Educational Visits - Magical Mystery Tour or A Hard Days Night?

Posted in : Cassidy's Comments on 26 April 2017
Frank Cassidy
Former Principal & Regional Officer of ASCL
Issues covered:

With the summer term approaching schools are beginning to think of school trips and outings. It has generally been a very enjoyable part of school life for both teachers and pupils, but now more than ever it requires meticulous preparation and a watchful eye on the legal implications.

In recent years, unfortunately, a culture of fear has grown around trips, with anxious schools avoiding taking children out of the classroom because of the perceived possibility of legal action if something goes wrong. But recent research shows that teachers' fear is based on the "myth" that they could be sued. The Guardian reported in 2009 that,

“Children are being denied school trips for fear teachers will be sued if something goes wrong, despite the fact that only 156 recorded legal actions have ended in compensation in the past decade. The review found that of the millions of individual school trips taken over the past 10 years in the 138 local authorities that responded to requests under the Freedom of Information Act, only 364 ended in legal action and in fewer than half of cases – 156 – were schools found to be culpable and ordered to pay compensation.”

In Northern Ireland, a working group comprising the Education and Library Boards, CCMS, GBA, NICIE and ETI was established in order to review current practice in relation to educational visits.

The remit of the group was to draw up policy, practice and procedures which would provide guidance for all those involved in planning and conducting educational visits, in line with current best practice and in accordance with Health and Safety and Child Protection requirements.

The Best Practice 2009 document is given as a link here:

Concern about the risks of legal claims against the school and individual staff have made teachers both here and elsewhere understandably wary of taking on this type of professional task.

The Department for Education in England advice directs readers to a policy statement from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) School trips and outdoor learning activities: Tackling the health and safety myths.

The Health and Safety Executive point out that;

‘Accidents and mistakes may happen on school trips – but fear of prosecution has been blown out of all proportion.’

HSE works with the police and others following fatal accidents. If an incident on a school trip leads to the death or serious injury of a pupil, HSE will normally investigate. Most serious accidents on school trips involve underlying management failures and HSE always looks for these underlying causes – see our Enforcement Policy Statement ( HSE does not investigate incidents in response to civil claims.

HSE has brought prosecutions in rare cases where there was evidence of recklessness or a clear failure to follow sensible precautions. However, it is important that schools and their staff do not interpret this as meaning that to avoid prosecution by HSE they must eliminate even the most trivial risks. Schools and their staff are expected to deal with risk responsibly and sensibly. If things do go wrong during a trip, provided sensible and proportionate steps have been taken, it is highly unlikely that there would be any breach of health and safety law involved, or that it would be in the public interest for HSE to bring a prosecution. They recommend that schools ensure that the precautions proposed are proportionate to the risks involved and that their paperwork is easy to use. They should also take account of the assessments and procedures of any other organisations involved, and ensure that communications with others are clear. Specifically, arrangements for trips should ensure that:

  • Risk assessment focuses attention on real risks – not risks that are trivial and fanciful;
  • Proportionate systems are in place – so that trips presenting lower-risk activities are quick and easy to organise. 
  • Higher-risk activities (such as those involving climbing, caving or water-based activities) are properly planned and assessed)
  • Staff planning the trips must be properly supported – so that they can readily check if they have taken sufficient precautions or whether they should do more.

NAHT have excellent advice for school leaders on school trips, the full text of which is available through the link below.

The following points are worth stressing;

  • The head teacher is responsible for ensuring that employer and establishment policies are implemented and that all visits and activities are properly planned and supervised by a competent person, or persons, with an appropriate staff/pupil ratio. Except for early years learning, there are no set staff/pupil ratios, but these must be based on an individual risk assessment.
  • It is, of course, important for there to be an Educational Visits Policy – ideally drawn up in conjunction with staff.
  • The programme of visits should aim to develop young peoples’ confidence, independence, responsibility and have specific learning objectives.
  • Appropriate training of staff and volunteers is advisable – e.g. on first aid.
  • There should be a clear audit trail of advice available for volunteer helpers, assistants, teachers and leaders, and Governors.
  • Make the governing body aware of the range and complexity of visits. Educational
  • Visits should be a regular item on governing body agendas and the associated policies reviewed annually.
  • Check the accreditation or verification of independent providers– this is particularly relevant when outdoor and adventurous activities are included in the programme.
  • The head teacher should make a judgement of a member of staff’s competence and suitability to lead a visit and staff and volunteer helpers must clearly understand their roles and responsibilities.
  • An assessment of the risks involved is a legal requirement and it should be used on the visit.
  • In the event of a serious incident, you will be required to produce planning details and risk assessments. The management of risks is vital.
  • Although not a legal requirement, ensure that appropriate communication with parents/carers has taken place regarding the visit and consent has been received in writing where necessary. A meeting with parents in advance of residential trips in particular, is good practice.
  • Ensure that even relatively minor incidents and accidents are recorded and investigated.
  • Ensure that appropriate child protection measures are in place.
  • It is important that arrangements are made for the medical need sof pupils and staff - and any special educational needs of all young people.  First aid provision must be considered especially if the visit is remote, adventurous or there are particular special needs of pupils. However, there must be a competent adult to call emergency services or make appropriate use of a first aid kit where necessary.
  • Adequate and relevant insurance cover must be thought about. It is possible to obtain annual cover for all visits for all pupils and all staff. This may already be in place through the school or EA but needs checked.
  • Contact arrangement in the event of difficulty or emergency - including means of contacting senior staff.
  • Insist that all visit arrangements and outcomes are evaluated to inform future visits and staff training needs.

Educational Visits: A guidance document for School Leaders

Even in these times of budget difficulty and industrial relations tensions it would be a great loss to the quality of education here to lose the school trip as a feature of children’s school days.


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This article is correct at 26/04/2017

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Frank Cassidy
Former Principal & Regional Officer of ASCL

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