What to ask when you are booking an activity day out for your class or group

A teacher and group leader guide to booking an activity day out anywhere in the country 

So its that time of year again, your class our screaming at you for details of their activity school tour and you need to book a lot sooner than you would like. Its not an easy job picking a location that you can have confidence in. We have come up with some important questions to ask the centre and explain why they are important so you can be sure of your decision.

Are you fully insured and how much does your public liability cover?

Safety first! One of the first things that you want to be sure of when taking a group off site. Their public liability should a minimum of 6.5 million. It is really important that the site is covered in addition to your school insurance.

Are my students fully supervised?

It is your school tour as well don't you know? You need a day out as much as the students. Ask will you have to have supervision with each group or just a representative on site. In some cases you will be the tour guide in others you can do as much or as little as you like while having full confidence in your tour operators.

What is the staff to student ratio?

This is extra important for any water activities. All centres have a requirement for 1:6 instructor to student ratio on the water. If a centre doesn't have this alarm bells should ring straight away.

How many activities will the students get out in their “full day” and what duration are they?

This is a really important one to ask and you can easily read between the lines. This can be anywhere between two and six activities. But six activities might only be 30 minutes each. If they are it means your students are only really getting a very small taster to the activity. To really get a proper session you want to hear that they have at a minimum 75 minutes on each activity which allows for gear up and down time.  Centres can try and sell you on quantity, but its quality that you are looking for. Make sure you pick activities that are close to one another and not another bus ride away. The last thing you want is your students to get off a two hour bus ride only to get on another mini bus just to go to one activity!

How long have the staff been at the centre?

This might seem like an odd one but no matter what facilities a centre has its the staff that will ultimately make your students day. If there have been the same staff at the centre for some years running it means that its a good place to work which means that the staff are happy to come in and the centre is happy that the staff are doing a great job to hold up their reputation!

What activities to do?

If you're going let your students pick from a list of  activities be very careful. Ask the centre first, before you open up the discussion. Remember a good centre probably does over a hundred school tours in May & June alone. They know what activities work well together and what activities suit each age group. For example your students might want all water sports, might seem like a great idea but this is Ireland and its cold, this could really effect the younger students experience. Other activities might go well together in ways you might first not notice. For example we try to keep two harnesses activities together as this means your students only have to get geared up once giving way more time on the activities as opposed to getting ready for them. Moral of the story? Talk to your centre first, they are all different but each knows what works best for them and ultimately what will be the best format for you! Avoid disappointed faces before you even arrive!

Are the staff first aid trained?

Another important one and one in which will good centre will be able to answer with a simple answer: Yes. Remember they are first aid trained not doctors. If you're coming to an outdoor centre, expect some cuts and scrapes but don't fret. The centre can handle anything that comes their way. All good centre s will have safety statements and risk assessments for all their activities. But if you're not sure ask! They will be happy to show them to you.... if they have them.

Are their lounges for the teachers?

Most good centres will have dedicated lounges for your school tour with teas and coffees. A chill out zone for you to take time out and if you're still in the work mood get some done while your students are having a ball.

Are their loads of things for our students to waste their money on?

Dont be fooled by a cheap price. You get what you pay for. If it seems cheap there is a good chance the centre will be getting their money through souvenirs or vending machines. Ask first and don't have your students going home with a bag full of goodies to their parents that they will never use again. Kinda defeats the purpose of going on a money saving tour hey??

What should I be paying for a full day of activities?

The average cost in an activity centre in Ireland is 40 Euro per student. In a good centre you will get your value in spades. Anything more and you are looking at specialised activities that you will find in no other centres. Any less and you may want to ask where the centre is cutting costs. Feel free to haggle but be prepared to be flexible. If you can come on a day that suits the centre it may be mutually beneficial. But don't expect an automatic discount because you are bring large numbers. A good centre will deal with these day in day out. The more numbers the more staff they have and the bigger the cost to the centre. The days are priced accurately and fairly. Remember its a short season for the centres and usually the school tour season is the only time they will be guaranteed to be full. It is very important for them that it is full. A centre that won't bargain with you in June is usually a great one because it means their are alot more schools more than happy to pay the price because they are confident they will get the experience that their students will never forget.

When is the best time to book and for what time of year?

If you can go outside the peak season of May and June you can generally pick up a pretty good deal. Generally their will be availability in centres for March, April and the first week or so of May. If you're looking to book for June and the last three weeks of May, join the club, you and every other school in the country. Book for these dates now! The best centres will fill and fast. If you leave it till after Easter you probably won't get your preferred date if any at all.

Bottom line the clues are all their. Ask a centre all these questions and you will get a good idea of the quality of their service, staff and activities. If they answer these correctly they are a top quality centre so trust them, they are an experienced well run operation who deal with schools every day of the season, they know what works. They are also happy to give custom packages so dont be afraid to ask for something that may not be on the menu.

Whether you come to us or another centre around the country we wish you best of luck and hope everything runs smoothly. I personally never get tired of of seeing how much students get from a day out at an outdoor activity centre. Whether they are sporty or not, it takes them out of their comfort zone in a challenging, fun and controlled environment. Give your students the gift of an experience they will be talking about for years to come in 2015.