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'Best day of my life'

The virtual classroom is creating a level playing field for pupils with a wide range of learning difficulties, according to Jess Hamilton, a school trip coordinator at special needs school Shaftesbury High School. 

While not all 160 students at the North London school are comfortable participating in actual day trips or residential trips, every pupil - from those attending the school’s Autistic resource centre to others with ADHD, epilepsy and developmental delay - all got to enjoy trips to the Moon, the Congo and the Great Barrier Reef. In this Q&A we ask Jess how SEN schools can benefit from Google Expeditions.

When Google came to visit your school what trips did you choose?

We covered Space, the Great Wall of China and Gorillas; we also went on safari and visited the Great Barrier Reef. We go on a residential trip to France in the sixth form and that’s when a lot of pupils tend to apply for their first passports – until then many have never travelled abroad - so it’s really great to be able to give them this experience. They all picked at least one experience that  they wanted to do but we covered the curriculum where it was appropriate. Year 7 are doing Animals and Habitats so we tried to make their experience relevant to that.

What were the pupils’ initial reactions to the Expeditions experience?

The students were shouting 'Look at this!', getting a complete buzz! It was exciting and lovely to watch their reactions as they turned their heads, trying to spot gorillas. A couple of kids even leapt out of their chairs! It was brilliant to hear their conversations - 'Have you seen this?' 'Look at that!' They were chatting away with each other and communicating with the staff, which was great to see.

Were the pupils set any exercises based on their trips?

Some created a display based on the expeditions they went on. In it, one of our sixth formers wrote a message stating that this had been the best day of her life!

Do you think Expeditions is useful in addition to regular school trips?

We were lucky enough to take some of our year 10 students on a battlefield trip to visit locations in France and Belgium with links to World War one. But for others, they find going out difficult – some find going out on day trips stressful - so Google Expeditions is a great way to bring the trip to them in their own familiar surroundings where they are happy to engage and explore.

Would you recommend the experience to other schools?

It’s an amazing resource for all schools - it’s multisensory and really hooked our students in. What I really like is the inclusive nature of it. Sometimes certain children can dominate a class but the way it’s set up means that everyone is interacting and exploring at the same time. It also encourages team work - while the students were exploring they were suggesting things to each other - ‘Shall we try this?’ and ‘We could do that?’. The virtual classroom is something that all students, regardless of their needs or backgrounds, can take part in.