Justine Lee looks at how to ensure your school visit can be enjoyed by everyone
Educational trips offer a multitude of benefits for pupils of all abilities. They help motivate, raise attainment and expose students to new experiences. They can be especially valuable to pupils who are hard to reach or who do not respond well to traditional teaching methods, for whatever reason. Children with SEN or disabilities often learn best through doing; educational trips provide pupils with real life experiences and help them develop the necessary skills to enable them to lead an independent or semi-independent life in adulthood.
For children with SEN and disabilities, as with all children, having contact with different people and environments encourages them to adapt to new situations. Making these experiences a regular part of school life provides frequent opportunities to develop pupils’ confidence and social skills while expanding their horizons and becoming more aware of the world around them.
Day trips can provide memorable, fun experiences for all pupils. The benefits of a residential visit are also just as relevant to young people with SEN as they are to any other young person. Overnight trips might present a unique set of challenges, but these need not be seen as barriers to involving students with SEN or disabilities. It is important that parents understand the value of residential experiences for their child.
Trips away from school provide opportunities for pupils with SEN to develop in a number of ways, from increasing their communication and social skills to taking additional responsibility and developing essential life skills, confidence and independence.
Increasingly, teachers are seeing that getting children out and about has huge social, emotional and educational benefits, and teachers are also reaping the rewards themselves. Relationships between teachers and young people improve through shared experiences, and many teachers find new ways to relate to their pupils during school trips.
When planning a residential trip, good preparation is crucial. It is important to help pupils understand and be ready for the things they will encounter during the visit, so they are not anxious or confused when they come up against something new.
Making the trip work for all pupils
Deciding where to go
Choosing when and where to go is crucial. Decide what you want to achieve through the school trip and what kind of environment will suit your pupils. The surroundings and environment can impact significantly on the trip’s success. Going on a visit during November or January could mean the destination or venue is quieter, which will help reduce sensory overload. Choosing a venue that is close to home will help reduce travel time and minimise unsettling changes, with no early starts or late finishes.
Talk to your pupils
Help your pupils to become familiar with the chosen destination by talking about it early on. Look at maps or use online programmes or apps to show pictures of the location and the kind of activities that they will be taking part in. Build a lesson plan around the visit and encourage students to research and find out as much as they can about the destination or venue.
Talk to your chosen venue or provider
Some school trip destinations and providers have programmes which have been specially devised to meet the needs of children with SEN and disabilities. These tailored programmes can help each child to get the most out of their school trip. Involving your visit provider or venue as early as possible in the planning process will help ensure the trip is a success. Many providers are keen to work with schools to develop a programme that meets pupils’ learning outcomes and needs.
Check staff qualifications and experience
Ask your chosen venue or visit provider if any staff have relevant experience or qualifications relating to SEN or disability. This will help ensure each child’s needs are met whilst on the trip. It also means appropriate levels of support and motivation can be provided. If the pupil has a learning support assistant whilst at school, make sure they are able to join the trip too, as this will help provide continuity in terms of care.
Ask about accessible facilities
Many venues and visit providers have accessible spaces and facilities, from wheelchair friendly loos and showers to different colour schemes to make it easier to navigate around the venue. List what needs your pupils have and talk to the venue or visit provider about how these needs can be accommodated.
Undertake a familiarisation visit
A familiarisation visit will mean you know the layout of the venue or destination – for example, where the nearest accessible loos or quiet spaces are – and how to get around before you arrive with your class. You will also get the opportunity to talk to the staff who will be leading or supporting your trip.
Many venues and visit providers offer free familiarisation visits for school teachers; this includes providers of trips overseas as well as those to UK destinations. As well as being an opportunity to check facilities and resources, a familiarisation visit will give you added confidence on your school trip which in turn will help your students feel more secure.
About the author
Justine Lee is Communications and Fundraising Manager at the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom, which runs the LOtC Mark for schools, the LOtC Quality Badge for providers and venues, and CPD training for teachers.
Photo courtesy of Variety, the Children’s Charity: variety.org.uk