Educational visits can be of substantial benefit to the education and development of pupils.

The NEU believes that educational visits can be of substantial benefit to the education and development of pupils. For many they offer opportunities to broaden their horizons and enrich their experiences. Tragic incidents in the past, however, have shown that proper and full concern for health and safety must be an imperative at every stage.

This briefing sets out NEU guidance on planning and undertaking educational visits including:

  • teachers’ and support staff rights and obligations with regard to educational visits;
  • practical steps to be taken in organising visits; · detailed advice on supervising pupils; and
  • specific guidance on outdoor adventure activities
  • foreign language exchanges
  • farm visits
  • specific guidance on staffing levels for visits, including pupils with special educational needs (see Appendix 1)

See DfE advice on educational visits which should help schools understand their health and safety obligations. 

Schools in England and Wales can, however, draw upon more useful sources of advice on educational visits. In particular, the NEU recommends the authoritative information and guidance produced by the Outdoor Education Advisers’ Panel (OEAP). 

Further guidance on safety management of educational visits has been published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The HSE has produced a ‘high level statement’ addressing School Trips and Outdoor Learning Activities. The NEU was consulted on this document and is, therefore, able to recommend it.

The central message of the guidance is that it is important to strike the right balance between protecting pupils from risk and allowing them to learn from educational visits. Further to this guidance, the HSE has published five case studies to illustrate examples of proportionate responses to planning and delivering educational visits. FAQs about educational visits are also available.

Should staff organise and take part in educational visits?

The NEU’s longstanding advice to members on participation in educational visits is that all education staff must use their professional judgment in relation to their personal circumstances and aspirations. Unless the visit is in school/college time and part of the curriculum for a particular subject, for example, a geography field trip, the involvement of staff in educational visits is entirely voluntary.

Staff are entitled to expect the highest standards of safety and support in the organisation and supervision of educational visits. Staff need the benefit of a reasonable “work/life” balance. The two are linked. Many staff members regard educational visits as an opportunity to extend their professionalism. If staff are already pressured and stressed by a heavy workload the further pressures of organising and supervising educational visits may be the cause of unacceptable safety hazards.

Staff who do not choose to take on these burdens are entitled to decline to be involved in voluntary visits and will be supported by the NEU in doing so. The NEU will also support teachers who have a responsibility for curriculum-based visits in demands for the highest safety standards and for acknowledgement of the workload involved.

Organising a visit

England

No member of staff should be expected to start from square one without assistance and advice when asked to organise an educational visit. No teacher should become involved in organising an educational visit unless they have been provided with supportive documentation derived from the 1 Including regular head-counts and occasional register checks School Trips experience of others.

As mentioned earlier the NEU believes that the current DfE guidance is of limited use to staff in schools planning educational visits. It appears to be the product of a desire to reduce documentation and so-called ‘red tape’ at the expense of in-depth advice. The result is a document which includes a brief overview of the core elements of running educational visits, but one that lacks the detailed content of previous government guidance.

Most local authorities and other employers, such as academies, foundation and voluntary aided schools have also issued guidance on this area, which is likely to be more detailed than that provided by the DfE.

The NEU therefore advises staff to follow school/college guidelines, which should be in accordance with employer advice such as that issued by local authorities. As previously stated, some local authorities have adopted the very good guidance produced by the Outdoor Education Advisory Panel (OEAP).

Wales

No member of staff should be expected to start from square one without assistance and advice when asked to organise an educational visit. No-one should become involved in organising an educational visit unless he or she has been provided with supportive documentation derived from the experience of others. See also the section of this document headed ‘Using Tour Operators’.

The Welsh Government has adopted the framework set out by the OEAP and local authorities in Wales should use the OEAP National Guidance as a framework for ensuring that they meet their requirements under health and safety legislation when organising educational visits. Welsh Government guidance on educational visits is available here and the OEAP guidance is here.

The planning process

Educational Visit Coordinators (EVCs) - Until 2011 the DfE recommended that each school should have a designated “educational visit coordinator” (EVC), who may be the head teacher or some other member of staff with “a keen interest in the value of educational visits”.

The current DfE guidance states however that there is ‘no legal requirement’ for schools to appoint an EVC. By contrast, the OEAP guidance, which is adopted by the Welsh Government, states that ‘it is good practice for all establishments to have an EVC’ who is ‘specifically competent’. Many employers do make it a requirement for schools to have an EVC in place.

The NEU expects that, where such post holders exist, they should be paid appropriately to their additional responsibilities and receive such support, including non-contact time, as is necessary to discharge these responsibilities. In many cases, the role of EVC will be taken on by the head teacher, though it can be fulfilled by any teacher with appropriate training and experience.

Some schools could be tempted to confer the role of EVC on to a member of support staff. Whilst this might be acceptable if the post holder concerned had the relevant skills cited above, the OEAP guidance emphasises that the role of EVC is ‘not an administrative role, although certain functions School Trips may be delegated to an administrator’. Where the EVC role is attached to an administrative post or where a post holder is not an experienced visit leader, the OEAP states, ‘the EVC will require structured access to and support from a designated colleague who fits the recommended criteria’.

Furthermore, in the case of local authority schools, it is good practice for each local authority to designate a named local authority officer, generally an education adviser, who has responsibility for overseeing school educational visits and advising and assisting schools on their proposed activities.

The group leader - The group leader responsible for organising the journey should ensure that the school EVC is fully informed of the proposed arrangements during the planning process. The proposals for the journey, including all of the matters set out below, should be presented to the co-ordinator for agreement.

All colleagues who will be involved in, or otherwise affected by, the journey should also be fully informed of arrangements. While in the case of routine visits, the task of assessing and approving a visit would rest with the school EVC, it is good practice for all other visits to be directly approved by the employer, such as the local authority adviser with responsibility for educational visits.

Risk assessments

The risk assessment process is an important tool in ensuring health and safety at work. It means, simply, that employers set out to identify hazards to health and safety, evaluate the risk of harm resulting from those hazards and take appropriate action to protect employees and others.

Regardless of the type of visit being planned, due consideration of the likely dangers and difficulties inherent in the trip must take place. Many local authorities and other employers have detailed guidance on visits, including risk assessments, which schools and colleges must follow. Additionally, the OEAP has produced comprehensive guidance on risk assessment for educational visits.

A risk assessment for a visit need not be complex but it should be comprehensive. Safety must always be the prime consideration, even on low risk trips to a local historical site or museum. If the risks cannot be contained then the visit must not take place.

The risk assessment should be based on the following considerations:

  • what are the hazards?
  • who might be affected by them?
  • what safety measures need to be in place to reduce risks to an acceptable level?
  • can the group leader put the safety measures in place?
  • what steps will be taken in an emergency?

A good risk assessment for a school trip would consider, amongst other things:

  • the venue - site and environment, including accommodation where relevant;
  • the group, including age range, fitness, competence and temperament;
  • the special educational or medical needs of pupils; • the programme of activities;
  • the staffing and issues relating to effective supervision;
  • transport issues, including suitable seat belts and seat restraints and driver accommodation;
  • quality and suitability of available equipment;
  • seasonal issues such as weather and timing;
  • emergency procedures; School Trips
  • how to cope when a pupil becomes unable or unwilling to continue; and
  • the need to monitor the risks throughout the visit.

Copies of the risk assessment should be given to all supervisors on the visit - in addition to EVCs, head teachers and employers as required - so that everyone can be clear about the nature and level of risk management required for each individual trip. More details can be found in the download below.

Staffing and supervision

OEAP guidance states that “ratios are a risk management issue, and should be determined through the process of risk assessment.”

The guidance goes on to say that “it is not possible to set down definitive staff/student ratios for a particular age group or activity, although the law does specify minimum ratios for Early Years.” Adequate levels of supervision and staffing must be established for the journey based on such factors as the sex, age and ability of the children, the presence of pupils with special educational needs, the nature/length of the journey, the nature of activities to be undertaken and the experience and competence of the staff involved.

Guidance issued by the Government back in 1998 suggested the following “starting points” for consideration of staffing ratios. These were intended as a general guide for visits to local historical sites and museums or for local walks.

  • 1 adult for every 6 pupils in school years 1 to 3 (under 5s reception classes should have a higher ratio);
  • 1 adult for every 10-15 pupils in school years 4 to 6;
  • 1 adult for every 15-20 pupils in school year 7 onwards.

The above guidelines make it clear that higher ratios may be appropriate in particular cases, such as for higher risk activities, for particular groups of pupils or for all trips abroad. Higher ratios are also recommended for swimming activities.

The NEU’s advice on this issue is set out below:

  • These ratios should be regarded as the minimum appropriate staffing ratios for school journeys.
  • These ratios should preferably be interpreted as referring to the number of staff needed to supervise the party. Voluntary helpers may be involved in assisting staff with the organisation and supervision of visits, but staff will retain primary responsibility for supervising the party at all times.
  • A minimum of two members of staff should be involved in every school journey, regardless of how many other adults are helping. Given the possibility of members of the group needing to be taken home or back to school or to hospital, at least two staff members are needed in order that one may remain in charge where another is called away.
  • With a mixed party it is desirable that there should be members of staff or other responsible adults of each sex accompanying the group.
  • Supervision arrangements for swimming activities should include provision for supervision by qualified lifesavers.
  • At least one member of staff should be a qualified first aider and aware of the special medical needs of any member of the party.
  • Newly qualified teachers should not normally lead school parties in their first year of teaching.

The Early Years and Foundation Stage

Statutory Framework sets out specific legal requirements for minimum ratios in this age group, which apply both indoors and on outings. These are complex, and include requirements about the qualifications of the staff. In summary, they require a minimum of 2 adults with a group, including at least one person who has a current paediatric first aid certificate, with minimum ratios as follows:

  • Age under 2 1:3
  • Age 2 1:4
  • Age 3+ 1:8 or 1:13 depending on setting, time of day and staff qualifications.

The Framework states that, for each type of outing, providers must carry out a full risk assessment, which includes an assessment of required adult:child ratios.

This assessment must take account of the nature of the outing, and consider whether it is necessary to exceed the minimum requirements: a ratio of 1:1 may often be necessary on an outing.

The assessment must be reviewed before embarking on each specific outing. Although these requirements do not apply to reception classes in maintained schools, they could still provide useful guidance. Where adult helpers are involved, necessary checks should be undertaken.

Support Staff

There are two main additional considerations for schools to take into account when asking support staff to participate in trips: The appropriate grading, and the entitlement to premium rates for working unsocial hours.

Parents

It is important that parents should sign a document affirming that they have read and understood what the visit may involve, the activities which will be undertaken and the authority which the supervising staff will have to deal with problems and emergencies. Such forms, usually called consent forms, should be obtained signed for each child participating in the journey.

It is best to secure these signatures at an early stage after planning has been completed since if a parent does object, it may be necessary to make a harsh decision that the pupil cannot participate. If this happens at a late stage there may be problems about cancellation.

The forms should cover such matters as emergency medical treatment, medical conditions, GP's address, dietary requirements, home telephone number/address and other details.

It is particularly important that the staff supervising the trip know whether the child will need medication or other special attention whilst on the trip. This information may raise questions about whether the child can participate if the supervising staff judge that they cannot safely deal with these needs or are unwilling to do so.

The DfE has published a ‘single consent form’, intended to be signed by parents when a child enrols at a school, which will cover that child’s participation on any school trip throughout their time at the school.

Excluding pupils from educational visits

The Equality Act 2010 and the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 (SENDA) have simplified and strengthened the discrimination laws which protect school pupils from unfair treatment.

It is unlawful for a school or other education provider to treat a disabled student unfavourably. Such treatment could amount to:

  • direct discrimination
  • indirect discrimination
  • harassment Every effort should be made to make educational visits accessible to all who wish to participate, irrespective of disability.

Staff should plan for inclusion from the outset, and should make School Trips appropriate ‘reasonable adjustments’ to enable the participation of disabled pupils. In some cases, however, particularly where poor behaviour is an issue, this may not be possible. Where the behaviour is a direct consequence of a child’s disability, however, schools will need to demonstrate that they have considered such reasonable adjustments that could have been made, in order to comply with the law.

Pupils should not, however, be permitted to participate in educational visits where their behaviour may be such that they present a danger to themselves or to others, until such time as their behaviour can be modified. F

Safety and emergencies

Pupils should be given appropriate information and guidance prior to the visit taking place so that they understand the standard of behaviour which is expected of them and why rules must be followed. Lack of control and discipline can be a major cause of accidents.

A clearly defined safety code for the journey, including rules of conduct and behaviour standards and routine and emergency safety procedures, should therefore be laid down in advance and made known to all pupils, staff, helpers and parents. Procedures such as regular head counts, and occasional registers, should be built into such routines.

A separate copy of the safety code should be kept with the ‘named person’ – the point of contact at the school for the duration of the trip. Insurance arrangements - medical insurance as well as liability cover for out-of-school activities - should be appropriately dealt with. OEAP has produced an excellent summary of the different types of insurance that are needed with regard to school trips.

If things go wrong

Even the best planned visit can be disrupted by unforeseen events such as illness of staff or pupils. Careful emergency planning can, however, mitigate the trauma of being caught up in an emergency. Staff on educational visits must be given school and local authority telephone numbers that they can use at any time of day or night in the event of an emergency.

The school educational visits co-ordinator, head teacher or other appropriate ‘named person’ within the school should be provided with the programme for the trip, contact telephone numbers while on the journey, the planned emergency safety procedures and a full list of all participants and their home contact details.

A chain of contact should be arranged in advance from that person for swift communication in case of emergency. A senior manager, such as a local authority duty officer, should be contactable at all times in the event of an incident.

It is recommended that paperwork, including parental authorisation for emergency medical treatment, insurance documentation, medical insurance cards such as EHICs3 for EU journeys and passports for all overseas trips, be carried at all times by staff, instead of being left behind in accommodation. This will prevent any delays in accessing treatment.

Additionally, separate copies of all such documentation should be kept at school/college so they can be made available at short notice, should the need arise. It is important to reassess risks as the visit proceeds. Changes in the weather need to be monitored.

Changes to the itinerary may introduce new hazards not covered in the original risk assessment. Regular head counting of pupils should take place, particularly before leaving a venue. Pupils should be readily identifiable, either by their uniform or by a brightly coloured cap or backpack.

Finally, should an emergency occur, it is likely that the school/college will be approached by the press. The school should have proper procedures in place for dealing with media enquiries during an emergency; these should be set out in a school/college or local authority’s emergency procedures policy.

See Government advice on handling the press in such circumstances. Further, see more detailed advice on managing emergency situations on the OEAP website. 

Action points for safety reps

Make sure that:

  • your school has a designated and appropriately trained “educational visits coordinator”;
  • your school or college procedures on educational visits are in line with, as appropriate, DfE/Welsh Government, local authority/employer and NEU guidance;
  • the school or college procedures, and, as appropriate, local authority/employer and DfE/Welsh Government guidance are available and made known to all staff; and that
  • these procedures are actually followed in your school/college.

Download

Related content

Advice Workload CTA background
Safety of school minibuses

This page outlines the key legal requirements for drivers and operators of school minibuses and describes the support school staff should be given before they agree to drive a school minibus.

Advice Children learning to swim
Swimming safety in schools

Advice for teachers and school staff who teach swimming or supervise swimming, including qualifications, training and safety.

Advice Primary children boarding a minibus
Seat belts and car restraints

Information for school staff who transport children in their own car on the law and regulations regarding child car seats and seatbelts.

Advice Girl looking at Greek vases in museum
School visits

Advice about health and safety on school trips, including legal rights and obligations.

Advice Support staff workload - independent sector
Workload - a health and safety issue

NEU Guidance for Members, Reps and Local Officers on how health and safety reps can use their powers can work with members to address excessive workload.