Teacher – beware the lure of a desert island…

About ten years ago I remember being shocked when I heard that an independent school local to me in north London (and not a famous one either) organized rugby tours for its 15-18 year olds – to Fiji and Tonga of all places. I thought it was a bit extravagant (to say the least). After all, we do have perfectly lovely places to play rugby in a variety of nations across the UK and even in Europe.

But we live in a free society and people can spend their hard earned cash on whatever they want – if people can afford £30,000 a year and more on school fees they can probably afford to fork out a few extra thousand to send their offspring on a rugby tour to the south Pacific.

Recently Horsforth Academy in Leeds got in on a similar act.

They usually organise trips to Spain and Italy but last year apparently met with “some shortcomings in arrangements” so they decided to organize a trip to Barbados – for the princely sum of £1,650 per student. It included three fixtures with local teams to play football, netball and girls’ football and the students would benefit from “traditional evening entertainment”, a catamaran cruise, a special sports tour kit and the option of going to a water park – so the school wrote in a letter to parents advertising the trip.

Some parents were up in arms, complaining that it was divisive and extravagant.

These are issues for the school and the parents to resolve themselves, but I was interested in how this incident impacted on the professional reputation of teachers.

Teachers have always benefited from ex-gratia places on school trips and (though I never had a free skiing trip in my life), I always looked forward to taking kids away on school journeys and residentials as often as I could – I tried to do it every year to places like the Lake District, Wales and Devon. Kids love going on not only geography field and foreign language trips, but also outward bound and adventure holidays too.

They learn so much from them – about being sociable and flexible, sharing meals and rooms, learning routines like cleaning rooms and making beds and the discipline of team work, being challenged physically, emotionally and mentally, meeting other children often from different backgrounds and even cultures. It almost always changes your working relationship with them too – in ways that have a positive residual effect – often with the really challenging kids who in my experience somehow turn into little angels when they’re away from their habitual expectations of home, family and the school environment for a week.  No, I love them – and I’m a firm advocate for them. Take kids away as much as you can.

But Barbados? Fiji? Tonga?

I think parents might start to wonder whether such trips have been organized for the benefit of the teachers rather than the benefit of the students. When they start thinking that, the bond of trust between teachers and parents – that precious commodity that exists between a professional person and their client – is at risk of very serious damage. And as we all know, when trust is damaged, it is not easily repaired.

Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk.  You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk and book him for a talk. His new book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) was published in March 2014. He also makes videos for teacher training centres and schools.

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