The Great Escape: Breaking down barriers to school trips


7th December 2023

As one of my first projects at CfEY, I was delighted to join the team working on a rapid review of the current landscape surrounding school trips in England on behalf of the Clore Duffield Foundation. Our project aimed to gather key insights on how school trips can be made more accessible to children and young people from underrepresented backgrounds so that the memorable and transformative experiences offered by these trips are available to all. Coming from rural North Yorkshire, the importance of this work was immediately clear to me – and I also had some sense of the barriers to access we would be investigating.

Our report sought to answer these key questions:

  1. Do school trips matter?
  2. What enables school trips to be impactful?
  3. What is the current situation regarding school trips?
  4. What are the barriers to greater participation in school trips?
  5. How are policymakers, cultural organisations, other funders and education leaders responding?

To answer these questions, we combined a rapid desk review – looking to policy reports and evaluations for evidence, as well as some additional academic literature – and interviews with senior leaders across various sectors. In these interviews, we sought the expertise of those working in culture, heritage, education, and youth work across England to inform our report. It was fascinating to participate in these interviews with leaders from so many different organisations, gathering insights on their first-hand experiences of school trips and current initiatives supporting them. 

In these discussions, the urgent need for this project and further research in this area became clear, with both the ongoing negative impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the current cost of living crisis affecting how many schools are able to offer their students cultural enrichment through trips. CfEY has consistently researched and advocated for the role of cultural enrichment in creating positive outcomes for young people, in particular in our report for NCS, which looked at the role of non-formal learning opportunities in helping children and young people recover from the negative impact of the pandemic. Several interviewees commented that schools which encountered more barriers in making school trips were much slower to return to visits after the pandemic than other schools – in particular, they noted the ongoing difficulties faced by SEND schools and schools in low-income or rural areas. 

These interviews supplemented our research review, which revealed the impact of trips both on educational outcomes, but also on personal development for young people: increased confidence, self-esteem, social and cultural capital, and community engagement. These latter outcomes were exactly those that our interviewees commented had deteriorated following the pandemic, reporting lower levels of confidence and engagement from those students attending school trips. Both our desk review and our interviews demonstrated the potential for school trips to act as the spark for a different view of the world, for improved relationships between students and teachers, for future careers, and for increased engagement with learning.

In our research, we discovered a range of initiatives and funds that aim to support school trips for students from various backgrounds. These range from travel support funds for schools, to local partnership schemes between schools and cultural organisations, to accreditation schemes for organisations offering quality school trips.

While these do not form a perfect solution, given the pressures on schools finances and staff time that seem to be worsening, they show a possible route for how the landscape of school trips can become more equitable – supporting the cost of transport, helping to build connections between schools and local culture and heritage partners, and sharing resources that help root trips within the curriculum.

Working on this project offered me a great insight into both the current landscape of the education sector and the role of CfEY within that: identifying current challenges for schools, teachers and students on many different levels, while thinking innovatively about how these challenges can be tackled with contextual sensitivity. It immediately became clear that school trips are not a pleasant optional extra but a fundamentally important experience for young people, levelling the playing field in regard to access to cultural heritage and enrichment beyond the curriculum. If we allow school trips to become a lottery, only a small group of children and young people will have access to the positive outcomes afforded by these trips, entrenching that inequality of experience.

School trips are not a pleasant optional extra but a fundamentally important experience for young people, levelling the playing field in regard to access to cultural heritage and enrichment beyond the curriculum. Share on X

In light of this, it is very hopeful to see the growing number of initiatives to tackle this inequity, and the interest of partners such as the Clore Duffield Foundation in investigating further how school trips can be made more impactful and accessible for all young people.