Ensuring school trips remain successful

The recent blockades in Calais caused major disruption at a peak time in the school trip calendar, leading to disappointment, cost and frustration for pupils, teachers and parents across the UK. Aside from the millions of pounds the illegal strikes cost the school trip industry, one positive point that came from the issue was the spotlight it placed on the benefits of choosing to travel with an accredited tour operator of The School Travel Forum (STF).  
These companies, which manage over 16,000 school trips from the UK each year, were able to guide groups and teachers through any problems that they may have experienced as a result of not being able to cross the Channel on the expected date.
The example of the difficulties of a Year 6 trip to France booked by Harrogate Grammar School was widely covered in the media, with Good Morning Britain describing their experience as ‘the unluckiest school trip ever’. Despite the disruption to the trip caused by the wild cat strikes in Calais, the school praised their school trip provider, an STF member, for their support during the experience which ranged from sourcing alternative accommodation in the UK, to additional on coach catering and assistance in arranging theme park tickets to end the trip on a positive note.
This STF member worked round the clock with the teachers and the school to minimise the disruption of the unpredictable events and illustrated how having assured support procedures in place, a wealth of experience and industry contacts can provide vital reassurance and the best possible outcome for school trips facing adverse events.

The Loyalty Factor
On a broader point, the psychology of the purchasing process is an interesting one. Whatever we choose to buy, trust of the vendor is a major factor, but also where we have shopped before, word of mouth recommendation and how appealing the marketing spiel is all influence our choices.  Booking school trips is no different.
Many schools opt to travel with the same provider they have used over the years, but does this loyalty-driven choice provide genuine reassurance that quality and safety standards have been adequately tested? The answer is often no, as previous use has proven to be no guarantee of future performance.

Furthermore, with the average school trip representing an investment of over £20,000, what happens if the company goes bankrupt?  Parents who may have budgeted for months to give their child the opportunity of a lifetime, are left severely out of pocket and children have to deal with the disappointment and miss out on the learning value of the school trip.  
All STF Assured Members are required to work so clients benefit from the protection of the Package Travel Regulations and additionally, they must be members of approved schemes ensuring fair trading and full financial security. The peace of mind this provides to teachers and parents is indeed priceless.

Risk Management
By making it easy for teachers to seek out good quality school trip companies, the red tape and health and safety concerns cited by many teachers and governors as reasons why they decide not to arrange school educational visits, become less of an issue. Whilst the STF has been established since 2003, according to our surveys many teachers are still taking a DIY approach and failing to capitalise on the benefits of travelling with an assured member.  Fortunately, there is a shift towards greater reliance and awareness of the organisation and also the LOtC Quality Badge, with 72 per cent of teachers surveyed in 2015 stating that STF membership would be either likely to influence or be an essential pre‑requisite in their choice of school trip provider.  
As the national awarding body of the LOtC Quality Badge, The School Travel Forum ensures that each holder has passed a robust assessment designed to ensure that they are meeting schools’ learning and risk management needs. This takes an immense amount of pressure off teachers, reduces planning time and paperwork and helps teachers to identify opportunities for learning to help make the visit a positive and rewarding experience for teachers and pupils alike.

Managing the What Ifs…
Whilst school trips are statistically one of the safest environments for children to be in, as with any journey or event in life, accidents and ill-fortune can unfortunately strike. Whilst the chance of such events happening are small, it is certainly a worry for any school trip organiser.

The scenario of being overseas with up to 50 pupils and having to deal with an incident independently is an unsettling prospect for any school. With this in mind, it makes no sense for schools to shoulder this burden alone, especially when there is 24/7 support available from a specialist school travel provider who has the experience, contacts and emergency procedures in place to help to manage any circumstances.
With the School Travel Forum 2015 Survey of over 2,000 secondary school teachers showing that 22 per cent of school trip organisers are still opting to make their own travel arrangements and bypass the quality, safety and financial security benefits of travelling with an assured provider, going forward it is our role to win over those teachers who are still unaware of the technical and professional support that is at their disposal.  With the school travel industry rapidly expanding, and new providers constantly entering the market, it has never been more important to make it easy for teachers to identify the companies offering reliable and regularly audited safety and quality standards.

The School Travel Forum was founded in 2003 and is a not-for‑profit organisation. Its Assured Member scheme has widespread recognition and support for the way it simplified and provided essential reassurance for leaders looking to organise school trips.
Founded by the government in 2008 and now an independent charity, the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom is the national voice for all types of LOtC.

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