Hugh Jordan

Previously in the blog

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, AS and A2 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.
 

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.
 

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

 
There is no single right answer to this question, but if I throw a couple of ideas in 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 the AS/A2 years.
 
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.
 
I'll add some thoughts on group sizes for air tours in my next post.
 

Small is beautiful - at least for air groups

 
If you are flying with a no-frills airline, you need to know that their pricing structure is the opposite of what you might expect - as your group increases in size, so the price per ticket goes up!
 
To give you an idea of what I mean, I have just (22 June 2014) checked easyJet's price for a round trip from Gatwick to Berlin, flying out at 08h40 on 18 August 2014 and returning at 18h30 on 22 August.
 
For one person, the fare is £112.97 return
for 10, it is £125.05 each
for 20, £150.08 each and
for 30, £186.02 each.
 
So, in a group of 30, the fare per person is more than 60 percent higher than for an individual traveller!
 
This was a random choice of destination and dates, but you will find the pattern repeated for all flights, and not just with easyJet, but with all the no-frills carriers.
 

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)
 

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.
 

How many staff should we take on the tour?

One more than you first think of!
 
It might be that your staffing ratio is laid down from above, either senior management or local authority. Commonly, it is 1 teacher per 8 pupils for younger age groups and 1 per 10 for older age groups.
 
I always recommend that you take one more, provided there is room on your coach.
 
The reason is simple - if a child is taken ill or is injured, a staff member will have to stay with them at all times.
 
This means that the rest of the group will have fewer staff per pupil, with the added load for each of the teachers involved.
 
The additional cost, particularly if you are travelling by coach, is minimal - just the extra overnights, meals and entrance fees. Ask your tour operator for quotes for both options.
 
If you are travelling by air, then there is an extra air fare, too, but it is still worth getting both quotes before you decide.
 

If you get fewer takers than you hoped for

It can be difficult if you have collected deposits on the expectation of taking, say, 30 passengers in your group, and you finish up with only 25. Most operators, ourselves included, will do what they can to help, but sometimes it will not be possible to absorb all the extra cost.
 
My suggestion is to ask for prices for 35, 30 and 25 passengers so that you know from the outset what the price will be for different group sizes.
 
I would go further and tell them the price on the assumption of 25 passengers, and then if you do get the 30 you originally hoped for you can either reduce the price or give some added value, like an extra guided visit or an extra inclusive meal.
 
 

Travelling from the North (and Scotland and North Wales)

Coach groups heading for Belgium, Germany and Holland really should consider travelling on P&O's North Sea services.
 
There is a sailing every evening from Hull to Zeebrugge in Belgium and another to Rotterdam in Holland, arriving after breakfast the following morning.  Return sailings also travel overnight.
 
Passengers have comfortable cabins with en-suite facilities and there is excellent food on board, which can be pre-booked and included in your total group price.
 
On the next day, you are within reach of destinations deep within Germany, such as Berlin, Leipzig and Erfurt; or in Alsace as far as the Swiss border.
 

Get your EHICs in good time.

If you are travelling to a country in the European Union (or to Switzerland, Iceland, Norway or Liechtenstein), then every person in your group should carry a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).The card, which is free, proves entitlement to the same level of health care as a citizen of the country you are in, which is not necessarily the same as you would get here.
 
However, when combined with travel insurance, which every passenger should also have, speedy and good treatment should be easily obtained.
 
For full details of EHIC, including a link to an application form, take a look at: EHIC application
 
There's nothing to stop you applying now – no need to wait until you think of travelling.
 

Do we need insurance even for trips in UK?

I have been asked this question more than once, and my answer is an emphatic "YES".
 
At first, you may wonder why - wherever you are in UK, you will have full access to the NHS, and all the usual services are familiar to you.
 
But consider the possibility of a pupil being hospitalised with an illness or after an accident, even for just a few days.
 
Somebody will have to stay with them, with extra hotel costs incurred, or perhaps parents will need to travel to be with them.
 
For the few pence a day premium that will be charged, which is a tiny amount set against the price of the trip, I think the peace of mind you will get will prove well worth it.
 

Watch out for hidden extras

 
When you buy food, you might choose between a large chain supermarket and your local wholefood shop.
 
When you buy clothes, you might choose between a Knightsbridge retailer and Primark
 
In neither case is one right and the other wrong - they are different sources for different products.
 
I think school travel organisers can be differentiated in the same way.  If you want a five-day trip to the Rhineland or to the Ile-de-France, there are plenty of good, reliable operators to choose from, and as they will generally use the same hotels, attractions and ferry companies, the only way to choose between them is price.
 
If, though, you want a study tour that is carefully planned to provide curriculum support for, say, History or Classics, then you are probably better advised to use a niche operator who know the sites, museums, memorials etc. and how they focus your pupils' learning.
 
Too often, we hear of operators who expect you to pay for entrances to the very places that are the reason for your tour - sure the headline price is attractive, but it is far better, in my view, to have an all-inclusive price so that you, the organising teacher, will have as little to worry about as possible.
 

Do you really need checked luggage?

 
If you are taking a group away by air for three or four days, ask whether it is really necessary to pay for luggage checked in the hold of the aircraft.
 
Not taking such luggage will save you both time and money.
 
Of course, not having to wait for cases to offloaded at your arrival airport can save the best part of an hour in each direction - but did you know that your suitcase can substantially increase the cost of your travel?
 
Taking two no-frills airlines as examples, easyJet charge between £22 and £42 return and WizzAir anywhere between £24 and £56 return.
 
Of course, if you travel by coach, there are no such extra costs.
 

Including non-EU students in school tour group

I am frequently asked about the problem of taking students in a school group who are passport holders of non-EU countries.
 
Well, one possibility is to tell the parents to obtain the necessary visas (which can be costly of both time and money).
 
The other, provided you are visiting only member-states of the EU (or Iceland, Norway or Switzerland), which covers the vast majority of school trips, is to get a List of Travellers form from the British Council.
 
It's free of charge and simple to to do - just take a look at http://www.britishcouncil.org/home-information-centre-list-of-travellers-scheme.htm
 

An extra 10kg of luggage free of charge!

Following my last blog post about luggage allowances, I have been looking into ways of getting more unchecked luggage on board without falling foul of the airlines' policies.
 
I have found an excellent range of jackets / waistcoats with large pockets capable of carrying even a laptop computer (the largest pocket is 43cm x 20cm).
 
For your health's sake, it's probably advisable to limit yourself to 10 kg, but as you also have your carry-on bag allowance, you can probably take a total of around 20kg - plenty for a week away (?)Following my last blog post about luggage allowances, I have been looking into ways of getting more unchecked luggage on board without falling foul of the airlines' policies .
 
I have found an excellent range of jackets / waistcoats with large pockets capable of carrying even a laptop computer (the largest pocket is 43cm x 20cm).
 
For your health's sake, it's probably advisable to limit yourself to 10 kg, but as you also have your carry-on bag allowance, you can probably take a total of around 20kg - plenty for a week away (?)
 
Take a look at  Luggage Busters