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Breaking through the risky red tape
Ever since the Learning Outside the Classroom (LOtC) manifesto was launched in 2008, highlighting the powerful educational value of school trips, when asked whether the benefits of taking pupils on educational visits outweigh concerns over cost and safety, teachers and instructors have always answered with a resounding ‘yes’.
However, many teachers, from those newly qualified to those who organise trips year after year, report feeling burdened by red tape, the time demands of admin, cost factors and concerns over and health and safety when planning a school trip.
The good news is that there is more help available than they may realise. The 2015 School Travel Forum (STF) survey of over 2,000 teachers and subject leaders found that 75 per cent of respondents had no awareness of the LOtC Quality Badge. This is surprising as this impartial and stringently judged accreditation provides many reassurances, including the fact that annual risk assessments have been made and that the school trip provider is financially secure.
Teachers are unnecessarily subjecting themselves to hours of worry and risk-assessment leg work, which can all be avoided by choosing a school trip provider that is STF Assured and has LOtC accreditation. This comment from a head of department at a school in England in response to a survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers is a good illustration of the misconceptions held by some: “I get all excited about organising a new trip and then my heart sinks when I realise how much paperwork it entails. Neither parents nor colleagues are aware of the burden. I reckon [it takes] about 100 hours of planning to organise a five-day trip abroad. Risk assessments for every moment of the day and night are ridiculous.”
Why take the risk of DIY?
With a prevailing and increasingly risk-averse culture in schools (as the headlines over banning leapfrog and conkers show) it poses the question why 22 per cent of school trip organisers have previously opted for the DIY approach when arranging school trips? As well as trying to minimise costs for parents, teachers often choose the same coach firms and accommodation the school has always used out of sense of familiarity, but previous use has proven to be no guarantee of future performance. Understandably, with greater complexity to manage the percentage drops to eight per cent for ski and sports tours, but all these organisers when surveyed are also those with very low knowledge of important regulations and beneficial approval schemes.
Travel booked as separate elements does not enjoy the financial protection of a package tour. Obviously, failure to deliver by the supplier is a major issue and redress against an overseas party is not easy at the best of times. Heading abroad also brings its own unique set of issues; whilst over 16,000 school trips are organised through STF Assured Members each year, all protected by the LOtC Quality Badge, schools choosing facilities outside of the scheme have minimum protection over standards. In the EU, hotel safety requirements remain just guidance, not a directive. Even close to home, hotel standards can vary widely and safety issues can arise from the actual day-to-day management of the hotel.
With the average school trip representing an investment of over £20,000, the protection of these funds, which are mostly paid for by parents, is an important consideration. All STF Assured Members benefit from the protection of the Package Travel Regulations and must be members of approved schemes ensuring fair trading and full financial security. This sort of insurance gives peace of mind not just to teachers but also to parents who whilst appreciating the chance to broaden their children’s horizons, might have made personal financial cutbacks to be able to fund their child’s trip.
Creating lasting memories
Educational visits are all about creating lifelong memories and if something goes wrong, be it an unaccredited company going out of business, fallout from inadequate health and safety standards, or experiencing below par activities of amenities, then these are certainly not the sort of memories that teachers, pupils or parents want to have. All STF Approved providers follow robust codes of practice and are regularly monitored by a team of inspectors. This mean that teachers can rest assured that the venue and the activities meet the required standards.
A telling finding from the STF 2015 Awareness Survey, was that 95.5 per cent of the 2019 secondary school teachers surveyed viewed 24/7 emergency support whilst on tour as an essential or important requirement when booking a school trip. Whilst educational visits are statistically one of the safest environments for children to be in, the extra reassurance that emergency expert support is available round the clock is crucial to trip organisers, who after all want to have a positive and successful experience themselves.
What is encouraging is that awareness of the benefits that LOtC Accreditation and STF Approval can bring is growing amongst the people they stand to help – i.e. teachers and organisers and also the reputable school trip providers that deserve to grow within the market. In 2013, 58 per cent of teachers reported that STF Approval was either an essential prerequisite or likely to influence their decision when choosing a supplier. Encouragingly this jumped to 72 per cent in this year’s survey, so the message about the reliability, ease and simplicity of travelling with accredited providers is getting through.
Quality LOtC experiences
The latest STF survey also showed the value teachers place on the quality of good learning experiences provided by their chosen supplier. Over 95 per cent rated this element as a vitally important criterion. As well as providing social and personal development opportunities, learning in new and different places is a stimulating experience that can re-ignite students’ enthusiasm for their subject. This resonates with one of the key findings from Ofsted’s 2008 report on LOtC: “Well planned out-of-classroom activities, which includes trips, not only enhance pupils’ learning, but can also re-engage those who are hard to motivate.” The lasting benefits of out of the classroom experiences to educational progress simply can’t be overestimated.
By taking care of standards of learning and safety in a single, easily recognisable and trusted accreditation scheme, the LOtC Quality Badge is an invaluable tool for school trip leaders, whatever the subject area or country they may be planning on visiting. Furthermore, the numbers speak for themselves. Despite our increasingly risk‑averse culture and the red tape and admin faced by the minority of schools that choose the DIY approach to school trip planning, there is no evidence that the number of school trips is decreasing. In fact, 81.3 per cent said they run the same amount or more trips compared to two years ago. Additionally, 96.6 per cent of secondary schools currently take residential trips, with each organising an average of 2.6 a year.
In conclusion, this is positive news for the principles of the LOtC ethos, which continues to bring benefits to students’ lives and the educational system in general.