Connecting students with opportunities outside the classroom is essential for broadening their horizons and developing their skillsets. Organising school trips and inviting speakers to deliver workshops exposes pupils to cultures, communities, and forms of knowledge they are unlikely to encounter in the classroom. Sometimes, a single school trip is enough to foster new aspirations and forge a pupil’s future career path.

To find out more about how these experiences benefit pupils and what governors can do to enhance schools’ non-classroom-based offerings, we teamed up with Ross Wilkson, Learning and Engagement Manager for Durham University Library and Collections. The university’s 4Schools programme offers a range of on-site cultural experiences for school groups, as well as outreach initiatives and online sessions involving the organisation’s museum, art, and archive special collections.

Ross explains: “We work with a range of guest speakers from faith groups, the university, curators, and other members of the collections department to facilitate dynamic cultural opportunities. For example, our work experience programme offers pupils the chance to work with conservators, curators, visitor services, archivists, and learning specialists. We also work with several trusted partners, including Durham Book Festival, Museums Partnership, and the Group for Education in Museums (GEM), to offer a range of shared experiences across our region’s cultural venues for groups of all ages and abilities.”

Many of the experiences offered by 4Schools are like nothing pupils have encountered before, such as visits to 17th-century historical libraries, botanical gardens, and a Norman castle. As well as deepening their knowledge in subjects such as art and history, participants can get up close and personal with stunning artworks and ancient local artefacts. Such active participation helps boost pupils’ research skills, confidence, cooperation skills, interpersonal skills, and much more.

Ross continues: “We believe pupils of all ages and backgrounds should have the chance to engage with our collections and services. As such, we live stream our collections to young people who don’t have easy access to cultural venues, such as rural areas. We’re also keen to foster international connections and have even established a school engagement programme with a cluster of schools in Tanzania!”

What can governors do to help?

There are many available options to help pupils of all ages and abilities access exciting trips and experiences, regardless of location or background. Governors play a fundamental role in helping school leaders embed these opportunities in school life by asking relevant questions, such as:

  1. What opportunities does the school provide for learning outside the classroom?
  2. How often are pupils offered school trips? Are these even distributed across year groups?
  3. Does the school invite guest speakers to bring learning opportunities directly to school?
  4. Are the experiences offered diverse? Do they cater for pupils with different interests and aspirations? Does the school foresee any barriers to participation in learning outside of the classroom? If so, what will it do to address these barriers?
  5. Has the senior leadership team developed connections with relevant cultural organisations? Are there any worth investigating and getting in touch with?
  6. Have school leaders considered all relevant practical and safeguarding issues related to school visits? If working with outside organisations, what safeguarding steps does the school take to ensure they are meeting their safeguarding duties?
  7. Will parents have to cover any of the costs for school trips? Are these affordable, and are there any funding options available to cover costs for disadvantaged pupils? Does the school have an up-to-date charging and remissions policy? Is it rigorously followed?
  8. What impact have previous cultural enrichment activities made? How will we continue to measure impact?

By holding school leaders to account in this way, governors can help pupils discover a whole new world of exciting ideas and cultural experiences. To find out more about 4Schools and their full range of programmes, visit their website.

Passionate about broadening young people’s horizons? Become a governor!

If you’re keen to help enhance educational experiences and outcomes for younger generations, we encourage you to volunteer as a governor today. Please do also share this article with interested friends and colleagues. You can also find out more about the role on our website.