How can self-led visits to historic sites provide the most economical and inspirational cross-curricular outside the classroom learning opportunities? By booking an educational visit with English Heritage.
All 400+ sites in our care can be visited free of charge and offer limitless learning opportunities because history by its very nature is cross-curricular.
Whether you choose a prehistoric site, castle, abbey or mansion, there’s so much to see, hear, explore, touch, talk about, find out about and immerse yourself in that visits to them are rarely forgotten. You can get in touch with the raw fabric of history and bring it to life, share ideas and use different ways of working to spark a life-time interest in the environment.
As well as soaking up the atmosphere, learners can have fun finding and recording features like loos, prisons and hide outs, deciding why things are where they are and imagining the different people – from humble servants and craftspeople to the rich and powerful – who will lived, worked and played there.
You can follow in the footsteps of ancestors, explore your roots, enjoy the freedom of running around in an open space and have the chance to develop team-work, communication and problem-solving skills.
Self-led trips can be used to introduce concepts such as cause and consequence, chronology, sequencing, and diversity (of experience and viewpoints) which are essential throughout life. They can also develop key skills which are transferable – such as carrying out enquiries and research, evaluating evidence, presenting explanations and communicating knowledge and understanding. Learners can also use what they see around them to develop a sense of pride and place and a sense of their own identity, their identity as members of their local community and their identity as citizens of the UK, no matter whether they were born here or have recently arrived.
The secret to a really successful self-led trip is good planning. At English Heritage we aim to make it as easy as possible by enabling you to download or receive a free hazard information sheet and a teachers’ kit or information for teachers (many containing reconstruction drawings, site plans and tips about what to see and do).
Armed with these, you can decide what you want to do well in advance. You can also familiarise yourself with a property on a free planning visit and benefit from a 20% reduction on the property guide which provides many useful details.
An increasing number of sites offer education rooms and on-site learning resources such as book bags, handling collections, costumes and photo evidence sheets and activities such as challenges. The loan of flip cameras and other devices are also on the cards. But even where these are not available there are usually picnic areas, shops and interesting landscapes, gardens or wildlife to explore. There’s plenty of scope for variety – perhaps tour the site first, then search and find specific features, work in teams to determine how things may have happened, or be inspired to create stories, drawings, music, photos, videos or dramas – and send in your views, ideas and creations to
Other useful resources to add terrific value before and after DIY visits are the free digital classroom materials available fromwww.heritageexplorer.org.uk and the online Heritage Learning magazine with its teaching resources for inside and outside the classroom and easy to use lesson ideas.
To transform self-led visits into truly memorable day-long trips there’s also the option of adding an expert-led Discovery Visit (£90 per class) at many key properties. These award-winning interactive sessions support the national curriculum across a range of subjects and key stages and suit a wide range of
learning styles. Learners can step into the shoes of Roman soldiers, medieval engineers, Victorian servants or Tudor monarchs. They develop skills of enquiry, introduce new
vocabulary, incorporate whole group discussion as well as individual work and encourage active participation.
Judges of the Sandford Awards granted to Audley End and Bolsover Castle in 2008 in recognition of the quality of heritage education offered at the properties said: “English Heritage is to be applauded for the development of the Discovery Visits, which interpret the story of the site and give a sense of time and place to visiting schools.” English Heritage has been granted Sandford Awards for 19 different properties, testifying the value and quality of Discovery Visits available at all of them.
And learners’ and teachers’ verdicts?
“My class were enthralled and have been talking non-stop abouttheir visit. I am glad we made the effort of sitting for 2 hours in the coach – it really was worth it!” said a primary school teacher after her visit to Portland Castle.
A Year 6 pupil who went on a “Dissolution drama: will Henry break the habit?” Discovery Visit (available at Cleeve and Muchelney Abbeys) said “It felt like we were actually
travelling through time when we dressed in those robes and shuffled around the abbey. We did look like monks, except monks don’t wear trainers”.
In order to qualify for the English heritage free entry scheme, learning groups are asked to pre-book and undertake planned education work as part of the visit.
There is no entry charge because we want to help young people understand and appreciate why these important ancient buildings matter and how they could disappear for ever unless we look after them.
Find out more about the English Heritage free entry scheme for learning groups, booking, etc at
See how we view learning at historic sites, Discovery Visit and teacher and pupil reactions to it at