TV presenters and adventurers Paul Rose and Kate Humble have given their support to school visits as a generation of young people risk missing out on these experiences. Due to Covid19 restrictions, there has been a dramatic decrease in school groups undertaking educational visits. This is impacting on the educational opportunities available to children and is threatening the survival of those organisations providing these experiences.
Paul Rose, television presenter, expedition leader for National Geographic’s Pristine Seas Expeditions and former vice president of the Royal Geographic Society, said his life was turned around by a school trip when he was a teenager: “I failed my Eleven Plus and hated school. I just couldn’t see the point of anything. Then in Secondary school my Geography teacher took my class to the Brecon Beacons. All the horrors of education and learning disappeared. It was truly inspirational. At last things made sense – if I wanted to use a map and compass then I needed Maths. If I wanted to understand the map and the ground, then I needed Geography. That trip was the making of me, it was what I desperately needed. That was my door opening, it was me becoming Paul Rose. We cannot let these opportunities disappear.”
Kate Humble, television presenter, wildlife specialist and author, said: “Lessons in a classroom can only achieve so much. School trips I took to see the geological features we were learning about in geography, or to the Natural History Museum, or simply to our local park to collect leaves & pinecones, brought those lessons alive. They made sense of things, gave us all a greater understanding & appreciation of what we were learning, and made our newfound knowledge something exciting. They were an invaluable part of my education.”
Dr Anne Hunt, Chief Executive for the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom (CLOtC), said: “Covid related school closures and restrictions are resulting in organisations who provide high quality educational visits closing their venues and losing whole teams of staff and volunteers. With no overnight visits since March and for the foreseeable future, the providers of residential learning experiences are facing particularly challenging circumstances. There is a very real possibility that many organisations providing these very valuable learning opportunities simply won’t survive the current crisis, meaning a whole generation of pupils could go through school without experiencing a visit to a museum, a field studies trip or a foreign language tour.”
Even though UK-based educational day visits are permitted by the Department for Education, the impact of the pandemic on providers is becoming very stark and it is hitting organisations big and small – the National Trust is currently consulting on a proposal that would make all its learning staff redundant, PGL has lost a quarter of its workforce, STA Travel ceased trading in August, and Cheddar Caves has closed ‘for the foreseeable future’.
Dr Hunt continues: “Alongside the impact on the dedicated skilled staff and volunteers who run these inspiring programmes, these closures will push the opportunities for educational visits beyond the reach of the many thousands of children who we know do not get the chance to have these experiences in any other way than with their schools.’’
The evidence is clear that learning outside the classroom, including through well-planned educational visits supports pupils to engage with their learning and delivers a wide range of socio-emotional outcomes that underpin their achievement and attainment. It also has a positive impact on children’s health and wellbeing. School-based learning outside the classroom opportunities should be an integral part of strategies for supporting all children and young people to recover from the consequences of disrupted learning.
Prof Justin Dillon, Professor of Science and Environmental Education at Exeter University, said: “There is a wealth of evidence that learning outside the classroom can have a transformative impact on education and learning. Given that the National Foundation for Education Research has reported recently that the gap in inequalities between children from different social backgrounds has widened already by 46% in a year, it is clear that educational visits can play a crucial role in enabling pupils to ‘catch up’ and address this widening inequality in education.”
Martin Smith, Chair of the Outdoor Education Advisers’ Panel said: “The Department for Education has given approval for schools to take day visits off-site. We strongly encourage schools to utilise local venues, grounds and amenities to help bring some normality back to student’s lives and build confidence in undertaking educational visits further a field. Such activities are essential for young people in terms of broadening their horizons and to help accelerate their learning. We also need insurance companies to cover educational visits for Covid-related cancellations. Without this, teachers aren’t able to plan ahead which is further affecting the ability of educational visit providers to recover from the pandemic.’’
To support the educational visits sector and protect these vital opportunities for children and young people, the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom, the Outdoor Education Advisers Panel, School Travel Forum and the Expedition Providers Association are working with Government to advocate for:
- Recognising the positive benefits that learning outside the classroom and educational visits can deliver and their role in helping address widening inequalities
- Reiterating the recommendation that schools can take their learning off-site and on day visits, and work with other learning providers to bring their services into schools, as long as these follow school Covid secure guidelines
- Working with insurance companies to ensure future educational visits are covered for cancellations arising due to Covid so schools can start planning for the future.
Dr Hunt continues: “There is a unique opportunity for the learning outside the classroom sector to be mobilised to support more schools to take their learning beyond the classroom, dramatically increasing health, wellbeing and learning outcomes for all children and young people. If we do nothing there is a very real risk that these benefits will only be available to some children and young people and many of these experiences may no longer be available at all when restrictions are finally lifted. If we fail to act now, a whole generation of children may miss out.”