Jacqueline Brown looks at how to make a school trip as inclusive and enjoyable as possible for all pupils
Most of us have fond memories of our childhood school trips – the visit to a living museum that developed into a life-long love of history or the trip to the theatre that stirred a passion for the arts. School trips and educational visits provide an opportunity for children to experience life outside the classroom. They are a way of helping to expand the horizons and minds of children, opening their eyes to the arts, heritage, culture, adventure and the natural world.
Learning outside the classroom offers a multitude of benefits and provides a valuable, supplementary teaching tool that contributes to a pupil’s social, personal and emotional development. For those with SEN or disabilities, educational trips and visits are an invaluable way of stimulating interest and an opportunity to thrive in less academic activities, as well as helping to support cognitive, social and learning developmental skills.
Exploring new environments can be particularly beneficial for pupils with SEN, helping them to learn life skills, and improve independence and confidence, as well as helping to build and develop social skills. The Council for Learning Outside the Classroom commissioned a recent survey through Teachers Voice and found that 87 per cent of teachers said learning outside the classroom made lessons much more memorable, while 77 per cent agreed that outside educational activities provided extra motivation for young people to achieve more in their learning.
According to the Council, inclusion planning is crucial, so regardless of the education setting, all children within a cohort should have access to a wide range of opportunities and experiences away from the classroom.
For many children with disabilities and SEN, routine is key, and the prospect of deviating from any established classroom or school-based routines requires careful planning and consideration.
Although trips are of great educational and social value to children of all ages and abilities, their planning and execution are often a cause of anxiety for teachers, as well as some of the pupils. So how do you make sure that these opportunities are available to all, particularly young people with SEN and disabilities?
Individual teaching and support staff will have a good understanding of a pupil’s SEN and their specific behaviours or responses while they’re in school. It’s beneficial when planning for educational trips to have an overview of each child’s behaviour, how it presents, and what triggers a particular behavioural response; this knowledge can prove vital in minimising a child’s anxiety both before and during the trip and increase the likelihood of having a successful trip. Similarly, physical limitations of pupils should also be taken into account at the planning stage and when carrying out the risk assessment.
There are many local and national organisations who can provide information that can help support planning for education trips; many of them provide helplines as well as other practical resources.
Who is going on the trip?
Trips should be as inclusive as possible, so all the young people attending can participate fully and actively. Having a good understanding of the physical and emotional needs of all those going on the trip will help with planning for the visit and is likely to influence or affect the location and venue of the trip. Some schools may only have one or two children with additional needs, while others may have a larger cohort with a variety of different needs that will need to be taken into account and considered.
Choosing the destination
For young people with a physical disability, accessibility is a primary consideration when selecting the destination for your trip. Fortunately, there are many websites offering help and advice on finding the right trip to suit the needs and abilities of your class. Consider the terrain and movement or transport from location to location as part of the trip. For example, will a wheelchair user be able to access all areas? Do they require specialist hoisting facilities to transfer from wheelchair to vehicles? As mentioned earlier, ensuring every child feels fully involved and included is vital. Although children may have access to a particular piece of equipment within their school setting – a standing or walking frame for example – is it portable so it can be used during the educational visit, or does an alternative need to be found? Changing facilities are another key consideration. Not all venues have disabled changing rooms which may well influence your decision. Additionally, you may have to factor in extra support staff to assist with this.
If possible, try to visit the venue before you take your class. Assess the conditions of the destination and think about how they are going to affect your pupils. Bright lights, loud noises and overcrowding may be an issue for some pupils with SEN.
Preparation is key
It’s important to introduce the idea of a trip early on. It may be a good idea to talk to parents and carers before informing the children about the trip, so they are prepared for any questions that may arise at home.
Good preparation for the class is essential. Sharing stories and comic strips works really well, as does having photographs of the venue and drawings or pictures of the types of uniform worn by its staff. This can help familiarise the pupils with the environment and reduce the potential for stress. Making a chart or a calendar to count down the days until the trip or visit is also another proven tool to help prepare the children. Getting the children involved in designing posters about the trip and making a plan of activity for the day can also help to get them ready for what’s in store; again, focussing on elements of routine, such as lunchtime, can help structure the day’s activities in the children’s minds and aid enjoyment.
There are a host of practical considerations too, including staff to pupil ratios. Each local authority has its own requirements for school trips but as a general rule, schools should look at:
- Year 1 to Year 3: one adult for every six pupils
- Year 4 to Year 6: one adult for every ten to 15 pupils
- Year 7 and above: one adult for every 20 pupils.
There are separate rules for early years, so it’s important to check specifically with your local authority to ensure compliance. You may also consider whether it’s appropriate to invite parent volunteers and/or governors to provide extra support throughout the trip.
It is mandatory that at least one member of staff on the visit must hold a current paediatric First Aid Certificate. If any of the children require medication while you are on the trip, then this will need to be safely stored and administered when you are out and about.
Is everyone informed?
Staff at the venue won’t be as well informed as you and your colleagues about the children participating in the visit. To help staff understand the cohort of children and any specific needs, you could provide a factsheet with some need-to-know points. For example, some pupils might be wary of strangers and don’t like to be approached. Give your hosts a heads up and let them know that some of your pupils need a bit of extra space.
Making the journey fun
Most children get bored on long journeys, but for young people with SEN or disabilities, travelling can be particularly stressful. Consider planning activities that will make the journey fun and provide a distraction, thereby limiting potential anxiety. A check list of landmarks or things to spot on the way can help to keep pupils busy. Personal music devices or portable DVD players could also offer a distraction for pupils who find traveling difficult.
When you get there
For those children who are entitled to free school meals, the school will have provided a packed lunch. Because of the range of potential food sensitivities and likes/dislikes of other children, it’s often best to ask parents to provide a packed lunch for their child in a clearly labelled, disposal bag that can be discarded appropriately at the venue.
Some children with SEN can struggle with unstructured time, which can commonly happen around lunch time when everyone is finishing at different times. Try to have something to fill this time, whether it is a game or activity you have devised yourself, or something that the venue has helped you prepare. Alternatively, a portable DVD player set up with a film for everyone to enjoy might provide enough distraction.
Have fun and enjoy
The most important thing is that everyone has a good time and enjoys themselves. Not all pupils will need the same level of support, so for those children who are able to, allow them to have their independence, where possible, as this will add to their overall sense of fulfilment and enjoyment of the trip.
Get some feedback
When you are back at your education setting, have a group discussion involving all teachers and support staff and pupils too. Note some of the key issues raised and valuable lessons learned, not only in the practical or logistical elements of the trip, but also in terms of the activities that had the biggest impact or response from the children. This experience can also be shared with the children’s parents/carers and will help with planning further lessons, and develop a better understanding of what is important to pupils for the next trip.
Tips for parents and carers
Days out with the kids always need military precision planning – even more so when you have to factor in accessibility. But spending quality time together as a family is crucial, giving you all time away from the stresses of everyday life, to explore, stimulate the senses and above all have fun. Forward planning will help to make the day trouble-free for all involved.
Some attractions may feel completely out of bounds for those on a budget because of the cost and limited facilities. However, some providers make it easier for families to visit their venues by offering discounted, or even free, tickets for those with disabilities and their carers. It is worth enquiring before you visit. In some cases, it can take several weeks/months to process concessions, so forward planning is definitely a good idea.
Other organisations offer free entry for carers when accompanying a disabled child paying the normal admission fee. Some even run schemes which provide carers with a card, making it simple for one or two carers to enter free of charge, rather than having to ask every time.
In addition to checking on the facilities available for those with disabilities or SEN, it can also be a good idea to get a sense of whether a particular venue, and its staff, have a positive attitude towards serving all visitors. A look at online reviews for the attraction might provide some useful insight and you may also be able to glean a great deal from how staff respond to your enquiry if you contact the venue in advance of your visit. Are they helpful and encouraging or defensive and reluctant to address your queries?
Changing facilities are an important consideration for many parents of a child with a disability. The venue’s website may provide all the information you need. If not, you might want to ask them to send you details (and even photos) of the facilities available.
There are a number of websites that offer information and advice on visiting attractions and outdoor activities for children with disabilities and SEN. You can find advice on everything including finances, education, medical issues, legal considerations, accessibility and local services.
Jacqueline Brown is the parent of a disabled child and is Emergency Care Specialist Nurse at Newlife the Charity for Disabled Children. Prior to her 20-year career in nursing, Jacqueline worked within the education system supporting children with additional needs in both mainstream and special schools.