Schools are not just a microcosm of society; they mediate it too. They best seek to ameliorate the external pressures on their pupils while equipping them better to understand and handle the world outside – at once sheltering them and broadening their horizons.
This is ambitious in any circumstances, and in a divided and unequal society the two ideals can clash outright.
Trips that many adults would consider the adventure of a lifetime – a sports tour to Barbados – appear to have become almost routine at some state schools. Parents are being asked for thousands of dollars. Though schools cannot profit from these trips, the companies that arrange them do. Meanwhile, pupils arrive at school hungry because their families can’t afford breakfast.
A few years ago routinely schools would go on field trips and outings. These were intended as learning experiences because the children see new sights and gain new experiences. They get a chance to appreciate lifestyles of others.
Of course, the poor children are often at a disadvantage, necessitating the involvement of business places and entrepreneurs who could have an attachment to the various schools.
In the United Kingdom, the Child Poverty Action Group says nine in every classroom of 30 fall below the poverty line. The disparity is obscene. Introducing a fundraising requirement for students does not help; better-off children tap up richer aunts and neighbours.
Probing the rock pools of Scarborough or practicing French on a language exchange can fire children’s passions, boost their skills and open their eyes to life’s possibilities. The Sutton Trust, which focuses on improving social mobility, says educational outings help bright but disadvantaged students to get better A-levels.
In this globalised age, there is a good case for international travel, and some parents say they can manage the cost of a school trip abroad more easily than a family holiday. Even in the face of immense and mounting financial pressures, some schools have shown remarkable determination and ingenuity in ensuring that all their pupils are able to take up opportunities that may be truly life-changing.
They should be applauded. Methods such as whole-school fundraising, with the proceeds pooled, can help to extend opportunities and fuel community spirit.
But £3,000 trips cannot be justified when the median income for families with children is just over £30,000. Such initiatives close doors for many pupils. The NASUWT teaching union has warned of parents pulling their children out of GCSEs because of expensive field trips; for other students, these trips confirm their intuition that the world has wonderful things to show – but not to people like them. Even parents who can see that a trip is little more than a jolly may well feel guilt that their child is left behind.
The Department for Education’s guidance says schools can charge only for board and lodging if the trip is part of the syllabus, and that students covered by the pupil premium are exempt from these costs. It should also be made clear that voluntary charges are just that.
The suspicion is that many schools ignore the advice; and it does not cover the kind of glamorous, far-flung trips becoming increasingly common. Schools cannot be expected to bring together communities single-handed. But the least we should expect is that they do not foster divisions and exclude those who are already disadvantaged.
It is a pity that with most of the schools being government-owned there is the likelihood that fewer classrooms would embark on field trips. Many parents cannot afford the cost of these trips. The result is that most children know precious little about their own country. (Adapted from The Guardian)
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