Changing Minds: The Lasting Impact of School Trips

Peacock, Alan et al.


In recent years the importance of learning in the 'real' environment, outside the classroom, has had widespread attention. Groups such as the Real World Learning Campaign have drawn attention to the dangers arising from the decline in field study work. Many children are taken to school by car, and parents fear allowing their children even to play in parks close to home, tacitly encouraging them to play indoors, leaving fewer opportunities for outdoor social play or experience of the world outside their front door.

The National Trust's Guardianship Scheme addresses the negative consequences of such trends. It offers the opportunity of:

  • a wide range of practical activities that support the National Curriculum
  • getting involved first hand in worthwhile practical conservation projects
  • exploring and connecting with their local environment
  • making full use of the local National Trust site and resources
  • building awareness of, interest in, and responsibility for the natural environment.

Guardianship differs from many out-of-classroom learning experiences. By focusing on multiple visits to a single site, it develops an on-going partnership that not only supports curriculum work, but also provides stimulating, practical experience of the great outdoors and conservation work. The Scheme is now well established across the country in over 100 primary and secondary schools.

Evaluations of traditional out of classroom learning have identified the capacity of partnerships to develop positive attitudes, arouse learners' interest and improve behaviour. The unique nature of the Guardianship Scheme allows this study to go further. Based on in-depth interviews with students past and present, teachers and Trust wardens, it looks at the longer-term impact of out of classroom learning experiences on knowledge, attitudes, behaviour, and decisions and choices young people make.

Research objectives

Research objectives for the study are summarised as:

  • Compile evidence from, research and document the tangible benefits of Guardianships with respect to the following categories of people: pupils and ex-pupils, teachers, the wider 'communities' involved, National Trust staff, National Trust volunteers, and the National Trust as an organisation
  • Explore the learning outcomes of the visit(s) for the individuals involved
  • Investigate what the individuals' perceptions were about whether the experience has changed their lives in any way. For example, did the experience lead to a developing interest / influence a career path / inform a lifestyle choice?
  • Explore, where possible, the impacts on a community where a relationship has been particularly strong.

The properties chosen reflected a range of schemes in relation to the following criteria:

  • Long-term involvement with a particular school or small group of schools
  • Continuity of involvement of wardens with school partnerships
  • A range of contexts (e.g. country, coastal, urban)
  • A range of kinds of work undertaken by schools (e.g. conservation, research, field study, gardening).

Benefits of the Guardianship scheme to pupils and schools

  • The virtually unanimous view amongst students was that Guardianship work was fun, exciting, enjoyable and better than working in the classroom
  • Attitudes to the environment both in terms of a desire to protect the local environment and also in attitudes to issues such as recycling and avoiding waste
  • Resentment at visitors and tourists who did not treat 'their' environment with respect
  • Development of social skills such as tolerance, caring, group awareness and selfdiscipline
  • Research skills involving understanding and management of the natural environment
  • Skills ranging from gardening and cooking to using digital cameras and microscopes
  • Schools saw great benefits from having a 'classroom in the park' and Headteachers reported a development of 'community spirit' and valuing what was 'in their own back yard' as a result of the scheme
  • Several schools saw the Guardianship Scheme as the best way of matching the guidelines of the Qualifications Curriculum Authority to the needs of their children
  • A special needs school was reviewing its curriculum for Special Educational Needs pupils as a consequence of their involvement with the Guardianship scheme.

Benefits of the Guardianship scheme to families, friends and the community

  • A consequence of the continuing involvement was the increased willingness of parents to come into school for events and meetings
  • Guardianship partnerships have the potential to make a meaningful contribution to teacher training through visits or short-term placements
  • Pupils and teachers agreed that parents and siblings visited National Trust sites more frequently as a consequence of the awareness-raising by their primary age children
  • A minority of partnerships are taking full advantage of opportunities on-site to publicise the Guardianship work. This has the potential side effect of impacting positively on the image of the National Trust.

Benefits of the Guardianship scheme to staff and volunteers at National Trust properties

  • Both current pupils and former students praised the wardens they had worked with. In rural locations and small communities former pupils often kept contact with wardens. This was a key factor in the decision by some former pupils to work at a National Trust site
  • Wardens reported increased confidence in dealing with children and in providing a stimulating learning environment. Wardens are aware that they are not teachers and they are less confident in dealing with secondary school children. A move to sustain and extend the Guardianship Scheme across the school transition would require training.

Areas where impact is less apparent

  • Students' learning less apparent in the study included a failure to apply local issues to national and global matters. For example, whilst students could talk at length about the pros and cons of wind power in their area, they did not seem to have taken this further to think about the implications for the wider shift from fossil fuels to renewables in relation to global climate change
  • The impact on subject choice at GCSE was not seen by students as significant, and was therefore difficult to ascertain, though teachers were far more convinced that the Guardianship experience did make a difference to their subject choices.

Key factors in successful schemes

  • Guardianship is most successful in small, compact, rural communities, especially those where both Warden and Headteacher live locally
  • The most effective schemes offer children early and sustained engagement with the property
  • It is important to promote a wide range of learning objectives including social and practical skills, attitudes and behavioural change in the scheme objectives
  • Schemes should concentrate on the uniqueness of the property and develop a positive strategy for parental and wider community involvement.
  • Guardianship partnerships benefit from embedding good practice through clear lines of communication with relevant members of staff in other area and regions
  • Good liaison procedures between primary and secondary schools are vital to making the most of students learning benefits.

Future areas for improvement of the Guardianship Scheme

For the Guardianship as a whole to have even greater impact on participating pupils and schools, it would be necessary to:

  • Establish continuity within the Guardianship Scheme between primary and secondary schools
  • Consider the development of medium and long-term plans for successful schemes, through wardens, teachers, and Trust learning staff
  • Encourage schools to devote more time to follow-up work that extends the focus of children's learning from the powerful local experiences of the scheme to the bigger, global issues and concepts that they represent
  • Produce interpretation information for the sites where children work, to explain how the GS operates
  • Invest in the continued training of wardens for the Guardianship Scheme, including through strengthening links with ITE institutions
  • Draw on the expertise of successful schemes to publicise and develop effective strategies for community and parental involvement
  • Improve internal lines of communication and decision-making through dialogue with wardens.
Pedagogical Area
  • place-based education, environment as integrating context (EIC)
Delivery Area
  • school based
Outcome Area
  • civic engagement
  • self efficacy
  • environmental knowledge, attitude and awareness
  • stewardship behavior
  • community change
Participant Area
  • student
  • educator
  • school
Age Area
  • elementary (6-11 years old)
  • middle school (12-14 years old)
  • high school (14-18 years old)