Two weeks ago I was losing sleep through anxiety. I was dreaming about losing students in crowds; imagining the horror of kids sneaking drink and drugs into their hotel room; I had visions of my class being hit by an S-bahn train. But on a cold, wet Monday after a weekend spent with fifty-one of Year 11 students in sunny Berlin I realise that this was all worth it.
School trips are fundamental to history. There is often no better way of learning about the past than visiting the sites that you teach. Crowding round a falling down Station Z at Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp you can see kids realising the full extent of the Nazi crimes. Physically touching the Wall at the East Side Gallery you appreciate the brutality of imprisoning a population. Standing underneath the Brandenburg Gate you can actively imagine Napoleon riding triumphantly past you on his way to disaster in Moscow. These are all Berlin examples but I could easily sing the praises of going to Chepstow Castle, Tintern Abbey or even simply popping down the road to Bristol Museum. It doesn’t matter where you visit I genuinely believe the impact is similar. Schools trips are ace.
But none of this is easy. School leadership teams faced by budget cuts and increasing pressure to improve results make you jump through a plethora of hoops to even get the trip approved. Risk assessments and insurance worries mean prices are rising and sadly becoming unrealistic for some. Other departments will moan about the impact on their curriculum. The trips are tiring beasts for those members of staff who attend. Add all this on top of an increasing workload due to curriculum change and exam pressure and it can be a daunting prospect.
BUT (and it’s important to capitalise it!) school history needs trips. They enliven a curriculum, make the subject real and provide a connection to the past like nothing else. We need to forget the anxiety and problems and remember why we do it.
For me, this means remembering the individual kids who are affected by these experiences. For me the rugby playing giant who burst into tears at Sachsenhausen or the normally surly unengaged girl who begged us to stay for a further 15 minutes at the Topography of Terror. That’s why I run trips and despite my lost sleep why I’ll be back in Berlin with Year 11 next autumn.