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Spreading our wings October 25, 2010

Posted by Alex, Managing Director in Independent Education, Magazines.
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In an article that first appeared in the autumn 2010 issue of Prep School magazine, Loren Fenwick, head of art at Aldro School, shares her experiences of organising trips with groups of prep school boys.

The very idea of taking a group of pupils to a different country and being ultimately responsible for them every moment of every day while you are away may strike fear and dread into even the most seasoned of teachers, but really, with a bit of careful planning (and yes – essential paperwork) this does not need to be the case.

One of the highlights of my year is taking a group of boys on an art trip to Europe.  I have taken pupils to Prague, twice, Holland, and this summer will be my second trip to Rome.  The benefits to the boys are obvious – cultural enrichment, a chance to bond with each other outside of the school environment and interact with teachers outside of their natural habitat – but the thing that keeps me doing it, year on year, is the personal enjoyment I get from going abroad and seeing a favourite city through their eyes, spending time with them outside the school environment and getting to know them in a completely different context.

It really is not as daunting as you may think!  There are many tour companies that specialise in school trips – you have probably had many brochures passed your way.  The benefit of using a tour company, especially the first few times, is that they will hold your hand (metaphorically speaking) through the whole process, from the first idea, through the planning and preparation, including the risk assessments, which are not as frightening as you would expect them to be, just common sense really and proof that you have considered all eventualities.

A tour company will also book flights and accommodation and help with the planning of your itinerary.  They will often have good suggestions for activities, galleries and museums in the city of your choice and be able to advise you beforehand about entrance fees and other costs.  Many tour companies will also throw in free accommodation so that you can do a recce.  Another big advantage is that tour companies offer broad insurance for every aspect of your trip and assistance, should anything go wrong.

Doing a recce, or pre-tour visit, is absolutely essential, even if you are visiting a place you have been to many times before, because everything changes when you have a group of young people in tow.  You find yourself noticing how long train/tube doors stay open for, you make note of good public toilets and good places to stop for lunch.  You will notice areas that would be good to rest  a while and let pupils sit and sketch safely.  You find yourself noticing how easy or otherwise it is to get from point A to point B and you become aware of just how overcrowded some tourist hotspots might be as well as the perils of deserted backstreets, which might not occur to you when you are in adult company.

Your risk assessment will ask specific questions which you will not be able to answer accurately from memory so take a copy with you or read it beforehand.  Things change.  On a pre-trip visit to Prague, we found a good place to have lunch,  and when we arrived there with 13 boys a few months later, it had been reduced to a pile of rubble to make way for a new road.  If you have been on a pre trip visit, you can be flexible and deal with the unexpected.

One of the drawbacks of using a tour company is that they usually only offer free accommodation for a pre-tour visit after you have booked and paid a deposit, so if the accommodation is not ideal, there may be little you can do about it at that point.  Bear this in mind and check with the tour company before parting with any cash…

Click here to read the remainder of this article on the Prep School ezine. The magazine is published three times a year, in January, April and September. £25 pays for a two year subscription, which will be posted on publication. Click here for more information.

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