Culture Trails

Specialists in cultural group travel

Hugh Jordan

School Travel Blog

 

If you have any questions or ideas that you would like me to write about in this blog, please e-mail: blog@culturetrails.co.uk

 

 

Post-Brexit air travel in Europe

 

We have been cautioned for some time that there is a possibility of flights between UK and EU countries being disrupted, especially if there is a no-deal Brexit at the end of March 2019.

I am happy to report that today's Travel Weekly contains the following article (click to read the full text):  

 

UK-EU flights 'to continue' even with no-deal Brexit

 

Berlin, Berlin

 

As a destination for school tours, Berlin has to be one of the best. History teachers studying the periods from 1932 to 1945 or 1945 to 1990 naturally bring their groups here. There are far more relevant visits possible than you will have time for.

 

But what of other subjects... Why Berlin... Well - let's look at art, for a start. Berlin has galleries and museums covering everything from ancient Babylon, Pergamon and Egypt (the bust of Nefertiti) to contemporary art.

 

For geography, it offers the huge contrasts in town planning between the western and eastern sectors after World War 2, and also a less well-known remnant of socially planned housing from the twenties of the last century.

 

If the performing arts are your speciality, then Berlin can offer visits behind the scenes at a musical theatre or the opera, to one of Europe's best film museums, to the film making district of Babelsberg in Potsdam and, of course, to performance.

 

As the price of air travel increases, and with coach tours becoming more and more competitive on price, you might consider joining forces with a colleague from one of the other subject areas to run a combined tour - travelling, staying and eating together, but following separate programmes of visits.

 

 

Do I ever contradict myself...

 

Yes, of course I do.

 

A few days ago, I blogged that it was not necessary to use a tour operator - that you can make all arrangements for your school tour without one.

 

However, there are some very important considerations if you go down this route, especially if it's for an air tour.

 

If you book your trip with an operator who has an ATOL licence for air tours and an ABTA or other bond for coach tours, then if anything goes wrong, you will both have immediate assistance on hand and have somebody liable for any extra expenses incurred.

 

If you book your air tickets for yourself and then book accommodation and visits separately, just imagine what could happen if you arrive at the airport to find a long delay or a cancellation. At best, you will eventually get a refund for your air tickets, but you will lose everything else you have paid.

 

Even worse - you arrive at the airport for your return flight and find that it has been cancelled.

 

I think you really do need to consider very carefully if this is a risk you would want to take.

 

(And I don't think I've actually contradicted myself - just clarified)

 

What is the best size of group for a school tour...

 

There is no single right answer to this question, but if I throw in a couple of ideas for you to consider, I hope it will help you get it right.

 

If you are planning a tour to tie in with your external examination studies, then the size of your cohort will to some extent determine the number you might take.  If you have only half the ideal number in a year group, then you might combine the two GCSE years or years 12 and 13.

 

If you are going to travel by coach, then somewhere from 30 to 45 pupils is ideal, as this spreads the fixed costs well, leaves enough room for accompanying adults to have a double seat each, and enables you to use readily-available coaches ranging from 38 to 53 seats.

 

A larger group might use a double-decker coach, but I have always felt that while these are fine for a journey to and from a single destination, they are not so good for multi-centre tours.  Every stop takes a long time just to offload and re-load the coach, but more than this, the people downstairs are cut off from those on the upper deck and some of the group ethos is lost.

 

From time to time, when I have organised tours from groups between 70 and 100 in number, I have used two single-deck coaches and this can work very well, provided visits are staggered.

 

Do I need to use a tour operator...

 

The simple answer is "no".  There is nothing preventing you from organising every aspect of a tour yourself.  And whether you use a tour operator or not, you will have to take care of getting authority for the tour, publicising it, collecting payments from pupils, and by no means least important, collecting a team of colleagues to work with you right through the tour until return.

 

If you choose to do it all yourself, then you need to consider booking accommodation, visits, transport (coach and ferry for example) and making payments for these as they fall due.  As you are responsible for children, you really should have safety audits for coach and accommodation, carried out either by yourself or some trustworthy organisation.

 

If you use a tour operator, especially one in membership of the School Travel Forum, you may be sure that the safety elements have been attended to.  You should also expect a level of expertise about the places you are visiting and your reasons for going there.

 

A good operator will discuss your requirements, academic and social, and suggest suitable places to stay and to visit.

 

Why take a school group away for a tour...

 

The very basic question, and one which I think has both obvious and less obvious answers.

 

If you are looking at GCSE, and A level, then you are almost certainly looking for subject-specific enhancement for the work done in the classroom.  Historians will want to visit the sites which they are studying, Art teachers the galleries containing the work they want their pupils to appreciate.

 

At Key Stage 3 and below, the reasons may be different.  Yes - of course, a history teacher whose course includes World War 1 might wish to take a group to the Battlefields, but in the early secondary years, there is also good reason to take groups away for social reasons.

 

A few days with your year 7s and 8s in a foreign country, but not too far from home, is an excellent way of building morale and friendships - it also permits the pupils to see that their teachers do not exist only in the classroom.

 

If you are thinking of taking such a group, then I think you need to have a full programme of visits included, at least one each morning and each afternoon of your trip, with evening events such as ten-pin bowling and group quizzes.