Looking over Reykjavik watching the sun go down. (Photo – D Rogers)
This post aims to describe some of the activities involved in a pre-visit. There are two main purposes of a pre-visit to a destination:
- To check that learning activities are appropriate to the location
- To check that young people and staff will have a safe, comfortable and enjoyable experience. This includes checking value for money.
Over the past two weeks I have been involved in two pre-visits (or inspection trips) to the Dorset Coast and Iceland. I intend to focus on the Iceland visit, which is both residential and hazardous. During any per-visit, I tend to take notes using Evernote on the iPhone as it allows me to take images (for example of safety notices) and use text.Over the course of the visit I need to satisfy the following questions:
1. What sort of trip will it be and do the locations allow the learning objectives to be met?
In the case of Iceland, the trip is an enrichment, no clipboards visit. With Dorset, the trip is closely linked to high stakes GCSE Controlled Assessment. In both cases, the location needs to fit.
This mainly concentrates on the activities that can take place in each location.
For example, in the location above (in Iceland) we plan to ask the pupils to listen to their iPods and select the most appropriate track that fits the location, mood and their thoughts. This forms the basis of a conversation and will allow (hopefully) the young people to appreciate the place. We also plan to use Flip cameras to record video diaries, and will live tweet / blog from each location for parents. (this involves checking the availability of 3G signal using an Icelandic dongle).
In contrast, if the area were to be used for GCSE fieldwork, the activities would be different and focussed on data collection. think that it is very important to have a clear vision and aim for the visit as this helps to decide on the potential activities.
Of course, in each location, a Plan B and C and D needs to be formulated!
Central to the success of any trip is the availability of food and toilets. In Iceland, the distances between stops can be great (between 1 and 2 hours drive). This is important to check as both staff and pupils need some programmed down time, and not be starving! After a little research, food is the number one experience that young people remember of most trips.
Toilets are very important. It’s not a problem if there aren’t any – as long as you can prepare the trip goers before hand !
As for equipment, as my behaviour is often compared to a mischievous teenager by colleagues, I tend to do what I would expect one to do. That is – get as close to the huge waterfall as possible, get drenched, realise that I need spare clothes. I find that having a stash of football kit from a rival team motivates young people to have the correct kit. Also, I tend to take a hard line approach when it comes to equipment – I am happy to side line a pupil if their safety is at risk.
Most accidents that I have had to deal with tend to happen at the accomodation during ‘down time.’ So key questions at any hotel / guesthouse / hostel / campsite are:
- Will the group be located pn the same corridor?
- Where will staff be located?
- How wide to the windows go?
- How easy is it for outsiders to access?
- Do rooms open from the inside when locked?
- Is there a minibar?
- 24 hour reception?
- Is there a meeting room?
- Busy road / tempting fast food place near by?
Its also important to look at each location with the following questions in mind:
- Are there any local customs to consider? For example, in Icelandic swimming pools, it is expected that you shower without your bathing suit before entering the pool.
- Should we brief the group inside the transport?
- Where will the bus stop?
- What hazards are there in the area? Which should we make the group aware of, and which should we manage silently?
- How long do we need?
- Access to gift shops / toilets / food?
- Are there safety notices in the area?
- What will the Plan B/C/D/E be?
- Can the pupils be independent or do they need a guide?
- Is it worth stopping here?
- How long do we need? (A general rule of thumb is to at least double the time that it takes to see the site normally to allow for the FAFF factor!)
- Where will the limits of exploration be set? Are they clear?
- Where should we position staff?
- What systems do we need in place? For example, will we insist that all pupils wear a standard hoodie through the airport? How many staff should we get through security first, where shall we meet?
All of this happens in about 5-15 minutes. During this, it’s really important to remember that the most important element of risk assessment happens on the day, with the pupils there. This is where the prevailing weather conditions, state of the group, time of day can be taken in to account.
Often, people have said to me that they wouldn’t take a trip away because of the paperwork involved. I feel that this point is invalid as most companies and locations (and I include overseas destinations) will already have generic and activity specific risk assessments in place. When asked about special training, the choice is to buy in guiding services or get trained. In the field, staff are expected to make the decisions of a reasonable parent. I don’t wish to downplay the stress and responsibility of taking young people away, just to suggest that it is an entirely manageable situation. Often, many issues can be satisfied with a pre-visit.
5. Evening activities?
We have found that the longer you can entertain young people, the more sleep that we will get!
- Are there facilities to show films / quizzes / pictures
- Are there activities within walking distance such as swimming / bowling / bimbledom….?
6. Is there value for money?
This is an important area to satisfy and is linked to all of the above. When families are paying for experiences, especially when they are residential, the aim should be for the pupils to remember the trip for ever, and for the right reasons so:
- Is there enough food?
- Are the rooms clean / comfortable?
- Are shower facilities shared? Does the nature of the visit and price reflect this?
- Are there guides? Are they good? Do they add value? Can they be understood?
7. Staff downtime
Any residential trip is often a 24/7
affair! Therefore it is important that staff have an opportunity to relax a little (which means to be able to grab a coffee / read a book / email or phone home). With refreshed staff, the pupils will get a better experience.