We’ve finally reached the holidays and at this time of year especially, opportunities for family and school trips abound – from theatre trips to Christmas markets. Apples & Pears has been busy organising festive activities like pantomimes and ice skating. But the question is, apart from seasonal enjoyment are there any additional benefits for schools that organise trips for pupils and their families? The answer is undoubtedly yes for two main reasons. Firstly, they help broaden pupils’ horizons, giving them experiences to use in their learning when back in the classroom. Furthermore, they also help achieve the gold dust of education: parental engagement.
By holding trips at the weekend and providing volunteers, Apples & Pears helps to maximise the chances of parents being able to experience these activities with their children, so that they can share meaningful experiences.
When I was teaching English in a very deprived corner of Lewisham there were some pupils who had few experiences they could call upon to use in their writing. Instructing pupils to write a brochure for tourists visiting central London is a big ask when they haven’t even been themselves. Having guided trips where teachers and volunteers are on hand to help navigate public transport or introduce new places not only develops pupils’ access to destinations they might not otherwise have visited, it also lays the foundations for future family outings. Sophie Nicol, the senior leader who organises Apples & Pears trips at Plumcroft Primary, agrees:
“Thanks to the funding which pays for our Oyster Cards, the whole of London is ours… A favourite destination this summer was the Southbank Centre. Parents and carers are now aware how easy it is to get to this vibrant public space by bus or train.”
Once back in the classroom, pupils can use their experiences to add richness to their writing that they may otherwise be lacking. Without such opportunities, disadvantaged pupils can fall behind more affluent peers for whom trips to the theatre or library are a common occurrence. Such experiences also give families more to talk about at home, something particularly pertinent given a recent government report on social mobility says: ‘Families where both parents are highly educated spend on average 110 minutes a day on educational activities with their young children, compared to just 71 minutes where parents have low levels of education.’
As well as benefits within families, joint trips can also strengthen links between schools and parents or carers. This is really important as the evidence suggests that there are many benefits when schools engage with parents in a positive way. For example, a review of the evidence by the Department for Education suggests that engaging parents matters more than the varying quality of schools. The charity Achievement for All also recognises the importance of parental engagement and jointly sets targets for both home and school. Yet it is also well documented that the hardest to reach parents are typically those from a low socio-economic background.
When I was a teacher, it was often the parents and carers I wanted to see the most who weren’t able to attend consultation evenings for reasons like awkward shift patterns and the cost of public transport. It’s also no surprise that parents who have had a negative experience of school are often in no rush to sit in a school hall talking to teachers.
This is why engaging parents outside of the school environment is so important. Weekend trips allow opportunities for parents and carers to form relationships with the school that are meaningful and positive. Sophie Nicol describes a trip to Margate last Summer as remarkable:
“So many of our Somali families came. For some of the adults, it was their first visit to the beach. It was a really special family day out.”
When a school facilitates positive experiences such as these, it means there is already a working relationship in place if and when issues arise.
We can take it for granted sometimes that everyone is able to access the same level of opportunity to share with their family, but the truth is it simply doesn’t happen across the board. It is therefore crucial that charities like Apples & Pears exist; they help to level the playing field and boost children’s chances of success, whatever their background.
That’s why I’m looking forward to working with Apples & Pears next year to develop new ways for families to get even more out of the trips they run.