We caught up with Tom, a teacher from Yarrell’s Preparatory School who recently booked a 3 night, 4 day residential trip with New Forest Activities. In this blog post, Tom tells us what his experience with us was like, what he was looking to achieve from his school trip and most importantly; what the students got out of the experience.
Let’s dive right in Tom! What does your process for planning a school trip involve?
For us, what we generally do is look at the cohort of children that we have and potentially look at any needs those children might have. We then discuss with form teachers what they want to get as an outcome for those children. Then, we’ll look at what the best way to approach that is; whether that be camping or a building they might want to be in, we look at the activities on offer and what we think the children will gain from them.
I normally plan the residential trips for the senior part of the school, so I might then to go to certain staff members and try and get the right staff members to go on that trip. Potentially staff members that want to be there, who may be more interested in things that are outdoors and who have a relationship with the kids we’re taking. We would then really be looking at providers and seeing what they can offer and hopefully going out and having a chance to visit them and deciding whether we want to take them up on that. There is a process that I also need go through with the head of the school where I report back to her. Maybe tell her what I think of certain places I’ve been to, to make sure that she understands what the benefits of these places are, what they can offer and why I think it would be a good place to go. Then we’d look into booking it and tying down the activities.
What are some common obstacles that teachers come up against when planning school trips?
The biggest obstacle if I’m honest, is probably making sure that you have the right staff. We’re a private school so we’re very lucky with our holidays. The majority of our staff have families, and the holidays, weekends and even evenings actually; sometimes people feel these are sacred so it’s trying to make sure (from a school stand point) that we have the right staff, but also that the right staff want to be there. If they don’t, then it’s not really worth having them there. In some ways it’s much better to have someone who wants to be there than someone who’s very good, but doesn’t want to be. It’s trying to make sure that everyone knows what the benefits are of taking children on these sorts of trips. I think if I was going to pick one, that would be the one for me.
What were you looking to specifically achieve from your school trip?
When we take our year 7’s and 8’s away; just the year before in year 6 we have a cohort of normally 40-45 for one-year group and then a large number of our children will then move on to the local grammar school. One of our jobs is to prepare them for that, so actually the numbers become much smaller. Many of the children may have had close friends who’ve moved on and they’re now taught in smaller groups, so it may be that friendships are either needing to be strengthened between children who’ve not necessarily seen each other as friends before, or that new friendships are cultivated by experiencing something outside of school.
If I’m honest, the huge benefit for us in going on an outward bound residential trip is that you have the opportunity to see children who may not shine in academic assessment, but when taken out onto any number of the activities that New Forest Activities’ put on for us, it may well be that those children actually get the opportunity to show emotional intelligence, ability to work in a team, potentially some leadership skills and actually, I think the big one for me is the empathy around the ability that some people have or do not have to do the activities.
The love that I get from it, is to see children who may not get the opportunity to achieve extremely highly (obviously we want every child to achieve in school, but they are well aware of their own abilities) and it’s nice to see different children shine and give them an opportunity to thrive in a different environment.
Why did you choose New Forest Activities?
I chose New Forest Activities because of a recommendation that was given to me. The recommendation was from a person that I value quite highly anyway and I value his opinion. The recommendation he gave was that every person that works at New Forest Activities is a pro-active instructor and the philosophy behind the company (and I suppose, the ethos of the company) is that everyone who does it wants to be there and wants the right outcomes for the children. For me, if someone says something like that it hits quite hard because that’s exactly what I want for the children. We’ve all taken children on residentials where the instructor is waiting for his tea break and if I’m honest it’s a matter of about 3 minutes before the thing falls apart because the kids can see through it quicker than I can; so they’ll pick him apart. And actually, the joy for me on the residential was that the recommendation that was given was true; because every instructor that lead every activity was on it, wanted to be there and were checking individual needs, which is why the activities ran so well.
Tell us about your booking experience with New Forest Activities…
Our booking experience was thoughtful, it was flexible, was sensitive to the needs of the children that we brought and was really easy. The admin team were very open to any discussions we had. Sam in particular paid attention to the fact that we wanted a particular experience for our children and from the initial discussion that we had (which was around the outcomes that we hoped to expect) the outcomes were always revisited to ensure that actually; this is what those children will achieve, which was quite refreshing.
Our booking experience was thoughtful, it was flexible, was sensitive to the needs of the children that we brought and was really easy.
Do you think that your school trip with New Forest Activities was good value for money and worth the investment?
Yes, I do. I don’t think you can put money on what the children did. There were no incidents, there weren’t any fallings out, everybody got on well and every child can refer back to what they took from that trip. Maybe the price for being under canvas was slightly higher than we thought it might have been for that experience however, the experience that every child took from that trip far outweighed the costs for us. The fact that every activity was great, the meals were very good quality (the children enjoyed those!) The fact that there were tea and coffee facilities in the cooking tent and other little things like that meant it was very good value.
What was the feedback like from your students?
The students loved it. They’ve got fantastic memories from the trip. They enjoyed the activities, they loved the instructors which is testament to New Forest Activities really. You can see how much the children took from it and what relationships they built with the instructors over a short period of time. They loved the experience, they loved every person that was with us. There was always people milling around checking how people were getting on, which (the children) enjoyed. It’s another outdoor interaction which was a positive one too.
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One thing we’ve found after talking to other schools is that they seem to use the same provider year after year and are quite hesitant to change to a different one. Why do you think that is?
Because it’s easy. If I’m honest I teach and have a number of other responsibilities. From my point of view, if I’m a class teacher and I’m assigned with finding a residential as part of my role; with the best will in the world, I’m not given any additional salary, I’m not given any extra time to plan it. A lot of that planning comes in during times when actually you don’t have the time or the resources to really put into it, so you need to know that what you’re going to get is going to be an experience that is positive.
Sadly, nobody wants to take a risk and if people know what they’re getting and they’ve gone to the same place for 10 years then that’s an easier option for them. It’s all about trying to break that cycle. For us, the person that planned trips before me always booked with PGL. You almost click and you’re booked. And you don’t even have to go to the activities, and there’s a bar and Wi-Fi. I can see why they book that because it’s a busy job but I sort of changed that because I didn’t like the experience the children were getting. It was just a little bit like a theme park so that’s why we changed it. I do understand why people stick with the same providers because it’s a busy job. But for the children, when they go back to somewhere, it’s not quite so fresh and new and I think that part of the experience is taking them somewhere they haven’t been before.
What was your personal highlight?
I enjoyed the fact that all the people that were involved with the kids had a similar outlook on what we wanted the children to achieve. Personally, if I was being completely selfish and talking about what I enjoyed, I really enjoyed the laser tag in the woods on the last morning. It’s because we (the teachers) got involved and it was a lot of fun. It was a really nice culmination for all of the students and to see them working as a team was great. And I guess to see the planning process that we’d been through with Sam; to see all those pieces fit together as well as they did was what I really enjoyed.
Also, the free time on the campsite when they’ve finished an activity and they’ve got half an hour and they’re just being silly. It’s those nothing times (which is actually part of the reason why we moved away from PGL) where you see the improvement and interaction between each other. That really is quite a bonus.
The students loved it. They’ve got fantastic memories from the trip. They enjoyed the activities, they loved the instructors which is testament to New Forest Activities really. You can see how much the children took from it and what relationships they built with the instructors over a short period of time.
What would you say to people considering booking with New Forest Activities?
I’d say take a punt and do it. I think if we hadn’t then we wouldn’t have seen the difference between what has been provided for us before. So, we’ve been to places and we’ve camped and done activities and it just hasn’t gelled. But this time it just did and its testament to the people involved in it. It just all fitted, just as you’d hope it would. I think unless you take a punt then you won’t have that experience.