I believe, to our environment and the continual emphasis we place on nurturing a can-do attitude towards all the challenges our children face, not solely confined to the classroom.
Life is full of challenges, and we owe it to our children to equip them with the skills to recognise risk, to assess it sensibly and to react thoughtfully. It is, without a doubt, possible to learn the basics in the classroom environment; there is, however, no substitute for authentic experiences in the wider world.