Hannah Cushion, Learning Project Officer at London Transport Museum gives valuable advice and guidance about selecting venues for your next school trip.
When we think back on our school days, the moments that often stick in our minds are the occasions when we climbed aboard a coach or hopped on a train to visit somewhere new with our classmates.
There was always a buzz of excitement in the air as you were counted on and off vehicles and in and out of doors on your way to a new adventure. It is these trips to museums, heritage sites, art galleries, wildlife and nature parks which often become our most cherished memories.
School trips offer children an invaluable opportunity to:
• Increase their cultural capital
• Broaden their understanding of the world around them
• Experience learning outside of the classroom
• Ignite their curiosity and stimulate new interests
• Strengthen their relationship with classmates and teachers through shared experiences
For SEN learners or learners with disabilities, school trips are also an opportunity to create:
• Stimulating learning opportunities away from an academic environment
• Develop social and communication skills and improve confidence
• Practice life skills in a real-world setting
The rewards of school trips are undeniable and plentiful but organising a trip for SEN learners requires important considerations.
Changes in routine can sometimes be disruptive, you also need to find a venue that meets your access needs, and anxieties can sometimes run high for teachers and learners alike.
Opportunities to look out for
Most museums aim to design education programmes that are inclusive and accessible, offering a range of alternative learning opportunities outside of the classroom.
To help teachers to find a session which is right for you, here are some suggestions about what to look out for and expect from visits:
• Quiet opening times when the museum galleries are open exclusively for SEN learners. During these dedicated sessions, audio sounds are usually turned off to lower the sensory impact of a visit.
• Handling objects can create tactile or sensory experiences and help the learner engage with the collection and its stories. Small groups of handling objects relating to specific collection themes or stories can help build connections
• Storytellers and actors can create opportunities for interactive engagement, helping to build confidence and communication skills. For example, hats or puppets can allow learners to step into the shoes of characters and stories from the past
• Sensory bags can support self-guided groups by creating interactive opportunities. They often include smell containers, materials or sound boxes that relate to the objects on display or the stories of the venue’s collection
• Breakout spaces can offer a quiet space for your learners to relax during a visit and the chance to reflect on what they have seen and experienced. Pre-bookable spaces for refreshments and lunch are also often available.
What to expect before you visit
When hosting SEN school trips, an organisation will want to try and meet all your requirements and keep you safe, as well as making sure you have a great time during your visit.
Contact the museum or heritage site you are planning to visit to see if they offer free pre-visit trips for teachers. You can also talk through any additional needs to find out what the venue can do to support these.
Ahead of visits, many venues also provide a Welcome Story or a Visual Story that can help your learners find out:
• Where they are going and what it looks like, and maybe sounds like
• What uniforms the staff wear so they can spot safe strangers
• What facilities are available and where they are
On the day
On the day of a visit, you can expect a warm welcome from the front of house team. They may know Makaton and will take their lead from you when engaging with your learners, being sensitive to your group’s needs.
During your introduction to the space, you can expect the breakout spaces and pre-booked lunch spaces to be sign-posted to you. Your facilitator will also run through the resources and activities available to support your visit such as sensory bags, actors around the venue and handling objects.
Other important practical information such as lifts, accessible toilets and any objects or parts of the venue you might be particularly interested in will be highlighted.
After your visit
As museum educators, we hope that you enjoy your visit and that your learners feel inspired and engaged.
To keep their passion alive, many museum websites offer a range of fun and creative resources to download and enjoy back at school or for learners to use at home with their families.
Museums also love to hear from you and your pupils about your visit, from what went well to what could have gone better. Don’t be afraid to get in touch to let the venue know so they can keep improving their offer.