Royal Opera House: Tackling the challenge of school trip transport costs

The Royal Opera House Schools’ Matinees programme has been welcoming schools to spectacular opera and ballet performances for nearly 50 years. With the aim of inspiring school pupils of all ages, our Schools’ Matinees encourage an understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of opera and ballet for young people. Each year, we host six dedicated performances – just for schools – for £7.50 a ticket.

Last season, Schools’ Matinees gave 193 primary and secondary schools the opportunity to visit the Royal Opera House to experience opera and ballet for the first time – reaching over 10,000 students and teachers in total. Of those attending, 71% came from schools with a higher than the national average proportion of pupils in receipt of Free School Meals, and 68% of the audience came from outside of London.

This year, the Royal Opera House has experienced extraordinary demand for these performances, with over 500 applications for tickets to a Schools’ Matinee. And our travel grants are also in high demand. We aim to offer all non-London based schools support with their transport costs if they need them. We are able to offer these grants – to the tune of £25,000 each season – thanks to the generous support of The Taylor Family Foundation. In return, we ask that schools complete a survey on their experience and share a creative response from their students. This could be anything: an account of their trip, a drawing, a presentation or a piece of creative writing.

Photo of school pupils sat in stall seats at the Royal Opera House, preparing to watch Swan Lake Schools' Matinee © 2022, the image shows the opera stage and balcony seats. (Photo graph Rachel Cherry)
Swan Lake Schools’ Matinee © 2022 at Royal Opera House. (Photo by Rachel Cherry)

In their applications to us, schools repeatedly cite travel costs as a major barrier to providing pupils with trips. Increasingly, the cost of transport far outweighs the cost of the ticket, placing a significant financial burden on parents in low income areas. Travel costs were also the reason for a number of schools cancelling their visit last season. Worryingly, that trend has continued this year, with several schools having to drop out for this reason. This season, I have seen a significant increase in the number of individual asks from schools, with many citing train and coach costs as considerably more expensive than in previous years. In 2021/22, I received nearly £34,000 in requests and schools would have typically received approximately two thirds of their travel costs. In 2022/23, this rose to £61,617 in requests. This season, requests have reached over £100,000 across six performances.

Despite the pressures schools face, the Royal Opera House continues to attract a huge number of applications, from schools across the country, to attend a performance. Teachers repeatedly tell us how transformational they believe a visit will be for their pupils. Travel grants are key to maintaining our ability to welcome a diverse range of school groups, and offer them the opportunity to visit this breathtaking venue. Across the four Schools’ Matinees so far this season:

  • 81% of attendees have come from schools with higher than national average free school meals
  • 62% have come from outside of London
  • 60% are from schools who haven’t visited us before
  • Nearly 40% come from areas Arts Council England priority areas, and,
  • 18% come from over 100 miles away, including areas such as Hull, Blackpool, Cornwall, Newcastle, Rotherham and Blackburn.

Feedback from teachers confirms the importance of these visits and the vital role that travel grants play in making visits possible for children that might otherwise miss out:

“Without the financial assistance, due to living so far out of London in Harwich (a deprived area) our parents are unlikely to be able to fund this. Meaning our children will lose the enriching opportunity this would allow us to provide. We very rarely have performances like this near where we live and certainly not at affordable ticket prices. This could be a once in a lifetime opportunity for many of our children.” 

Spring Meadow Primary School & School House Nursery, Essex – attended The Nutcracker in December 2023

“Without this grant, unfortunately, we would not be able to attend, as costs are too high. With 45% of our learners receiving free school meals, and around 40% receiving Pupil Premium, many of our families are not in the position to contribute financially. Visiting the ROH has been the highlight of many of our pupils’ time at Nether Hall, and something that we are very proud of achieving, despite our challenges.” 

Nether Hall SEND School, Leicestershire – attended Hansel and Gretel in December 2023.

Find out more about the Royal Opera House’s School Matinee performances by visiting

By Allie Duthie, School Events Programme Manager, Royal Opera House

Society of London Theatre & UK Theatre believe that every child has the right to experience and enjoy our country’s culture and world-leading theatre, so we will be asking political parties to commit to providing funding and support for our aim in their general election manifestos – that every child goes to the theatre by the time they leave school.

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