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Thousands of pupils to visit First World War battlefields

More than 1,000 schools have already signed up to give their pupils the chance to visit the First World War battlefields.

More than 1,000 schools have already signed up to give their pupils the chance to visit the First World War battlefields under a centenary scheme set up by Education Secretary Michael Gove.

The project was only launched this summer but 1,097 schools have already signed up.

Each participating school will send at least 2 pupils and a teacher on a 4-day tour to see some of the great battlefields and other notable sites, and to take part in remembrance ceremonies on the western front. The tours start in spring next year and will run until 2019.

The project - part of the government’s centenary education programme - will allow secondary school pupils to learn at first hand about the sacrifices made by the troops and the personal stories of those involved in the war effort.

Children who do not visit will also benefit when pupils and teachers who have taken part in the project pass on what they have learnt from their experience. This could involve establishing commemoration projects, uncovering local stories, and sharing the results of genuine historical enquiries with their schools and local communities.

World War 1 features in the new history curriculum for 11- to 14-year-olds and can also be taught at primary.

Pupils at 25 schools have already visited as part of pilot tours around Ypres and the Somme. They have been to:

  • the Memorial Museum at Passchendaele
  • the Tyne Cot Cemetery near Passchendaele
  • the Langemark Cemetery
  • the Ceremony of the Last Post at the Menin Gate in Ypres
  • the Thiepval Memorial
  • the Ulster Memorial Tower near the Schwaben Redoubt
  • Sheffield Memorial Park on the Somme battlefield
  • Vimy Ridge
  • Flanders Field Museum
  • Lyssenthoek Cemetery
  • Talbot House and the Death Cells at Poperinge

Future tours will take in other sites, including the Indian Memorial at Neuve Chapelle which commemorates more than 4,700 Indian soldiers and labourers who lost their lives on the western front and have no known graves.

Pupils and teachers from every maintained secondary school in England have the chance to go on the tours, which are run by the Institute of Education and the School Travel Group.

Professor Stuart Foster, Executive Director, The First World War Centenary Battlefield Tours Programme, said:

Our aim is to develop an innovative and engaging First World War education programme for all schools in England with visits to the battlefield sites at the centre. The programme is founded on 2 key ideas. First, that schools and pupils actively engage in genuine historical enquiries about different aspects of the war. Second, that pupils develop a deeper understanding and personal connection to those affected by the war. For example, during the first pilot tour background research enabled us to find the grave of one pupil’s great, great uncle and the whole tour group held a remembrance ceremony at the graveside. It was a truly unforgettable moment and an example of the kind of experience that we hope to replicate time and again during the next 5 years.

Children from Southfields Academy, in Wandsworth, London, and Park High School, in Stanmore, London, were among those who have already visited as part of the pilots.

Jamie Hillman, history teacher at Southfields Academy, said:

The educational enrichment for the pupils is enormous and not only for those who attended. They have already been enthusing others with their new-found knowledge. I couldn’t have been happier with the support the trip leaders provided. I am already encouraging teacher friends to get in touch as a matter of urgency.

Harriet Salkeld, history teacher at Park High School, said:

The experience was amazing and a lot or work and thought has clearly gone into the trip. The pupils do still keep talking about the trip and have given presentations in their history lessons to explain what they learnt. I have also received a letter from one of their parents expressing thanks for the opportunity and to say their daughter had not stopped talking about the trip.

Visit the Institute of Education website for more information, including how to sign up.

Notes to editors

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has overall responsibility for the centenary programme and chairs a senior advisory group with members drawn from the military, academic and cultural sectors which oversees and advises on the government’s programme for the commemorating the centenary of the First World War.

The £5.3 million battlefields project is funded by the Department for Education and the Department for Communities and Local Government, and is a centrepiece of the government’s programme to commemorate the start of the war.

Events planned by the government to create a centenary programme of national events, and extensive cultural and educational activity include:

  • 4 August 2014 - the centenary of entry of the British Empire to the war (see below for more information)
  • 25 April 2015 - commemorative event to mark the Gallipoli campaign (major theatre of war outside Europe)
  • 31 May/1 June 2016 - commemorative event to mark the Battle of Jutland (to commemorate the war at sea)
  • 1 July 2016 - commemorative event to mark the Battle of the Somme at Thiepval Memorial, France
  • 31 July 2017 - commemorative event to mark the start of the Third Battle Ypres (Passchendaele) at Tyne Cot Memorial, Belgium
  • 11 November 2018 - commemorative activity to mark Armistice Day

A number of schools across the North West, London, the South East and the East were involved in the pilots of the battlefields tours.