Is there educational value in a €1,600 school skiing trip?
Most second-level schools now organise overseas tours for students. But many question if they are too expensive and have any educational value
Parents are placed under increasing pressure to fork out large sums for elaborate and expensive school trips abroad. Photo: iStock
When I was a child, our school trips were purely for educational purposes. I still have memories of foraging on the Burren and, less fragrantly, enduring a tour of a cheese factory in Cork.
Secondary school brought about excursions of entirely different nature, as busloads of us giggling girls were transported to the heart of Dublin and allowed to run amok for a few hours. I have no idea what purpose the day was supposed to serve, but it was fun nonetheless and – aside from whatever we spent on useless ‘tat’ – it didn’t really cost much.
These days, parents are placed under increasing pressure to fork out large sums for elaborate and expensive school trips abroad.
Once exclusive to fee-paying schools, most secondary schools now offer an optional excursion abroad.
From theme parks to Premiership football matches and skiing trips to Europe, about 80 per cent of schools now organise an overseas tour for students.
While notionally optional, many parents feel pressurised into paying because other students in their children’s classes are going. Many also grumble about whether they have any educational value.
Michael and Sarah O’Brien from Wicklow have three children. Last year, they had a difficult time telling their eldest daughter she couldn’t join her friends on a Swiss skiing trip.
“It’s not fair that these trips are organised every year when so many families can’t afford to let their children go,” says Michael O’Brien.
“We work hard to do our very best for the kids, but when they come home in tears because their friends are all going abroad, it’s soul-destroying.
“The skiing trip would cost around €1,600 when you include spending money and other ‘essentials’ and we just don’t have that sort of money to spare.”
He also questions their educational value and how they may be relevant to the curriculum.
“I fail to see how these little holidays are necessary for young teenagers as there is no educational value in them,” O’Brien says.
“Last year, the school trip to London involved nothing other than traipsing around the tourist sights.
“So it would be far better for teachers to take the students somewhere in Ireland where they learn some useful skills such as how to pitch a tent, use a map and even cook a meal. Learning to ski isn’t exactly one of life’s essential lessons.”
Sue Jordan, a mother of two, agrees. She says she never sent her sons on school excursions abroad.
“I think foreign school trips for teenagers are a codology and more trouble than they’re worth,” she says.
“They just open young teens up to temptation and freedom they are in no way equipped to deal with. Both of my sons’ ski trips would have been in excess of €1,500 each and as a single-parent family that just wasn’t possible for us.
“To me, the high price of these trips is both elitist and exclusionary – and I disagree wholeheartedly with parents paying for teachers’ tickets too.”
Instead of going on school trips, the mother-of-two always used the money for a family holiday.
“I went to Paris with my school when I was 14 and from what I remember, the teachers were drunk on the ferry and even more so at the hotel and we ended up alone and squiffy in Pigalle at 10pm,” she says.
“My friends all have similar tales and when I asked my lads if they ever felt they missed out, they said absolutely not as they were just a drunken excursion with pals – obviously nothing has changed.”
Not everyone is so fiercely opposed to school trips. Jeni Pim and her husband Nigel say they do what they can to ensure their children get the opportunity to take part in school trips abroad.
“I come from a not-very-well-off background and was never able to afford music lessons, let alone go on school trips – we didn’t have two cents to rub together,” says Jeni Pim.
“But I have always felt strongly that my own children shouldn’t miss out.
“My daughter isn’t very sporty but when she went on the school skiing trip, she got a lot out of it and likewise, when my son (who is now at college and has always been into sport), went on his school trip, it was great for him socially.”
Her daughter’s next school tour is to Madrid and she feels it’s very important for her to go.
“So I don’t care if we have to eat bread and cheese for the year, we will always find the money somewhere as I believe it gives teenagers a glimpse of the wider world and instils in them a confidence to travel abroad.”
Laura Haugh of Mummypages.ie says the general consensus on her parenting website is that parents don’t relish the cost involved with foreign trips, but do feel they are of benefit. Many would like their teenagers to contribute to the cost.
“Our mums tell us that they expect foreign trips to form part of their children’s school experience,” she says.
“Of course, they are concerned about the financial impact this will have on their monthly household budget, but for the most part they are happy to agree a plan where the child contributes some of their own money to help with the cost as it teaches them about personal responsibility and indeed the value of money.”
Child psychologist Peadar Maxwell agrees. He says parents should work with their children to save for their trips.
“Unfortunately, sometimes parents feel under pressure to provide everything possible and get stressed by the request alone,” he says.
“So don’t turn it into a conflict – just explain the reality of the situation to your child. If the trip is going to stretch the family budget, maybe a parent and older child can discuss how to earn and save for the trip.”
The Department of Education says decisions in relation to educational tours are a matter for each individual school.
“In accordance with the department’s circulars, the objective of an educational tour should be to provide a significant benefit in the educational, intellectual, cultural and social development of pupils taking part,” says a spokesperson.
“It is a matter for each individual school to decide on the suitability of any proposed school tour having regard to these requirements.
“Tours should be planned, in consultation with parents, well in advance of tour dates and the full cost of the tour should be communicated to parents at the planning stage.”
Alternative educational trips: Cooking, olive-picking or sight-seeing?
If you don’t feel your children’s school trips are educational enough, you can always take your teens on some alternatives holidays. Here are a few ideas:
Cookery courses: Take your teens to Cavan or Cork for weekend break and get them immersed in cooking with Ireland’s best known chefs – Neven Maguire and Darina Allen, who offer cookery courses to suit every level of experience.
Culture vulture: For those with more of a budget, turn the school trip into a family holiday and combine culture and history with food in Italy. A day in Rome with a guide is worth more than any history lesson, while art lovers should head for Florence.
Alternatively, why not learn to make gelato from an award-winning expert or test your olfactory skills while making your own perfume under the guidance of a master.
Working holidays: This can be a surprisingly fun way to spend a school break and learn a language: head to Spain, France or Italy to pick olives or grapes or even go mussel-harvesting in Brittany. Or for those who want to stay closer to home, a fruit-picking break is a good way of earning some cash, while seeing another part of the country.