Organising a school trip requires time and careful planning to ensure that it proceeds safely and successfully.
It can be a busy and stressful time as you organise risk assessments, inform parents, obtain parental consent, gather information about students, supervisors, transport, insurance, accident and emergency procedures as well as collect funds.
A risk assessment needs to be carried out to enable you to:
- identify hazards and dangers
- decide who might be harmed and how
- evaluate the risks and decide whether existing precautions are enough or whether more should be done
- record your findings
- review your assessments and revise them if necessary
If you are worried that you do not have the expertise to conduct a risk assessment, always take advice from a competent source (e.g. The school’s Educational Visits Coordinator (EVC), an experienced colleague or the Local Education Authority's adviser).
It can be useful to see risk assessment as three levels:
- visit or site specific
These are usually prepared by the local authority, national governing bodies and, on occasion, by a member of staff with particular experience or expertise. They will identify control measures that are common to certain activities in all circumstances.
For example - the lack of adequate risk management leading to drowning is a major cause of accidental death. Control measures might include assessing the water confidence and ability of students, use of buoyancy aids and competent supervision.
As another example, travel involves a risk of injury in a road traffic accident. Control measures would include using a qualified driver, using a number of drivers, establishing maximum driving periods, ensuring appropriate seat belts are provided and worn, and seeking evidence of vehicle maintenance.
Visit or site-specific
These are normally undertaken by the school for each venue and are amended as necessary for different groups. They should be prepared or agreed by someone trained to assess risks, such as the EVC. Examples of visit or site specific risk assessments might include:
- the medical needs of students, with control measures including knowledge of known health problems by the group leader and enough medication and contingency measures if an adult has to accompany a child to hospital
- the behaviour of students, with control measures including a code of rules on behaviour
- weather conditions, with control measures including obtaining local information about tides, assessing potential for flooding and establishing the likelihood of sudden weather changes
The visit or site specific risk assessment should always have a pre-assessed `Plan B' for contingencies. For example, what is the `Plan B' if your coach breaks down?
It’s a good idea to involve pupils in the planning of a trip and its risk assessments, so that they are better prepared, will make more informed decisions and be less at risk.
An exploratory visit should ideally form part of the site-specific risk assessment and be accepted as one of the costs of the trip. If this is not possible, then the group leader or EVC must make every effort to obtain information from other sources (e.g. Schools that have been on the trip, or have taken part in the management of the venue).
While the visit is taking place and as the need arises, you need to continually reassess risks.
Informing parents and obtaining parental consent
Parents must be fully informed (in writing) about the proposed trip before they are asked for their consent. Remind parents that pupils cannot be taken on a school trip if their written permission is not received by the school beforehand, and give yourself lots of time to chase parents who forget to submit it to you.
This means that you should give parents information about the risks involved in the visit or activity, and the measures in place to minimise these risks.
Written information will normally include:
- the date and purpose of the visit
- the departure and return times back to school
- the collection point(s)
- the travel arrangements and name of any travel company
- the number of students in the group and what the supervision arrangements are including times of remote supervision
- accommodation information(including security and supervision arrangements on site
- what the provision for special educational or medical needs are
- what the procedures are for students who fall ill
- the name of the group leader, and the names of other staff and adults who will be present on the trip
- information about activities and the risks present and how they will be managed including information about `Plan B's
- what the insurance arrangements are for lost luggage, accidents, cancellations, medical cover, as well as any exclusions from policies and whether parents need to purchase additional cover
- which clothing, equipment and money should be taken by each student
- the total cost of the visit will be
It is good practice to invite parents to a briefing before residential visits, overseas travel or adventure activities.
Also remember to detail to parents the standards of behaviour expected of pupils (e.g. in relation to alcohol, smoking, discipline and items which may not be taken on the trip). Parents should always be asked to sign a code of conduct form. Some schools inform parents of what the consequences will be if these standards are not met (e.g. withdrawal from activities and even asking parents to collect their child early in extreme cases)
The historic practice of asking parents to sign an indemnity form stating that the trip is being undertaken at the student's risk is unacceptable, and in any case is not likely to offer schools and teachers any legal protection.
Before the trip, parents should be asked to give authorisation in advance for any emergency treatment required by their child whilst on the trip, should it be deemed necessary by medical authorities. Your headteacher should consider removing a pupil from a school trip if parents do not agree to this.
Excluding pupils from the trip
Parents generally want their child to have equal access to education, including trips - irrespective of medical conditions or behavioural needs. Schools need to be mindful of their duties under discrimination laws.
However, careful consideration may be needed regarding the extra responsibility and risk for the teacher and the group if a pupil whose behaviour or illness is not under full control comes on the trip. If you face strong pressure to take a pupil whose health or behaviour record gives you a real cause for concern, seek advice from your headteacher, your LEA adviser or union.
Obtaining information about pupils
Parents need to provide you with any information about their child that is likely to be relevant to the management of the school trip. Apart from specific information which might be required by the venue or tour operator, make sure you ask parents:
- check if their child has any allergies or phobias
- ask if their child takes any medication (Who should administer it during the trip and how should this be done?)
- if their child has had any illnesses recently
- what the contact details for their child's doctor are
- if their child has any dietary needs
- whether their child suffers from travel sickness
- whether their child has any irregular sleeping patterns
- about their child's swimming abilities or other competencies, if relevant (e.g. skiing standard)
- if they can provide their contact details, including their reserve contact information
- if there is any other information they consider relevant
Parents have a duty to provide adequate information about their child to teachers who are organising a trip.
When planning a trip, think about the appropriate adult to pupil ratio Supervision should be based on a reasonable judgement of the numbers and expertise of adult supervisors necessary, taking into account the nature and hazards of the trip, the number, age, gender and aptitudes of the pupils as well as the competence, authority and experience of the adults.
As a minimum at least two adults should accompany any group of up to 20 pupils. If a student is taken ill or another emergency arises, one adult can then deal with it while the other looks after the rest of the party (suitably altering the activities to reflect the lower level of supervision).
It is always useful if at least one of the supervisors has completed a first-aid course.
You may also want to consider the following:
- at least one female adult and one male adult should accompany a mixed-sex group
- trips involving hazardous activities will normally require a much smaller ratio than for trips that do not (e.g. One adult to five students)
- using parents of children on the visit should be carefully considered, because if anything goes wrong, the parent may quite naturally wish to take care of their own child, to the possible exclusion of others. Adults in charge of visits need to treat all children as equally important
If you use volunteers as supervisors rather than teachers they have little more authority over the young people they are accompanying than any other member of the public. You should check with your school’s insurers about cover for volunteers (e.g. what would happen if a volunteer was negligent).
Similarly, the volunteers themselves need to know whether they are insured personally through the school's own arrangements or whether they need to obtain their own cover. They also need to know what their role, authority and responsibilities on the trip are. It should be clear at the outset whether an adult (e.g. a parent) who is accompanying the party is expected to share responsibility for the welfare of pupils, or whether s/he is merely another participant on the trip.
Care should be taken against using volunteers to ‘make up numbers’: a school might be negligent if it does not send enough employees with appropriate authority over the pupils in their care.
All volunteers, including parents, should be police checked.
When planning a trip, careful thought needs to be given to transport. This aspect of the trip must be included in the risk assessment.
Factors to be considered when planning transport by coach or minibus include:
- passenger safety
- competence level and training of the driver, and whether s/he has the correct licence
- number of driving hours
- capacity and experience of the driver to maintain concentration (Is more than one driver needed to avoid fatigue?)
- type of journey (e.g. is it a local trip or long distance one?)
- traffic conditions
- contingency funds and arrangements in case of a breakdown or an emergency
- insurance cover
- the weather
- stopping points on long journeys
Minibuses and coaches should have seat-belts fitted. Check that every pupil has their seat-belt fastened before you set off.
Driving a minibus
Driving a minibus should always be a voluntary activity and you should not drive a minibus unless trained to do so.
Do not drive if you feel too tired or unwell to do so safely - the safety of passengers and other road-users is paramount.
If you are driving the minibus, you should never be expected to ensure passengers remain well-behaved and strapped into their seats throughout a journey whilst driving. At least one other adult should be on board to maintain discipline, unless the journey is very short. Ideally, the other adult should also be a trained minibus driver.
Also, it should become normal practice for drivers to have a mobile telephone for use in emergencies.
School Trip Insurance
All participants on a school trip must be fully and correctly insured. Check your school has this in place.
It is also important to ensure that the insurance includes cover for possible personal liability ('third party insurance') for all adults who are responsible for students on the trip.
Examples of cover that may be needed on a school trip include:
- employers liability
- public liability
- personal accident cover for teachers or lecturers, other adults and students
- costs of medical treatment
- specialised risk activities
- damage to or loss of hired equipment
- programmed and non-programmed activities
- expenses in emergencies
- cancellation and delay
- loss of baggage and personal property
- legal fees in costs of recovery
- bankruptcy of provider
It is also essential to be aware of the risks excluded from a policy. Some policies exclude horse-riding, for example, and such exclusion could be critical if the package includes pony-trekking or riding. The standard employer's liability insurance provided by the school or local authority may not provide cover for this risk.
Accidents and emergency procedures
Emergency procedures form an essential part of planning a trip. They should be clearly set out in written policies for educational visits, and every group leader should have a checklist for immediate action in an emergency.
Accounting for money
A budget should be prepared before any trip departs and should list all items of potential expenditure (e.g. transport, insurance, additional staff costs, entrance or other fees, board and lodging costs, or hiring costs) and also include a clearly identified contingency sum.
Work out a cost per pupil by dividing the total cost by the number of pupils you propose to take with you on the trip. Your calculations should be made available to anyone who may reasonably wish to see them.
Keep clear, written accounts of all money collected, as well as a daily accounts book, showing:
- the date of each transaction
- who the payment was to or from
- the cheque number
- the resulting balance
Each sheet of the accounts book should be signed by the person maintaining it.
Receipts showing the amount paid, the total so far contributed and any amount outstanding should be issued for every payment received from pupils.
Do not pay money for a trip into your own bank or building society account, nor is it advised money for trips be invested in the school own funds. A separate account should ideally be set up, ideally with more than one signatory.
School trips can be educational and great fun. The can help develop relationships between students and staff and be one of the things we all look back on with fond memories. With careful preparation and planning your school trip can be the highlight of the year but remember – failing to prepare, is preparing to fail! Stay safe, stay calm and enjoy!