Education Education Education at the East Somerset Railway

29th October, 2019 by Simon Bending

St Margarets School Tintinhull
Elaine Lavender

The 2019 season for school trips has just finished and it’s time for our end-of-year report!

The East Somerset Railway has welcomed more schools than ever this year between May and October, filling 11 of a possible 16 weekday slots for pupils ranging from Reception Class to Year 6.  Coming from as far afield as Cornwall, we have hosted some 435 young people and have loved every minute!

It became increasingly clear that one benefit of bringing groups to the ESR is the tailored plan that schools can devise.  Choosing from a learning menu, schools have been able to choose a theme as well as balance site visits with learning workshops.  The most popular theme continues to be ‘Evacuees’ but is closely followed by ‘Transport through Time’; ‘Victorians’ and ‘Brunel & the West Country’ were also taken up for the first time, showing that choices and flexibility for trip organisers are strongly appreciated and offer better value for money. 

However, all the choices in the world are meaningless unless there are volunteers to help realise them!  A fantastic feature of this season has been the support offered by various volunteers across the site: the Miniature Railway team of Graham, Stewart, Bernard, Derek & Peter have been superb with school groups and the minirail has been one of the most regularly chosen site attractions across the year.  Also massively valued by schools are the visits to the Engine Shed & Sentinel Museum – a totally huge thank you to Dick, Colin & Gary for giving up time for school groups and interrupting their schedules.  The working Engine Shed and the progression of Sentinel restoration are really visual treats for pupils and key to the positive feedback we have received. There’s also a huge buzz of ‘what’s up THERE?’ when young people scale the Signal Box steps and get to pull levers and get an understanding of the points and signalling: thank you, Ken, for all your input, knowledge and enthusiasm with the groups!  The variety of site attractions are not only great value, as they are all included in the price, but they are also accessible to all learning styles and allow pupils to explore the site rather than being confined in a classroom.  

The Discovery Centre has also proved its weight in lottery-money gold, being a valuable learning space that can offer a range of audio, visual and practical group tasks (as well as a warm, toasty space when the weather turned!); the write-on wall has been truly christened and a variety of themed learning workshops have run over the year.  Mike and Nick have been sensational in setting up various learning activities: ‘being a guard’, a timetabling activity, Signal Box guiding, Railways in wartime, Canals, IKBrunel & the West Country have all allowed the railway to offer flexibility and valuable learning opportunities that tick the ‘curriculum covered’ box for school planners & the railway is enormously indebted to both gentlemen, without which the programme could not have been so comprehensive and flexible.   Of course, there are also the magnificent people such as Kerry and Alastair, always on the case and looking out for the school groups on the platform and train, Vera, Heather, Anne, Elaine & Elaine who support the visits behind the scenes (& even turn into Land Girl Wonderwoman – ask Elaine!) & the ever-cheery drivers and the firemen.  So there we have a living, steaming, thriving team effort and congratulations to everyone involved on such an incredible year.  We’ve now set a precedent for 2020!!

Thank you all,

Lisa Pool October 2019 (‘her reports were always too long….’)


School visit statistics

  • Schools visiting: 13
  • Earliest booking: 5th June
  • Latest booking: 23rd October
  • Closest School visiting: All Hallows Prep
  • Furthest School visiting: Mullion School, Cornwall
  • Somerset Schools: 9
  • Visit-free Wednesdays: 10 July, 17 July, 18 Sept.
  • Other counties: Wiltshire (x2), Gloucestershire (x1), Cornwall (x1)
  • Themes Studied:  Evacuees x 6, Transport through Time x 4, Victorians x1, Brunel x1.  Site attractions only x1.

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