Is there ed­u­ca­tional value in a ski­ing trip?

Most sec­ond-level schools now or­gan­ise over­seas tours for stu­dents, but many par­ents ques­tion why they are so ex­pen­sive and whether they have any ed­u­ca­tional value

The Irish Times - - Front Page - Ar­lene Harris

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, many par­ents say they feel they are 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 ski­ing trips to Europe, about 80 per cent of schools now or­gan­ise an over­seas tour.

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 when I was 14 and from what I re­mem­ber, some 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.”

Other par­ents, how­ever, feel school tours give their chil­dren a rare chance to ex­pe­ri­ence parts of the world they might not oth­er­wise get a chance to visit. 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 Mum­ 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.”

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


Many par­ents say they feel un­der pres­sure to fork out large sums for ex­pen­sive school trips abroad.

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