Schools out

Educational trips can be a complicated experience, for everyone from the teachers given the job of organising them, to the venues attempting to attract business from this key group tourism market. This is GTW’s look at some of the best options and why they are so suited to school visits, including those who help teachers with the planning process and link what they offer into the National Curriculum. Don’t miss the expert view from Ian Pearson, head of the School Travel Forum


With the current emphasis on getting youngsters out and about as much as possible, encouraging them into a lifestyle of healthy food and exercise instead of a technology-surrounded couch potato swamp, schools need to do their part in introducing pupils to the outdoors. With an emphasis on adventure and discovery, Hatton Farm Village welcomes youngsters to explore the countryside, animals, the working relationship between animals and humans and where food comes from. Adventure play, demonstrations and shows offer a fun and educational day out. Near Birmingham, the park has a programme of events that changes seasonally.

Another farm-based attraction teaching students about the history, current operations and significance of farms is Kent Life, set in 28 acres of land near Maidstone. Including a collection of historic and period decorated houses, a working farm and the last hand-picked hop garden in the country, the multi-award winning centre offers a hands-on, visual, fun and interactive approach to learning for children of all ages and abilities. The ‘Vintage Village’ offers a window into Kent’s rural past and the ‘Kentish Gardens’ are packed full of herbs with a huge range of uses from perfume to dye. The farmhouse garden shows pupils how manure from the pigsty is used to produce seasonal fruit and vegetables. Kent Life showcases and breeds traditional farm animals, with opportunities to touch and stroke some of the creatures.

White Scar Cave enjoys a magnificent setting in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The longest show cave in Britain, young visitors are introduced to the science and wonder of the subterranean world. The cave walk covers one mile led by a guide, ensuring that learning is combined with exercise! Underground streams and waterfalls, flowstone, prehistoric mud pools, and the huge Battlefield Cavern adorned with thousands of stalactites keep any age of visitor utterly fascinated, with paths and lighting ensuring it is suitable for ages five and above. School groups are fitted with hard hats on arrival, and guides will give a safety briefing before setting off into the cave. Guides then lead parties through the caverns, stopping at points of interest and adjusting their presentation to the age range and subject interests of the group. White Scar Cave provides worksheets for key stages 1, 2, 3 and 4 of the National Curriculum, which can be downloaded from their website ahead of a visit; teachers are also welcome to make a planning visit beforehand.

Schools wanting to introduce pupils to the joys of sleeping outdoors but without the hassle, worry and risks should have a look at the service Under Canvas offers. They will create a bespoke camping experience and bring everything necessary including tents, staff and activities, to set up a camp in the school grounds. Rooted in the heritage and tradition of a classic school camp, there are both overnight and day camp options, with activities available including bushcraft, team learning, creative and sport programmes. Tailored for key stages 1, 2 and 3, Under Canvas removes a vast amount of the organisation burden from teachers’ shoulders, engages children in surroundings that are familiar to them for what is likely to be their first residential experience away from home, and gives parents the comfort of knowing their child is safe and sound nearby.

Scout activity centres – ranging from Gilwell Park Scout Activity Centre in greater London to Hawkhirst Scout Activity Centre in Northumberland and spread throughout the country in between – are an opportunity for school groups to burst out of the classroom and enjoy both traditional and high-adrenaline activities. Ideal for both primary and secondary school day and residential trips, the centres each offer their own range of activities and a choice of camping or indoor lodges for accommodation. Depending on location and facilities, activities are likely to include abseiling, archery, cooking outdoors, sailing, raft building, zip wires, orienteering and shelter building.

Youth Fun Days works with top UK attractions including Alton Towers, Warwick Castle, Sea Life centres and Longleat Safari Park to bring adventure to young people. The only not-for-profit company providing easy group access to a number of attractions with great discount prices, 2013 saw them celebrate 20 years. To complement their portfolio of attractions, they are now able to offer great rates for school trips during school term-time to Alton Towers, Warwick Castle and many others offered by the Merlin group.


It can be difficult to engage pupils in history lessons, yet the subject has so much scope for more imaginative ways of instruction and learning. Making the most of modern technology, the Roman Army Museum features a holographic Roman teacher who instructs groups in geography, Latin, maths and morals. An award-winning 3D film, ‘Edge of Empire – the Eagle’s Eye’, takes pupils back in time to experience the Roman world coming alive around them. Interactive displays, replica and real artefacts fill this spacious indoor museum. Only seven miles away, the Roman Vindolanda site lies just to the south of Hadrian's Wall. Vindolanda was occupied for over 300 years and was an important frontier fort and village. Here, students can view some of the real remains and buildings. The excavations reveal the hidden stories of a mixed community of soldiers, families and traders; buildings unearthed so far include a pre-Hadrianic bath house, several commanding officers’ residences and some barracks, 3rd and 4th century evidence of civilian houses and workshops, latrines, a Roman Celtic temple to an unknown God, and a post-Roman mausoleum and Christian church. Vindolanda archaeologists are available for giving talks to school groups and pupils can actually witness live excavations taking place.
Other Roman sites ideal for school visits include Wroxeter Roman City, Lullingstone Roman Villa and Portchester Castle, all operated by English Heritage.

Coming forward in time, Fairfax House in York is one of the finest Georgian townhouses in England. The perfectly preserved and recreated capsule of Georgian life transports visiting pupils back in time to the 18thcentury. Groups get a feel for how people lived and how roles differed, both above and below stairs, including aspects such as diet, lifestyle and the everyday objects in the surroundings of the people.

At Hartlebury County Museum in Worcestershire, a rich programme of curriculum-related services is offered, representing a creative way for pupils to learn about and explore the past. In the schoolroom, school ma’am Miss Proper receives classes for instruction in the manner of Victorian times – appropriate costume can even be provided. Interactive role play sessions continue ‘below stairs’, where the class is invited to apply for the positions of boot boy and scullery maid, before being set to work by the housemaid using authentic equipment. Looking at the more recent past, a ‘classroom at war’ session gives pupils a chance to experience a school lesson from the point of view of a wartime evacuee. Suitable for key stages 1, 2 and beyond, all these activities include a number of teaching methods to suit children’s different learning styles and can be tailor-made to suit the abilities and requirements of a group. Teachers can even download the outlines of all these sessions and further activity worksheets.

In Teesdale, County Durham, the Bowes Museum is a nationally-renowned art collection housed in a grand French style chateau which took 23 years to complete. The building was purpose-built as a public art gallery for John Bowes and his wife Joséphine Chevalier, Countess of Montalbo, who both died before it opened in 1892. An award-winning team provides a range of hands-on activities and practical workshops, all closely tailored to complement the National Curriculum. Pupils and teachers are welcome to combine an exploration of the inspirational collection with a session with the team in the specially adapted high-tech education suite.

School groups visiting the Galleries of Justice Museum based in Nottingham’s old courthouse and gaol can enjoy educational sessions that will teach citizenship, PSHE and law as well as history. The National Centre for Citizenship and the Law delivers sessions to primary schools, secondary schools, colleges and university students. Activities might include a Victorian courtroom workshop, a 1942 classroom experience including gas mask training and air raid practice, or a tour of the original police headquarters.


One of the key points of any school trip is to enable pupils to experience sights and activities that would be impossible or difficult in a classroom environment. Eureka! The National Children's Museum in Yorkshire is an interactive learning museum and educational charity, with all galleries and programmes linked to the National Curriculum. Aimed at ages 0 to 11, all the hands-on exhibits are designed to encourage learning in a fun environment; opened in 1992, Eureka! is based on the North American model of children’s museums. Sections include ‘All About Me’, ‘Living and Working Together’ and ‘SoundSpace’ as well as outdoor areas such as the ‘Wonder Walk’ sensory trail. One of the best things about Eureka! is that it is designed and run by experts, who are also available to give workshops to school groups.

At-Bristol is one of the UK’s most popular science centres, welcoming over 50,000 school visits each year. The comprehensive learning programme ensures that every visit is curriculum-linked and programmes aimed at primary and secondary school stages are available to download from their website. Interactive exhibits, on everything from the brain to DNA to tornados, are just the beginning of what At-Bristol has to offer schools – workshops covering a wide range of curriculum topics, science theatre shows, themed days, live experiments and dissections and a planetarium are some of the other services available. Another destination including a planetarium (the largest in the north), the Centre for Life in Newcastle-upon-Tyne is an award-winning and pioneering science centre and village. The Centre for Life’s mission is to ‘be the best place in the UK for enthusing and engaging everyone in science’. Almost 600 people from 35 countries work at the site, undertaking world-class scientific research in medicine. The education department offers over 100 curriculum-linked workshops for educational groups ranging from reception age to adults. The centre plays an important role in allowing education group visitors access to expertise, facilities and equipment that would not normally be found in schools and colleges.

The Making it! Discovery Centre in Mansfield helpfully directly targets the Design and Technology modules of key stages 1 and 2, offering practical, hands-on activities. Groups discover for themselves how things are invented, designed, tested, manufactured and distributed, and each child makes a working model to take back to school. Resource packs, including worksheets for follow-up activities once back in the classroom, are available on the website for teachers.

The Deep, Hull’s award-winning aquarium, lets students get up close to thrilling creatures of the sea. Over 30,000 primary and secondary school pupils enjoy a visit and a workshop in the purpose-built learning centre every year, as National Curriculum sessions use a range of teaching methods to engage students in everything from geography and design technology to science and maths. As with many of the places recommended here, free teacher preview visits are always available.

Set in the gigantic and awe-inspiring former Templeborough Steelworks, the Magna Science Adventure Centre in Rotherham houses over 100 exhibits in four pavilions focusing on air, earth, fire and water. A varied programme of curriculum-linked workshops and presentations is available for school groups in addition to the interactive permanent exhibits – ‘Fabulous Sound Machines’ is the latest exciting new temporary exhibition. Bungee harps, bellows and bottle organs mix with huge pendulums, slate and steel, encouraging students to explore how sound is made by these materials and trigger waves of colour rippling around the vast space.

Ian Pearson is the general manager of the School Travel Forum, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to promoting good practice in school travel, and is a trustee of the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom. Contact him at

“With School Travel Forum members reporting more than 16,000 study, sports and ski residentials last year, the value of school groups to the travel market is significant. From simple visits to local attractions to horizon-stretching expeditions, the scope and range of trips is huge.

The greater focus on results within schools has meant that all trips are scrutinised at senior management and governor level to ensure they have clear educational objectives. No longer are they ‘a bit of fun for the kids’, nor are they holidays. With evidence of the benefits of learning in the real world being highlighted by organisations such as OFSTED, forward-thinking schools are ensuring getting out is an integral part of their curriculum, with tours designed to complement and reinforce classroom work. Suppliers have to react to this challenge and a good example of how things are changing can be found by a quick look at specialist tour operators’ websites; they now promote their tours by curriculum links rather than just by destination or accommodation.

Of course, there is often a lack of time, expertise and money for schools to invest in curriculum development and for suppliers to develop relevant education content, but there is an affordable, unique resource that can help. Since the launch of the Learning Outside the Classroom manifesto in November 2006 and the subsequent creation of the Council for LOtC, the council has become the national voice and champion of the benefits of real-world learning. As part of their work they have developed several initiatives which help both schools and providers:

  • Membership For a very modest annual fee, members can access a wide range of resources, networks and good practice advice. In addition, membership supports the work of the council to promote and develop the school trip market further.
  • LOtC Quality Badge for providers Now widely recognised and supported, the award of the LOtC Quality Badge indicates that the provider understands schools’ needs and can tailor their offer to fit in with both current curriculum requirements and any specific requirements of the school.   Different types of supplier are all catered for under the scheme. Today, the majority of local authority outdoor education advisors actively recommend travel with or to a LOtC Quality-Badged supplier.
  • LOtC mark for schools This new award is the first national accreditation for schools which recognise and support the development of learning outside the classroom across all subject areas.

As recognition of the benefits of LOtC increases, there is little chance that educational group travel will return to a less-structured approach. The council’s work is an important resource for everyone involved; visit their website for more information.”



Stay Up To Date

Sign up for our newsletter

Sign up for our regular newsletter to ensure you don’t miss out on our latest news and offers.
Footer CTA - Newsletter