With their rich history, the SJA have gained a wealth of experience and are renowned as the leading experts in providing school journeys for children of all ages for over a century. In 1986, the Queen Mother attended the 75th Anniversary of the School Journey Association and in 2011 they celebrated 100 years of providing outstanding, organised school travel and visits.
The school journey movement in Great Britain originated at the end of the 19th century with the very first recorded educational trip abroad reported to be in 1913. However there is now evidence that the Regent School took a party of school children to Belgium on 1898 and in the same year a school master aware that he and his pupils had never seen the glaciers they were learning about took 60 children for a month to Switzerland. Such trips proved expensive with children from less advantaged backgrounds not always able to partake. The majority of UK children had never seen the differing landscapes of their own country and some teachers organised field and day trips, which were taken in old barges and antiquated railway carriages. The Temperance Institute were also known to escort poor children to the see simple things such as forests and woodlands which were not to be found within their own bleak environments.
In 1896, Mr G.G. Lewis, a Head from Bellenden Road Elementary School in London made one of the very first recorded English School Journey with his pupils. Lewis was a keen advocate of school journeys as a desirable and beneficial factor in education, and in 1911 together with a group of colleagues, he set up the School Journey Association of London to assist children from schools from the poorer areas of the East End of London. One of its key benefactor and Founder President was Lady St Helier, a well known socialite and a prominent figure in helping charitable organisations particularly those dealing with the poor. With her high standing social position as the wife of Baron St Helier and a London City Councillor, she was also instrumental in supporting the School Journey Association in becoming the first pioneers in school travel.
The organisation, established as a charity membership association with around fifty schools mainly in London and the Southern Counties, was formed to supervise and organise educational trips and also to reduce the expense. This was achieved by obtaining special concessions from Railway Companies, caterers and those in charge of places of educational interest and the co-operation of the Youth Hostels Association, the League of Nations Union, the International Bureau at Geneva and the Rotary International. The charity also bought hostel properties in London on visits where children from other places could stay.
The School Journey Association transported school children away from where they were living, sometimes in dreadful conditions in order for them to come into direct contact with other cultures, lands, languages. It allowed children to get away from the strict regime of rows of seats in the classroom and to learn firsthand about the world they lived in through these educational experiences. Other benefits were the chance to interact with students from other schools and to take part in group learning and participation.
The school excursion had a long fight in Great Britain for recognition by local and national authorities. At first the trips were confined to vacation periods, but by 1906 the Board of Education had permitted them to be taken during the course of the school year.
The SJA keenly promoted educational learning outside of the classroom in school time and were instrumental in the collection and interchange of information of the benefits of such journeys. Minds were changed about the value of education and from children sitting in strict rows to the value of teaching children outside the classroom. They became quickly renowned as the key figure in exchange students and in giving advice to the Government about International school travel. Towards the end of the 1920’s, the Government, aware of the declining British Empire, were keen to maintain close contact with Commonwealth and other European countries and encouraged the school journeys which the organisation offered. There were similar organisations in Germany and France with whom the SJA worked with on student exchanges.
In December, 1936 the School Journey Association celebrated its Silver Jubilee at Westminster. The previous year, 1935, 70,000 school children had made journeys. Of this number 11,000 had made continental tours. In 1937, The Times Educational Supplement cited the School Journey Association as taking 20,000 pupils away every year with membership in the association numbers escalating to over 4000 schools. Over the years, subject specific tours were developed with students benefiting from geography, history, art and music trips, visiting an array of places of interest such as the battlefields of the war that they had lived through.
The introduction of town twinning, conceived after the Second World War in 1947, supported relationship building between European countries that had been torn apart by war helped forge better links for exchange of students. Transport developments enabled mass tourism in this post war holiday boom, and over a million British people travelled abroad on cheap package trips to places such as the Costa Blanca. Whilst the SJA offered educational experiences for children and not holidays, other more commercial educational companies were set up to capitalise on the financial gains of this marketplace and competition grew.
The charitable organisation had grown rapidly despite two World Wars and major national economic hardships. In 1911, less than fifty school journeys were undertaken; by 1959 the number had risen annually to well over 1300 as recorded by two associated companies, the School Journey Association of London and Educational Travel Ltd who later amalgamated in 1986 with the SJA introducing funds from the sale of its property in London to fund further growth of the organisation.
The Foreign Secretary, Sir John Simon is of the opinion that exchanges of visits between British and Foreign schoolchildren and students is of the utmost value in fostering the growth of a better feeling between the nations concerned – The Foreign Office, 1933