English Heritage bus scheme to fund school trips

Image caption Schools can apply for free coach trips to sites such as Stonehenge

Thousands of state schools in England are to be offered free bus journeys to famous historic sites under a scheme announced by English Heritage.

It will use £120,000 a year to pay for some 7,500 coaches taking schoolchildren to sites such as Stonehenge and Hadrian's Wall.

English Heritage said the move, to be funded by donations and legacies, could benefit some 30,000 children this year.

This follows a "gradual decline" in school visits in recent years.

A spokesman for English Heritage said more than 10,000 non fee-paying primary and secondary schools in England would be eligible to apply.

Admission to more than 400 sites in the organisation's national heritage collection were already free for schools, he said.

According to figures collected by the public body, there were 478,500 "educational visitors" to its sites in 2002-3 - the vast majority of whom were schoolchildren.

However, the number of visits from schoolchildren in 2012 was just 345,000 - suggesting a drop of around 28%.

The spokesman said the cost of transport had been identified as one of the main obstacles preventing schools from making more trips.

'Out of the classroom'

English Heritage chief executive Simon Thurley stressed the importance of enabling young people to make such journeys.

Image caption English Heritage manages Queen Victoria's Isle of Wight residence, Osborne House

"People are more likely to visit historic sites if they first visited them as a child," he said.

Mr Thurley added that while admission to national heritage collection sites was free for schools, "the cost of actually getting to them is beyond the reach of many".

Money for the initiative would come from donations and legacies received by the English Heritage Foundation, he added.

Education Secretary Michael Gove welcomed the scheme, saying: "Tens of thousands of children will be able to visit and be inspired by the sites that played a significant role in shaping the history of England."

National Union of Teachers general secretary Christine Blower also praised the scheme, but blamed government cuts for leaving schools unable to afford their own transport.

She said: "While we regret that school budgets are being cut to the extent they cannot afford transport costs, this is an extremely good idea.

"While schools could ask for donations, many parents will not be able to afford to do so. This leads to young people not having access to the all-round education school trips provide."

The introduction of the scheme coincides with the centenary of the 1913 Ancient Monuments Act, which enabled the establishment of the National Heritage Collection.

The collection now includes the 1066 Battle of Hastings battlefield, the home of British scientists Charles Darwin, and Osborne - Queen Victoria's family home on the Isle of Wight.

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