The School Visits Market - Change or Decline?
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In the past three decades schools have been dramatically transformed in
both the manner in which they teach and the way in which they are
managed. This article considers the nature of these developments and their
impact on the pattern and volume of school visits to tourist and leisure
attractions. It also suggests strategies which the tourism and leisure industry
needs to adopt in response to these trends, if the industry is to retain and grow
the business benefits it derives from educational tourism.
For a total of 15 years the author has worked as a full time teacher, first entering the
profession in the late1970s. Thirty years on and schools are very different in the way
they are organised, managed, financed, and in how and what they teach. These trends
are clearly manifesting themselves in the dramatically changed attitude of teachers
towards the educational visits which they organise.
Addressing the most important of these trends and their implications for the tourism
and leisure industry in Britain is the focus of this article. The information presented here
is derived both from personal experience of the author and many years of research into
the travel patterns of schools and other institutions of higher education. These issues
will be discussed here, in the context of the following societal trends:
- As British society is becoming increasingly litigious, teachers have grown more
- The composition of the teaching profession has undergone significant
transformation over the last 20 years.
- The attitude of parents towards the role of schools and teachers has also
- The concept of that which constitutes a ‘good education’ is not only different
but also more quantifiable, and the measurement of these results has
implications for the job security of those who are responsible for them.
- The means through which young people can gain information about
and perceptions of environments beyond their own has dramatically
changed, to the point that ‘going there’ is not always a pre-requisite of learning
- The majority of teachers retain a belief that learning beyond the classroom
remains a good thing. This view is particularly strong among teachers working
in schools in poorer areas.
The principal benefits of school visit organisation may be summarised as follows:
These are most commonly made to visitor attractions and leisure facilities that benefit
- off-peak cash flow – seasonal in the case of visitor attractions and daily for
leisure facilities, such as swimming baths and sports centres;
- fulfilment of an organisation’s chartered function – its educational role;
- an ill-defined and untested notion of seed corn marketing. 
Both domestic and overseas destinations benefit from these visits. The thriving
outbound school travel market includes late-season ski trips during school holiday
periods, exchange visits, and an increasing number of field study trips to destinations as
widespread as Florence, the Atlas Mountains of North Africa, and the Nazi-era
At a domestic level, the primary beneficiaries of such visits are budget accommodation
providers, field study centres, outdoor activity/adventure centres, and the local
economies in which they are located. The extent to which visitor attractions
benefit from these visits will depend on their willingness to be open at times when
schools undertake them. This tends to be more common in urban/metropolitan areas
At this point it is important to return to the six trends identified in the first part of this
article but to look at them from the teacher’s perspective:
- Teachers may want to organise visits but the events over the last decade have
taught them that, in case of an accident, their promotion prospects may be
jeopardised, their security of employment lost and, at worst, they may face
- Whatever else they might be, the majority of today’s teachers do not conform
to the traditional hybrid of devoted community figure and self-sacrificing
servant of the young.
- Increased parental influence in schools, such as parent governors, and greater
freedom in selecting schools means that teachers’ activities could be challenged
or rejected by the parent body.
- The performance of schools and their Local Education Authorities is increasingly
monitored by central government bodies, such as the Department for
Education and Skills (DfES) and OFSTED. The first monitors the measurable
outcomes of the educational process in individual schools with tests or
examination results, the second examines schools’ teaching and organisational
methods. When an OFSTED report puts a school in the ‘failing’ category, its
teachers face future employment uncertainty, and an instant ‘stain’ on their
- The knowledge component of the National Curriculum can be gained through
a range of means, access to many of which – text books, recorded TV
programmes and Internet sites – is far less stressful and carries less risk than
travelling away from the controlled environment of the school.
- But, the view of the majority of teachers remains – visits are a good thing to
undertake. Moreover, many of them conclude that if they don’t carry them
out – who will?
In 1998, the DfES published Health and Safety of Pupils on Educational Visits, generally
known as HASPEV. The document was, in part, a response to rising public concern
following a series of accidents, involving pupils engaged in curriculum-related activities
organised by their schools/colleges but outside their confines.
HASPEV was also a response to a rising concern within education regarding educational
visits. At all times during the school day, teachers are acting in a loco parentis role and,
therefore, have a professional responsibility for the health and safety of their pupils, a
responsibility which applies wherever a school-organised activity takes place. Schools
and Local Education Authorities also have a similar employer liability for the health and
safety of their teacher employees.
HASPEV is, in effect, a Code of Practice in the organisation of educational visits of all
types. Written in the form of advice to teachers, it was generally received as a timely
and practical reminder of good practice. In 2002, a three-part supplement to HASPEV
was produced with more detailed guidance to LEAs, teachers and other group
organisers and to organisers of adventure activity visits. [2&3] Copies of these guidelines can be downloaded from www.teachernet.gov.uk/visits.
 Note: this is not the case for schools in Wales, where the National Assembly Government has yet to publish any guidelines
to schools in regard to the HASPEV document.
The spirit of HASPEV and its supplement is supportive of learning beyond the classroom
and is a form of reassurance to teachers – if their visit organisation procedures meet its
criteria then they are following good professional practice.
Any tourism operator hosting a school visit for pupils under the age of 18 is now
regarded as a sub-contractor to the school, supplying part of the educational
programme. Businesses seeking such contractor status must, therefore, meet all Health
& Safety requirements imposed upon schools. It is as if they have become part of the
school for the duration of the visit.
There is no legal obligation on tourism operators to meet these requirements but failure
to provide documented proof that they do so simply means that school governing
bodies and LEAs are not in a position to sanction visits to them.
When a school organises a visit of any kind it must follow procedures laid out in
HASPEV. Many of these are of an internal management nature, such as contact with
parents, adequate briefing and preparation of pupils etc. A much larger component of the procedures involves risk assessment concerned with visits, and falls into the
following three categories:
- site/visit-specific – risks associated with the specific choice of destination for the
visit, the journey to it, the characteristics of the pupils being taken on the visit and
the visitor management procedures at the venue or destination;
- generic – these risks vary depending on the nature of the activity undertaken at
different destinations, eg a day visit to an art gallery as opposed to a day’s abseiling.
- ongoing – these are the worst-case scenario risks (‘what happens if?’) and
assessment of the likely effectiveness of the procedures in place to cope with them.
Operators can greatly assist schools in the process of visit organisation where they can
quickly supply what may be termed a Risk Assessment Profile
, in which they show
that they have in place procedures and provisions that address the three categories
The operator has to provide proof that an assessment of the risks faced by any visitor in
all aspects of the site or activity has been undertaken and risk management procedures
implemented accordingly. Of particular concern to schools here are such factors as
pedestrian movement through traffic congestion from drop off point to venue entry,
and meeting points within the venue.
Teachers are required to make pre-visit inspections of any destination to which they are
organising a visit for the first time, to assess the risks in regard to the individual
character of the group they are planning to take there. The Profile, therefore, needs to
supply details of when they might do this and what the programme for such an
inspection will be.
The operator has to provide the proof that:
- the facilities at the site meet all the requirements of The Health and Safety
Executive for use by the public and that all fire certificates are current,
- the site has adequate Public Liability Insurance,
- First Aid facilities are available and that emergency/accident procedures are
clearly defined, known to all employees, and made available to teachers.
procedures must include telephone numbers and detailed locations of all
nearest emergency service providers.
In the case of visitor attractions and accommodation providers, membership of an
accreditation scheme may be seen as being indicative of competence, and for
adventure activities any centre licensed under the Adventure Activities Licensing
Authority (AALA) would be seen as likely to provide acceptable standards of safety
The operator has to provide evidence to show that there are functioning channels of
communication between school group leaders and the site management throughout
the duration of the visit and a line of communication between site management and
the group’s school. (This is worst-case scenario provision – you host a visit of 15 pupils
in a mini bus with two teachers accompanying them. An accident occurs which
hospitalises both teachers. How do you get the children home?)
For the majority of tourism operators the provision of such a portfolio of evidence will
mean little more than photocopying a collection of existing documents which are then
supplied to the school. A sensible and low-cost practice already adopted by many
operators – creation of a Pdf file attached to a website which can then be downloaded
by the teacher organiser – is equally acceptable.
HASPEV suggests that it is good practice for all LEAs to have an outdoor education
adviser (where outdoor should be read as ‘off site’), who takes responsibility for
ensuring that visit organisation of all its schools is in line with both LEA policy and its
own guidelines. In practice, this role has usually been allocated to an adviser with other,
related, functions and is not a discrete post in itself.
Schools are encouraged to appoint an Educational Visits Co-ordinator (EVC), with a
similar role within the school and a liaison function with its LEA. In practice, however, it
has been attached to the job specification of a senior staff member, frequently the
The teacher organising a visit, therefore, must supply the Risk Assessment Profile of
the chosen destination to the school’s EVC in order to gain approval to proceed.
Two factors need to be noted in regard to what is now a system of good practice in
- Whenever the DfES makes recommendations to LEAs and schools in regard to
good practice, it always allows for local practice. There is, therefore, no one,
common system, and procedures will vary across LEAs. Gaining what may be
termed approved contractor status is not, therefore, about being on some
magical list, held by all LEAs. It is much more a matter of knowing that you have
the status because your business operation accords with the guidelines issued
through HASPEV and you can readily supply proof to this effect.
- Outdoor education advisers at LEAs and EVCs in schools are not good targets
for enthusiastic marketing officers in the tourism industry. Their task is not to
sell individual businesses to their schools or teachers but to oversee a code of
good professional practice, designed to ensure that the health and safety of
pupils is not put in jeopardy when part of the education programme is put out
to contract in the tourism and leisure industry.
While the first change to school visit organisation came in the form of a recommended
Code of Practice, the second was a legal document – the 1999 Protection of Children
Act. Issued in May 2002 by the DfES, Child Protection: Preventing Unsuitable People
from working with children and young persons in the education service required that
all adults having significant contact with pupils were to be vetted.
The consensus interpretation is that when children go on a school visit they are, in
effect, still at school. Tourism and leisure businesses which host school parties must,
therefore, consider which of their staff have contact with pupils, contact which could
be described as significant, and then ensure that such staff have been vetted by the
revised system. One of the truly heartening developments in recent years has been that
of observing just how readily certain sectors of the tourism and leisure industry, notably
adventure activities, welcomed the new procedures and worked quickly and hard to
comply with them.
If a school is to visit any establishment where employed adults could have significant
contact with pupils, then a Risk Assessment Profile must also include a statement that
these adults have been vetted as suitable according to the new system. The meaning of
‘significant’ hasn’t yet been defined but some common sense guidelines suggest that
RAP applies to the personnel at:
- visitor attractions/museums/theatres:
- Education Officers – best regarded as teachers on a supply basis,
- guides (paid or volunteer) who are in close proximity of pupils, whether or not
a teacher is also present,
- anyone who enters an area in which children need to change into costume,
- cleaners who may be required to clean facilities during periods when they could
be used by pupils.
- centres providing residential accommodation for schools
- probably all staff, including cleaners, but with the possible exception of those
working entirely in kitchens,
- any ‘outreach’ staff who visit schools and make presentations to pupils.
- adventure activity centres/sports centres/swimming pools: clearly all instructors and, where accommodation is provided on site, the guidelines
apply as for residential centres. Note, too, that the practice of arranging
accommodation for schools for the duration of a residential stay at third party
residential centres carries with it the responsibility to ensure that staff at such centres
has been vetted as in the preceding guidelines.
Anyone working in the schools and colleges which educate young people has to obtain
an Enhanced Disclosure statement from the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB). As schools
sub-contract part of the education process out to tourism and leisure operators, their
staff, subject to the guidelines above, must comply with this procedure.
Application for a disclosure is made by the employer on behalf of employees and job
To apply for disclosures involves registration with the CRB and then a fee
is charged per application. It is not necessary for small businesses to pay the
registration fee. The CRB has made arrangements for certain registered users to become
so-called ‘umbrella bodies’ who can make application on behalf of third parties. Details
of such umbrella bodies can be obtained from the Disclosure Service website www.disclosure.gov.uk.
Today, an increasing proportion of pupils come from families in which both parents or
the only parent work full time. A greater parental choice of school also means that
pupils’ journey to and from school can be longer and more complex. Parents have to
make secure provisions for their children for the school journey, and they are usually
focused around the conventional times of a school day – broadly 08.30 – 15.45. They
are not so willing or able as they once were to make changes to these arrangements to
accommodate ex-curriculum school activities.
School day visits, in particular, are being affected by this. Time available within the day
is restricted to 6 – 6.5 hours. Visits cost both parents and schools significant sums of
money – the parents paying the lesser costs of entry fees and transport, whilst the
school faces the disruption and increased teaching costs, considered in greater detail
below. If that money is to be well spent, then the majority of the time must be in the
environment considered worthy of visiting and not on Britain’s unpredictable motorway
The duration of journeys which schools are willing to make in order to make visits has
fallen and journeys to the coastal or Celtic fringes have become less appealing. This has
occurred at a time when Britain’s metropolitan areas, in or around which the majority
of schools are located, have seen their economies shift away from manufacturing to
service industries, such as tourism. Various forms of public sector funding have helped
to preserve industrial heritage (a major curriculum topic at Key Stage 3), and aided the
development of many new, high quality attractions with a marked emphasis on science
and technology – two of the sacred cows of 21st-century government ambitions for
There is little evidence to suggest that the average number of school day trips is falling.
However, they are more likely to be taken locally and at easily reached destinations,
rather than at those distant from the school. Given that the vast majority of schools are
in urban conurbations, this means a redistribution of school visits away from rural in
favour of urban locations.
This trend has different implications, therefore, according to location. It gives urban
visitor attractions the opportunity to establish what can be termed as learning
partnerships with schools in its immediate environment, of which there will be many.
Such partnerships will not be developed through conventional, promotional advertising
tactics but through business-to-business, direct and face-to-face contact with schools.
Such a contact has to be honest and expressed along the following lines: “I wish to
become a sub-contractor to the educational process for which you are responsible. How
best can I service a learning need which cannot be fulfilled by you within the confines
of this school?”
Such a contract can be developed by visitor attractions in rural areas but the potential
business benefits are smaller. In many rural areas of Britain, the plethora of visitor
attractions results in an attraction to school ratio as low as 1:5. Clearly, too, for the
providers of residential accommodation, field study centres and activity pursuits, local
schools are an insufficient market. The task facing them becomes one of creating more
schools’ visits to a rural area, which could be achieved by attracting urban schools to
rural areas on residential visits.
The financial constraints imposed by the government on school budgets in the 1980s had
a direct and instant impact on teachers. Since the teaching salary budget was the single
largest component of a school’s costs, it was an obvious target of cost-cutting measures.
The incremental salary scale of teachers makes them more expensive as they become
The offer of early retirement in the 1990s to a cohort of teachers in
their 50s was gladly taken up by a generation of the profession who felt themselves to
be drowning in the monsoon of change. Many of the teachers who left at that time were
in the middle management strata of schools, with a lot of experience in organising visits
for pupils. They were replaced by cheaper, younger and often newly-qualified staff, a
high proportion of whom were retained only on a fixed, short-term contract.
The organisation of a visit is a long and detailed process for teachers and not something
expected of a new entrant to the profession. A headteacher is also unlikely to
encourage a member of staff to devote time to such an activity when they know it is
possible they will not be able to retain that person until the time of the visit.
The main issues in this context are to do with the targeting of marketing activities aimed
at schools and the confidence with which schools can purchase educational visits.
To take targeting first: it has already been stated that senior members of school
personnel are not good targets for marketing initiatives. It must be remembered that
the senior management team of a secondary school and the headteacher and
deputy/ies of a primary school are very busy professionals and are not visit organisers
and, therefore, do not take kindly to being inundated with a mass of literature from
individual tourism operators.
Senior teachers in any school do, however, have responsibility for their school’s visit
policy, along with their governors. The decision to organise a visit no longer belongs to
the individual teacher but rather it is an all-school decision. An approach to a
headteacher, which is introductory by nature, seeking permission to approach individual
members of the teaching staff is more reflective of the stakeholder style of modern
school management. The school is, after all, receiving not a request to simply organise
a visit somewhere but rather to sub-contract out part of the educational process to a
third party. It can be seen, therefore, as not a question of who you target but more a
matter of how you do it.
Clearly, too, it is senior management of schools that has the greatest understanding of
the complexities and risks inherent in visit organisation. Gaining their confidence in
considering the possibility of entering into what may be a long-standing business
arrangement is the marketing platform one has to first build. This is more likely to be
achieved where an initial marketing approach emphasises quality, third party
accreditation, or verification and recognition of the importance of the decision to the
school. Moreover, only the largest tourism and leisure organisations can accomplish this
on their own and for the majority some form of collective marketing approach, on a
regional basis or by type of tourism interest, will be necessary in the future.
As the younger teachers gain their experience, they draw upon a different form of initial
training. Led by the pioneering teacher training establishments in higher education,
there has been a move away from training new teachers to know what children should
learn and towards a more detailed understanding of how children can learn anything if
they have the skills to apply to the task.
The National Curriculum itself is not just a body of knowledge which young people
must ‘know’ by certain chronological stages in their young lives. It is also a statement
of what young people should be able to do – skills which they can transfer into and
deploy in further study and later life. Allied to this framework of Attainment Targets is
a menu of recommended study topics which might best promote these skills, whilst also
reflecting the nation’s expectation as to what constitutes worthwhile or essential
knowledge. The menu itself is not totally prescriptive but more a la carte, with limited
provision for choice of study topics.
This concept of education as not being about knowledge per se but also about the skills
and understanding promoted through acquisition of that knowledge has had a major
impact upon the style of classroom teaching. It has moved, and is still moving, away
from what may be termed didactic methods – telling pupils, making them read, listen
to or copy down what they have to know in order to pass an examination. Like their
parents, the teachers of today’s children know that children learn best when, in
educational jargon, they are active – ‘on task’.
Again we return to the notion of sub-contracting. When pupils go on visits it is part
of their education and, therefore, teachers will look favourably upon those venues
where the style of presentation reflects the current teaching style. Youngsters who
have been encouraged to find out, work independently or in groups on prescribed tasks
will find it difficult – and certainly boring – to be subjected to a style of
presentation at a visitor attraction in which their part is purely that of passive recipient
in an audience.
Of critical importance here, too, is once again the attitude of senior management in
schools. Formal, researched evidence that children learn best – or anything at all – by
visiting is scant. The risks associated with it as a teaching method are now significantly
higher. The questions in the collective mind of the school will be – is it worth it? Does
it work? Furthermore, even if it can be shown to work as a teaching method, what are
the costs of it relative to other methods of learning?
These are all too often simplistically dismissed as being the costs of transport and those
of venue entry, activity purchase or overnight accommodation charge. Except in
circumstances of financial hardship, such costs are paid by the parents, not by the
school. If one takes as an example a decision to organise a visit to a visitor attraction for
the day for 40 pupils in two classes and assumes an entry fee of £3 per head then, with
the day hire on a coach costing in the region of £250, the cost per pupil becomes
When children are taught in a school, the teacher to pupil ratio can be as low as 1:30.
The DfES has issued guidelines to schools in which the minimum teacher to pupil ratio
when on visits outside the school is 1:20 and as high as 1:8, depending on the age of
the pupils. In days of yore, this increase in the number of adults accompanying a school
party could be subsidised through parent volunteers.
Increased economic activity rate of
the population, a change as to how parents regard the role of schools, and the recent
guidelines from the DfES as to who is both qualified and suitable to be a school party
leader, have weakened that source of volunteer labour supply.
Our hypothetical party of 40 pupils which, in a primary school, could easily have been
taught by two teachers, will now require three as they are going on a visit. Replacement,
or as they are known, supply teachers, cost in a range of £120–150 per day, paid for by
In a primary school our party would also have been taught by the same teacher for the
entire day. In a secondary school the matter is far more complex.
The practices of setting
– allocating pupils to classes in each subject according to their ability in it – and options
– allowing pupils to select certain of the subjects they take at KS4 – means that
30 children who enter their first class of a school day may never be together again as a
group for the remaining lessons of that day. If the teacher of that first class takes the
pupils in it on a day visit, the knock-on effect is felt throughout the remainder of the
school day by other teachers who discover a high level of absence in their classes.
Not all subject departments in secondary schools are visit organisers but all are held
accountable for the measurable outcomes of their teaching. When a curriculum coordinator
or Head of Department in one subject area is required by another to release
pupils to go on a visit organised by another subject area, they too know that they will
carry an element of its true cost in the form of disruption to their teaching programmes.
Repeated disruption of this type must inevitably reduce pupil progress, progress which
is increasingly measured and monitored.
Senior staff in schools also know that the organisational time and energy cost of a
school visit is hidden but present. In a school staff room, the visit organising teacher is
readily identifiable. There are a stream of pupil requests to see them and a file full of
parental consent forms, risk assessment profiles, quotes from coach firms, drafts of
materials needed to support the visit and lesson plans for supply teachers. What is the
cost of time devoted to the organisation of a school visit?
If the above appears to be a somewhat empirically pedantic analysis of a school visit, no
apology is made. It is vital to recognise that the true cost of a school visit is probably
three times that contributed by the parents to cover the direct cost element. It would
seem appropriate for teachers, governors and parents to seek evidence for a return on
the expenditure associated with this visit. More specifically – where this return is claimed
to be in the form of learning outcomes – could these not have been achieved equally
well and possibly cheaper within the confines of the school by deploying other teaching
Many operators in the tourism and leisure industry know that schools sub-contract to
them because they cannot by themselves provide their pupils with all learning
opportunities. Swimming pools and sports centres are used by schools which do not
have such facilities available on campus. Schools also recognise that they do not have
the qualifications to instruct, equip and locate adventure activities but recognise that
the learning outcomes in terms of personal and social development derived from such
experiences are so valuable to many pupils.
Field study centres invest heavily in scientific equipment needed by students in subjects
such as geography and biology, spreading its cost across intensive use by many schools
during the course of a year. These schools could not justify the volume of capital
investment involved for use by only a few pupils once a year. Sub-contracting makes
It is in the visitor attraction sector of the industry that school ambivalence towards visits
is at its greatest. The claim of any visitor attraction to host school party visits has to be
in terms of measured, subject-related, learning outcomes which cannot be delivered in
the comfort of the classroom or which are better delivered at the attraction itself.
Across Britain there are stunning illustrations as to the validity of this claim. If one can
generalise as to what gives these attractions true quality in educational terms it is that
they have, whilst remaining honest to their core values, provided a discrete product for
schools which both co-exists alongside that for the general public and is delivered
according to the principles of current teaching methods.
The quality educational product to which schools are attracted has the
- Pupils generally arrive knowing exactly what they are going to do, in part
because the attraction provided pre-visit teaching materials to the school.
- They arrive with task lists to find things, calculate things, draw things, do
experiments, gather evidence to be taken back to the classroom as the basis of
- They are given odd things to handle and again challenged to find evidence to
explain what they are but not given the full explanation.
- In heritage attractions pupils witness or participate in activities re-enacting
history, sometimes in costume.
- Pupils work in small groups as they do in their schools, each group often on
- They bustle around the site, going off on the next activity, escorted by their
teachers or a member of staff at the attraction.
- Their day’s activity is based in a simple dry area reserved for their use as a
workstation, baggage dump, wet day picnic spot and – sometimes – a detention
- The activities provided are geared to different age ranges and schools can select
according to the length of time available to them on site.
- The education product is available throughout the year and so does not force
schools to visit in the busy, examination and test-infested summer term.
These visitor attractions are not isolated visit experiences but part of an on-going period
of topic study which began prior and will continue in the school after the visit. The visit
enriches the study period with activity and outcomes which could not be replicated in
the school. Such visitor attractions are best described as classrooms in the environment,
essential contractors, and partners, within the education process.
This is not the case in far too many attractions where the educational product for
schools is quite simply the same as that for the general public but with cheaply
produced quizzes or word searches replacing expensive guide books. At these visitor
attractions the presentation of the learning experience is in a manner inappropriate to
the learning skills and needs of young people, in that:
- they are required to trail around a conducted tour, listening to guides who
all too frequently use anecdotes and language inappropriate for young
- they are made to sit passively and watch a film or some other form of audio
- they are then sent off to read books on walls, scattered around the site and
inconveniently placed for younger pupils to read;
- all too often, the visit experience is based upon a fixed-format presentation
which, whilst its duration may suit the average adult visitor, leaves teachers
looking for time-filling activities pending departure time.
If all we can provide them with is a lecturing voice, a screen – albeit a big one – and
something to read, why on earth didn’t they stay in a warm and safe classroom which
could provide all that for them?
Residential visits have far greater potential benefits than day visits for schools and the
tourism and leisure industry in large areas of Britain.
During residential visits a far lower proportion of the total visit time is spent on transport
and, therefore, the majority of time is devoted to learning activities.
Learning outcomes of visits go beyond those which may be termed as subject-related.
Among them is personal development, such as self-confidence and the ability to work
in a team. They also include the development of social skills, which can be as a basic as
sitting down to a meal with others without the distraction of television.
Moreover, the longer journey time to the destination takes pupils out of their immediate
environment and opens up learning opportunities which cannot be accessed through
These are primarily financial and tend to be confined to those who provide
accommodation. A school which makes a five-day residential visit, however, has the
potential to organise a series of day visits to attractions and other providers in the area
in which it is staying.
The information gathering process of the school organising a residential visit is,
however, far more complex than that required for a day visit. Schools are looking to buy
into programmes which include accommodation, learning activities, information about
the area and transport. They will rarely buy this as a package, preferring to put together
their own itineraries from a range of choices.
The time and effort required for such an extensive information search is a major
challenges for schools. This occurs because operators in given areas rarely collaborate
to present the total educational tourism product for the area in one marketing initiative.
Schools are inundated with individual promotions by providers of separate products.
Such individual marketing also fails to respect the value of residential visits. Schools are
known to remain loyal to a visit destination which services their needs well and this
loyalty can last for periods of several years. The loyalty tends to occur because the
school has to invest a significant amount of selection, planning and preparation time for
a new residential venue, an investment which it is reluctant to repeat frequently.
Schools know, therefore, that a decision to select an accommodation provider for a
group of 30 pupils for a four-night package is likely to result in business benefit to that
operator of £15,000-20,000 over a 5-6 year period, in which they feel ‘locked’ in to the
arrangement. It is an investment decision on the part of the school community to buy
in part of the education programme from a third party supplier, and the marketing
processes likely to win it will be those of a direct, business-to-business, nature.
costs inherent in such marketing approaches are likely to be beyond all but the largest
businesses in the industry, the need for collaborative marketing occurs once again.
In author’s opinion, in the majority of cases the educational visits products offered to
- Inappropriate to the active learning requirement sought by them. Sectors of the
industry need to look in detail at what is actually offered to schools which could
not be accessed by them in some other format.
- Inappropriately marketed to schools, without recognition of the nature of the
business decision schools are making when organising visits and of the
performance pressures which now motivate schools’ management teams.
If the industry is to retain its present level of business from this market, let alone grow
it, then it must engage in a period of concerted product development/improvement
and reconsider its marketing tactics, away from individual promotion and towards
There are some encouraging signs that these improvements are beginning to occur. The
Sandford Award for Heritage Education scheme operated by the Heritage Education
Trust identifies those historic properties which have developed genuine educational
products. School visitor numbers to its annual winners to date indicate that schools
recognise the quality of their product.
The Heritage in Action (HERIAN) initiative has identified that the educational product
offers of many industrial heritage sites in the valleys of South Wales lack coherence and
are too didactic in their approach to young people. It is seeking to promote good
practice across this sector of visitor attraction on a collective basis.
Such schemes, particularly where they are award based, have the potential to motivate
and acknowledge appropriate product development and to assist schools in their search
for quality visit experiences.
Marketing on business-to-business principles is commonly experienced by schools. Ski
trip organising companies have practiced it for years and some larger accommodation
and activity providers have sales representatives who target schools. For the smaller
operators such tactics can only be deployed on a co-operative basis – coming together
to form a product which can then be promoted with a larger, more effective, marketing
spend. One of the few illustrations of such marketing to schools is that of the Wales
Tourist Board’s School Visits Wales initiative.
There is scant evidence as to the relationship between visiting and learning. It is,
therefore, hardly surprising that headteachers of schools become increasingly sceptical
as to its validity.
“Teachers know well enough how pupils flourish in the outdoor classroom,
responding with energy, enthusiasm and intelligence. But the independent evidence
to prove it has never been comprehensively assembled.”
With these words, the DfES introduced its Flagship research studies in a partnership with
countryside and agricultural interests. The aim is to test the hypothesis that visits to the
countryside and farms will raise the level of pupil understanding of the food chain and
The National Farmers’ Union and the Countryside Alliance has, therefore,
commissioned the National Foundation for Educational Research and Kings College,
London, to undertake a further review – Understanding the Countryside – of how
young people learn about countryside issues. The outcomes of these research studies
may well prove to be of benefit to certain rural sectors of the tourism industry and test
‘the learning by visiting hypothesis’ on a broader basis.
The HSPEV guidelines and Child Protection measures initiated by government have gone
far in creating what is, in effect, a Code of Practice for schools in the organisation of
school visits. Industry response to this, however, remains reactive and on an individual
basis. Both the government and the education industry must realise that the time is nigh
for an Approved Contractor system for visitor attractions and accommodation providers
in Britain that host educational visits. Such a scheme would:
- act to reassure parents,
- ease the burden on LEAs and teachers in terms of organisation and, critically,
- act to raise the overall standard of educational tourism provision in Britain.
To somebody coming from a teaching background it seems odd that tourism authorities
have accreditation schemes designed to yield quality assurance in everything from
hotels and golf courses to marinas and caravan sites when, with the noble exception of
the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority, no such scheme exists to measure and
promote minimum standards of quality to be experienced by young people on
Even such schemes which might be seen as having relevance to the
school visit product – budget accommodation, for example – make no reference to the
criteria relating to security and exclusive use which would render such establishments
acceptable to schools.
The true financial value of educational tourism by schools in Britain is not known but its
strategic commercial importance to certain sectors is frequently claimed. It must surely
be the case that, in the near future, the leisure and tourism industry in Britain will have
to address both the means by which to measure the extent of business benefit in this
market and to then make an appropriate level of investment to retain it. The assumption
that schools will go on organising visits simply because they have always done so has
become a highly dangerous stance for the industry to adopt.
- It assumes that if a young person has a good experience of visiting a destination or taking part in an activity, he/she will
either persuade their parents to take them back for a repeat visit or return to it in their later life. In the absence of any
formal evidence that this might be true, however, this assumption should be considered together with the belief of many
teachers and parents that the introduction of a child to something ‘very worthwhile’ could be the kiss of death for its
- Copies of these guidelines can be downloaded from www.teachernet.gov.uk/visits.
- Note: this is not the case for schools in Wales, where the National Assembly Government has yet to publish any guidelines
to schools in regard to the HASPEV document.
A former secondary school teacher in Bristol, Berkshire and London, Phil Keely has undertaken several major research
studies into the pattern of educational tourism on behalf of national tourist authorities. He has also worked extensively on
education product development with many visitor attractions and local authorities. At present, Phil heads Bristol-based
youth market research and marketing consultancy, The Guide, and is Project Co-ordinator for School Visits Wales. He can be
contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0117 940 2425.