I’m a serial school tripper. Childfree, and with an understanding spouse, I can easily make myself available to accompany residential visits and, what’s more, I really enjoy them. It’s marvellous to have the opportunity to work with students outside of the classroom. By the end of this year I will have have attended six residentials, five of which I led, and three of which were abroad.
Planning a residential, particularly abroad, can be daunting. Here are some of my top tips.
1. Take more staff than you think you need
If you can, take a better ratio than 1:10. On the ski trip all the staff pay something so that we can do this. It makes the entire thing less stressful and gives you more flexibility in emergencies.
2. Use travelling groups
Each staff member should be in charge of a small group. This makes the counting a lot easier and, if you have to go through customs checkpoints or passport control, it keeps things moving and ensures somebody is looking out for every kid.
Last week I watched a large school group go through US Immigration without using this method, and saw eight of the kids left in passport control with no staff. When one of them, impatient, started talking loudly about not being a terrorist/having a bomb I wondered what might have happened if he’d been overheard and arrested, and this doubled my belief in travelling groups.
3. Be pragmatic
As well as your completed risk assessment, carry a blank risk assessment form. Have a staff member whom you can trust to talk over changes to the itinerary and co-assess risks on the fly. Risk assessments are there to make you think of all possible outcomes and avoid unecessary dangers, not to prevent you from changing your plans if the need arises.
4. Create in-jokes
Most kids like to feel part of something. Little sayings and jokes you can reference back at school will make them feel part of a gang that might not otherwise exist, ensure the trip is more enjoyable for everybody involved, and will help to improve your teaching relationships back in school. I also think if you can create a strong sense of the group, pupils are more likely to follow instructions and be considerate of each other.
5. Focus on the positives
Motivate pupils with a constant stream of praise and rewards. On the ski trip this year, we watched another school drain their pupils daily with negativity and shouting; by Friday, physically exhausted by the skiing, half of them were in the cafe instead of doing afternoon lessons. Meanwhile our students were still running on adrenaline and enthusiasm. Positive thinking works.
And don’t even get me started on “D**k of the Day”. Why some schools feel the need to translate this onto a school trip is beyond me.
6. Overplan for evening activities
You never know when you might need to fill an extra couple of hours at short notice. Be creative and well-prepared. Some of my favourite last-minute activities are
- A quiz (all staff write 10 Qs)
- A talent show (everybody performs something: once we had a science teacher demonstrate her ability to do the Plank for 30 seconds; it’s all about celebrating achievement!)
- Sky lanterns (though this needs a little planning)
- Games night (playing cards, Scrabble tiles and Scattergories all good here)
- Silly Olympics (obstacle course, three-legged race….)
7. Brief, brief, brief
The amount of times “Staff and students briefed…” appears on my risk assessments is countless. There’s a fine line between giving the students enough information and scaring them senseless with horror stories about what could go wrong, but I am definitely of the “More is Better” school when it comes to sharing information. You’d never catch one of my pupils mentioning a bomb in front of an American Immigration checkpoint, for example.