Learning Through Experience

James Day examines some of the UK’s best locations for school trips and educational visits

The British Museum is one of the most popular museums in the world. VISIT BRITAIN

The British Museum is one of the most popular museums in the world. VISIT BRITAIN

School trips can be an excellent supplement to children’s learning. Visiting an interesting location is sure to stay in their memories much more than anything read it a textbook, and many venues offer curriculum-linked resources or workshops to assist teachers.

Many museums and attractions offer substantially reduced entry for schools during term time, if they charge entry at all, so there are plenty of incentives for schools to embark on these trips. Coach drop off or parking is usually provided, since a coach is the most practical way for schools to visit most places.

What follows are some of the best locations for schools looking to combine an enjoyable day out with a fantastic learning experience.


The ArcelorMittal Orbit is one of the key landmarks of the London 2012 Olympic Games. The giant swirling, swooping sculpture, six times the height of the Angel of the North, provides views of the London skyline up to 20 miles into the distance.

Schools prices start at £7 per child from April to September, or £5 per child from October to March. A free teacher or assistant place is provided with every 10 child places. Visits must be booked in advance to ensure that any particular needs can be accommodated for. Familiarisation visits can be arranged.

Coach parking is available on site at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, but must be booked in advance.

ArcelorMittal Orbit has teaching resources available to lead educational visits, both on site and back in the classroom. These cover key stages one – four in a range of subjects, including science, geography and art and design.

A full day’s activity programme is available from the Field Studies Council, an environmental education charity. Field Studies Council can deliver this for a school group at the ArcelorMittal Orbit. It also has a classroom nearby, at the View Tube.


The National Media Museum in Bradford boasts eight floors of free galleries about the internet, television, animation and photography, and three temporary exhibition spaces exploring different aspects of the media.

Stop-motion filming is one of the exhibits at the National Media Museum

Stop-motion filming is one of the exhibits at the National Media Museum

For a school visit, the venue can offer its spectacular IMAX cinema, practical workshops, gallery talks, study days and downloadable resources, as well as its live interactive show – CinemaMagic.

Visits will suit groups from key stage two through to further education, and can meet curriculum requirements for English, science, design & technology, ICT,history, art & design, Media and Film Studies. The museum’s top exhibitions include:

  • Kodak Gallery – students can learn about the birth of photography and the development of the camera, and discover the part that Victorians played in making photography as accessible as it is today;
  • Life Online – an exploration of the social, technological and cultural impact of the internet and how it has changed people’s lives. Schools can visit the complementary exhibition space and consider the current threats to net neutrality;
  • Experience TV – students can find out how television is made, learn about the early pioneers of TV and take part in a roleplay where they can read the news themselves;
  • Magic Factory – a scientific exhibition where hands-on exhibits help pupils to see how light cannot pass through some materials, how shadows are formed and how light is reflected from surfaces;
  • Animation Gallery – groups can discover how animation works and find out how popular characters such as Wallace and Gromit are brought to life. There is also the chance to investigate optical illusions using hands-on exhibits; and
  • Games Lounge – A detailed look at history of gaming where students can play some of the titles which have helped establish gaming as a worldwide phenomenon, from original arcade machines through to the Microsoft Kinect.


The British Museum on Great Russell Street in London is dedicated to human history and culture. Its permanent collection of around eight million works is among the largest and most comprehensive in the world. There are dozens of galleries to see, providing a plethora of curriculum links which are particularly relevant to students studying history.

There are many ways for students to experience and engage with this unique collection from across the world. School visits are free, but should be booked at least a term in advance. Visits can be self-led (with teaching resources available) or include workshops led by the museum’s schools team. These workshops include Viking mornings for key stages two to four and sixth form, and teacher led school-exclusive mornings called ‘Ancient Lives, New Discoveries,’ for the same age range. This is by no means an exhaustive list however, with workshops available covering a wide range of cultures from Tudor times to Ancient Greece to China. Activities are available linking to a number of subjects in the school curriculum.

As well as the obvious links to history, the museum can help with the teaching of art and design, classics, maths, financial education and R.E, covering all age groups from foundations and key stage one through to years 12 and 13. Activities are also available for students with special educational needs. Free planning sessions to help teachers plan activities, discuss resources and view galleries also take place once per term.

The majority of the museum’s galleries and all special exhibitions are fully accessible and a range of facilities are available to assist, visual, hearing and mobility impaired students. Coach groups are advised to use metered parking at Montague Place, where there is space for up to six coaches.


Avon Valley Adventure & Wildlife Park combines adventure and education to provide an appreciation of the natural world. The park covers 80 acres of countryside just off the main A4 between Bath and Bristol. Residents of the park include farm animals and other wildlife species, and many of them can be touched under supervision.

The park is open every day of the year, though the riverside walk is closed from November to March as it is likely to flood during the winter. For many young school children visiting the park, they will be seeing, smelling and hearing farm animals for the first time.

Groups of 20 or more receive a 20% discount on entry, and special rates for 100 children apply. One adult enters free for every five paying school children. A risk assessment is available online.


The striking Natural History Museum in London exhibits a vast range of specimens from various stages of natural history, and is one of three large museums in the South Kensington area of London – the others being the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum – making it a good location for a day long school trip.

As well as containing amazing exhibits, the National History Museum is a striking building. VISIT BRITAIN

As well as containing amazing exhibits, the National History Museum is a striking building. VISIT BRITAIN

The museum’s schools programme offers inspirational activities for all ages and abilities. It taps into a collection of more than 70 million treasures from the natural world and is supported by world-class scientific expertise. The newly-refurbished Volcanoes and Earthquakes gallery (previously known as The Power Within) is now open and sure to be particularly interesting for a school field trip. The Museum is a leading resource for science and geography education.

Its school programme caters to all ages and levels including foundation, primary, secondary and A-level. It offers curriculum-linked events, workshops, hands-on activities and a teacher support service to help schools get the most out of their visit. All school services are free, but must be booked in advance. The museum’s hands-on workshops include the human evolution workshop, which challenges students to explore the evolutionary relationships between present day Homo sapiens and ancient humans, using the same analytical techniques as museum scientists.

Branching off from this is The Great Debate workshop, where key stage four students have the opportunity to debate Darwin’s theory of evolution. A level students can also enjoy a biology AS and A-level day, where students can meet the museum’s scientists and take guided tours of the relevant exhibitions. The museum recommends preliminary visits to help staff familiarise themselves with its facilities.

There is also a detailed events calendar which is worth going through before a visit is planned, to see if there is an event which the school trip ought to coincide with. Coach drop off is provided outside the museum’s Cromwell road entrance. The museum is also very close to Victoria Coach Station.


IWM Duxford is Britain’s best-preserved Second World War airfield, with a fascinating history which dates back to the First World War. Its story reflects the landmark achievements made in aviation history. Historic buildings sit alongside its striking contemporary exhibition halls; AirSpace and the American Air Museum.

Through the rich displays of iconic aircraft and the powerful stories of the men and women involved, the museum shows the impact of aviation on the nature of war and on people’s lives. With one of the finest collections of tanks, military vehicles and artillery in its Land Warfare exhibition, IWM Duxford shows how technological development impacts on war and conflict. School groups can explore the former RAF fighter station which was used during both the First and Second World Wars. Schools, colleges and groups, including military, overseas and youth groups, can book a self-led visit.

To enhance their visit further, a learning session or tour can also be added. Learning sessions use a wealth of artefacts and are delivered in the Clore Learning Centre or around the exhibitions. Groups should allow several hours for a visit, bring suitable outdoor clothing, and wear comfortable shoes. IWM Duxford is also famous for its air shows, though these tend to take place on bank holidays or on weekends and are not overly suitable for school visits.


The International Slavery Museum opened in August 2007 and in March 2010 welcomed its millionth visitor. It is the only museum of its kind to look at aspects of historical and contemporary slavery as well as being an international hub for resources on human rights issues.

The International Slavery Museum highlights the international importance of slavery, both in a historic and contemporary context. Working in partnership with other museums with a focus on freedom and enslavement, the museum provides opportunities for greater awareness and understanding of the legacy of slavery today.

It is located in Liverpool’s Albert Dock, at the centre of a World Heritage site and only yards away from the dry docks where 18th century slave trading ships were repaired and fitted out. The International Slavery Museum offers a range of activities, sessions and resources for education and community groups of all ages.

Learning sessions are free of charge and usually link to the national curriculum through the museum’s collections and displays. Many sessions are led by a member of the museum’s team, while some are self-led. Booking well in advance is advised. The museum runs popular handling sessions that promote an understanding of transatlantic slavery and life in West Africa from key stage 2. Activities which explore African heritage through arts, crafts, storytelling and music are available from Early Years.

Classroom teaching resources are available, on the topics of contemporary slavery, in particular for teaching citizenship in key stage two and three, the history of the transatlantic slave trade for teaching key stage two upwards, Enslaved Africans: our truth – which follows the stories of four individuals taken into slavery during the transatlantic slave trade, and Understanding Slavery, a free online resource for teachers and educators planning lessons on the transatlantic slave trade for key stage three and four pupils.


London Transport Museum explores the story of London and its transport system over the last 200 years, highlighting the powerful link between transport and the growth of modern London, culture and society since 1800.

The London Transport museum includes examples of heritage and new Routemaster buses. TFL

The London Transport museum includes examples of heritage and new Routemaster buses. TFL

The museum cares for over 450,000 items - preserving, researching and acquiring objects to use in its galleries, exhibitions and other activities. As well as exploring the past, the Museum looks at present-day transport developments and concepts for urban transportation in the future, which includes a contemporary collecting policy for the benefit of future generations.

London Transport Museum encourages people to engage with the past, present and future of London’s transport. It offers learning opportunities for schools and families, skills development and creative activities for young people.

It provides engaging programming to a wide variety of audiences at the museum in Covent Garden, the depot in Acton, and through outreach work across London. The museum delivers contemporary transport education projects on behalf of Transport for London, including the Safety and Citizenship programme.

Learning at London Transport Museum is active, experiential and supports the curriculum, with appropriate guided sessions from foundation through to key stage three. Schools can let their pupils explore the museum galleries with one of the museum’s actors, or take a more in-depth session led by a member of the learning team.

As part of a booked visit, entry to the Museum is free for UK school groups. School workshops cost between £20 and £80 per session. Teachers who have not visited the museum for a while are offered a free preliminary visit.


Located on the South bank of the River Thames, within the historic County Hall building, Sea Life London Aquarium is home to one of Europe’s largest collections of global marine life and the jewel in the crown of the UK Sea Life attractions.

The aquarium is situated right next to the London Eye, just over Westminster Bridge from Big Ben and The Houses of Parliament. Combining active, hands-on learning with fascinating educational talks and an opportunity to have an up close and personal view into its amazing aquatic world, a visit to the London Aquarium is an educational experience like no other.

Sea Life London Aquarium has 1,500 various creatures, providing an educational experience like no other

Sea Life London Aquarium has 1,500 various creatures, providing an educational experience like no other

Highlights include 1,500 creatures, including sharks, turtles, crocodiles, penguins, clownfish, rays and many more in over 50 displays, a walk under the waves in a 180º ocean tunnel, feeding demonstrations and talks and examples of marine habitats ranging from rivers and lakes to deep oceans.

There is also the opportunity to handle crabs and starfish in the aquarium’s rockpools. The aquarium’s workshops are an effective way to enhance an educational visit. Each workshop is led by the venue’s education team and includes a range of topics, practical activities and group discussions.

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