Health and safety on school trips
School 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.
However, it is important to strike the right balance between protecting pupils from risk and allowing them to learn from school trips. Striking the right balance means that:
schools and staff should focus on managing real risks when planning trips
those running trips should understand their roles, are supported and are competent to lead or take part in them
opportunities are experienced to the full.
By the same token, those planning trips should avoid:
inappropriate risk assessment
the mistaken belief that all risks can be eliminated.
The HSE guidance on school trips states: “It is important that those running school trips act responsibly by:
putting sensible precautions in place, and making sure these work in practice;
knowing when and how to apply contingency plans where they are necessary;
heeding advice and warnings from others, for example those with local knowledge or specialist expertise (especially in respect of higher-risk activities).”
Should teachers organise and take part in school visits?
The NEU’s advice to members on participation in school visits is that teachers must use their professional judgement in relation to their personal circumstances and aspirations. Unless the visit is in school time and is part of the curriculum for a particular subject, for example, a geography field trip, the involvement of teachers in school visits is entirely voluntary. Teachers are entitled to expect the highest standards of safety and support in the organisation and supervision of school visits.
Teachers need the benefit of a reasonable work/life balance. The two are linked. Many teachers regard school visits as an opportunity to extend their professionalism. If teachers are already pressured and stressed by a heavy workload the further pressures of organising and supervising school visits may be the cause of unacceptable safety hazards. Teachers 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.
Legal obligations and standards of care
Teachers involved in school visits should be fully aware of the standards of care demanded of them by the law. Such standards are those which, from an objective point of view, can reasonably be expected from teachers generally applying skill and awareness of children's problems, needs and susceptibilities. The law expects that a teacher will do that which a parent with care and concern for the safety and welfare of his or her own child would do, bearing in mind that being responsible for up to twenty pupils can be very different from looking after a family. The legal duty of care expected of an individual teacher is, therefore, that which a caring teaching profession would in any case expect of itself.
This means in practice that a teacher must:
ensure supervision of the pupils throughout the journey or visit according to professional standards and common sense, and
take reasonable steps to avoid exposing pupils to dangers which are foreseeable and beyond those with which the particular pupils can reasonably be expected to cope.
This does not imply constant 24-hour direct supervision. The need for direct supervision has to be judged by reference to the risks involved in the activities being undertaken.
Employers have “vicarious liability” for the negligence of their employees at work. This means generally that employers take responsibility if their employees do not properly fulfil their safety obligations at work. Where a legal claim is made following an accident to a child in a community school, for example, and there is a suggestion of negligence on the part of the teacher, the claim will most likely be made against the local authority or other teacher employer if the teacher was at the time working “in the course of his or her employment”.
Legal obligations and standards of care while abroad
If the proposal is to take a journey abroad, contact should be made at an early stage with the embassy or tourist office of the country or countries concerned to check how the law of those countries may differ from that of the UK. Some countries have expectations of adults supervising children and young people which may differ from those in England and Wales. It is very important to build this consideration into planning and indeed even into whether the visit should go ahead.
Particular attention is needed with regard to foreign laws on hazardous activities. Dangerous skiing, for example, can attract heavy legal penalties both for the skier and for any adult supervisor. Advice should be obtained on the safety approval regimes governing any activity centres you intend to visit abroad and the regulations governing safety of accommodation. Only centres and residential facilities satisfying these local standards should be used.
More information on the legal framework for school visits is available in the OEAP guidance.
Consent forms for school trips
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 teachers 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 teachers supervising the trip know whether the child will need medication or other special attention while on the trip. This information may raise questions about whether the child can participate if the supervising teachers judge that they cannot safely deal with these needs or are unwilling to do so.
Ordinarily teachers will not want to deprive a pupil of the experience of the visit unless that is considered necessary. Where it is necessary, discovering the possible problems at an early stage will at least reduce the disappointment.
Parents should also be given full written details regarding the organisation of the visit, including those involving short trips during the day. Such details should specify the purpose, destination and location of the visit; the programme; relevant dates and times; travel and accommodation; standards of behaviour expected of children; staffing; special clothing required; insurance cover; telephone numbers; and emergency procedures for contacting parents. A meeting might be planned to cover relevant issues and to give parents the opportunity to raise issues of concern to them.
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. Parents must still be told in advance of each activity (unless it takes place wholly within school hours and no charge is being made – with the exception of nursery children) and be given the opportunity to withdraw their child from any particular visit or activity, so it is difficult to see how the single consent form will really reduce paperwork for schools. Some parents may, understandably, object to such an arrangement which will create additional workload and bureaucracy.
Pupils with special educational needs and school trips
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:
Every effort should be made to make school journeys accessible to all who wish to participate, irrespective of disability. Teachers should plan for inclusion from the outset, and should make appropriate ‘reasonable adjustments’ to enable the participation of disabled pupils.
In some cases, 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 be permitted to participate in school 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.
School trips, especially those which include overseas travel, are likely to require coach travel. When using hired coaches, the key safety factors to consider are: the driver, the coach and equipment, the company and the route or itinerary.
When choosing a coach provider:
Check that the coaches have appropriate seat belts for the age of the pupils.
Ensure that that chosen coach company will not subcontract to another company, as the subcontractor may have different standards.
Ask for copies of the operators vehicle, public liability and employer’s liability insurances.
Confirm that the coach company has a specific risk assessment for group travel with children and young people.
Confirm that vehicles undergo four-weekly safety checks.
If travelling abroad, check that the driver has experience in driving the coach in the expected conditions, eg mountain roads and in snowy conditions.
Ask if the coach company has any external accreditation or audit such as the BUSK Benchmark, CoachMarque or Guild of British Coach Operators.
School employers should be wary about providers that offer significantly lower prices, as this could be at the expense of less rigorous health and safety standards. They should instead choose providers based on value rather than cost alone.
Before departure, the group leader should check the location of emergency exits in the coach (including rear doors, windows and roof hatches), making sure that access is clear and they are clearly signposted, and the location of any emergency equipment (eg first aid box). Staff should also position themselves around the coach rather than all sitting in the same location, and specifically adjacent to emergency exits to help with evacuation should an emergency occur.
Full details of rules governing school minibuses, in particular those affecting seatbelt requirements for minibuses and coaches, and licensing requirements for minibus drivers, can be found in the NEU briefing Safety on School Minibuses.
The NEU regards the use of teachers’ private cars on school trips as inadvisable. No teacher should be compelled to take pupils in their car. Where teachers volunteer to transport pupils in this way, they should make sure they have the correct type of motor insurance (business use) and should never agree to drive individual children because of the risk of unfounded allegations (unless it is an emergency). Detailed OEAP advice on use of private cars is available on their website.
Seat belts and child restraints
When transport for school trips is arranged, the group leader will need to consider when and where seat belts and child restraints should be used. Full details of the requirements on seat belts and child restraints are available in the NEU guidance Safety on School Minibuses and Child Car Seats.
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 school 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 EHICs 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 so they can be made available at short notice, should the need arise.
It is important to re-assess 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.
More detailed advice on managing emergency situations can be found on the OEAP website
For more information, download the full 'School visits' guidance