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Gill Harvey, general manager of the School Travel Forum, offers advice for making school trip planning as thorough and worry-free as possible.
School trips demand more than just financial investment from parents, they require the investment of teachers’ time and energy to ensure that every aspect is carefully planned from start to finish. The prospect of travelling overseas with 40 or more pupils is very daunting, even more so for newly qualified teachers, but fortunately there are nationally recognised schemes that make the planning process as streamlined as possible. Parents also benefit from peace of mind knowing that their child is travelling with an accredited provider and are also assured of a return on their investment, as the educational value of the trip is guaranteed.
Whilst we all know that Learning Outside the Classroom opportunities are invaluable and Ofsted recognises their importance, teachers need a trusted way to deliver safe school trip experiences. Since 2003, the School Travel Forum (STF) has been helping to ensure that children can experience a wide range of LOtC activities by enforcing stringent health and safety measures that allow them to do this safely. Our members are required to adhere to a rigorous Code of Practice and Safety Management Standards, which cover all the component parts of a school trip, including activities, accommodation, transport, emergency and accident management and training, and that they are externally verified each year by a leading independent health and safety consultancy. This is a major help for teachers as they can rest assured that their STF accredited provider is compliant on all levels.
Taking care of standards
The LOtC Quality Badge is an invaluable tool for school trip organisers, whatever the subject area or country they plan on visiting. This kitemark takes care of standards of learning and safety in a single, easily recognisable and trusted accreditation scheme.
The STF can help teachers with a wide range of issues, freeing up their time to focus on the needs of the school and individual pupils taking the trip. From delivering content, to catering for the specific needs of pupils, i.e dietary or medical requirements, to ensuring best in class health and safety, every aspect is taken care of.
Parents often experience high levels of anxiety at the thought of their child going away for a duration of days, and when that trip is abroad that worry can intensify. The need for careful and thorough planning and clear communication from the start of the booking process to the moment the tour party returns back home goes a long way to allaying parental concerns. STF members offer help with communicating with parents and the reassurance 24 hour emergency help when overseas. Proper planning can ensure health and safety and risk assessments are carried out appropriately, that every child’s needs are catered for, and that parents are appropriately informed of all relevant details of the trip.
Taking the stress out of planning
An important part of the work of the STF and the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom is to make it easier for schools to take pupils on trips, removing paperwork and taking steps to reduce teachers’ fears of legal action. It’s important to ensure that the chosen tour operator acknowledges the importance of maintaining health and safety standards and goes above and beyond their duty of care, after all, this is the number one priority.
It is common sense that schools should always demand transparency with regards to their chosen provider’s health and safety credentials.
Round the clock support
In today’s changeable global travel climate, it has never been more important for schools to have 24/7 expert support in the unlikely event of an emergency. It’s reassuring for teachers to know that should an incident happen, they have round the clock access to the resources, expert knowledge and support of their provider. In fact, our 2015 school trip survey showed that 95.5 per cent of more than 2,000 secondary school teachers viewed 24/7 emergency support whilst on tour as an essential or important requirement when booking a school trip.
Whilst some schools are deterred by health and safety, financial and workload concerns, an Ofsted report, entitled Learning outside the classroom: How far should you go?, found that schools that have curricular provision classed as ‘outstanding’ or ‘improving’ E
generally overcome these barriers, so statistics prove that it’s worth seeing beyond these concerns. Encouragingly, our recent survey has shown that 81.3 per cent of schools said that they run the same amount or more trips compared to two years ago. Indeed, 96.6 per cent of secondary schools currently take residential trips, with each organising an average of 2.6 a year, so figures prove that the educational benefits of LOtC are valued by the majority of teachers.
Assured travel methods
The STF works closely with the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT), the recognised industry body, which also provides training to our members on transport issues. This ensures that our coach audit and guidance papers on long distance coach travel are constantly updated.
Coaches are the most widely used mode of transport for school trips and statistically speaking, are six times safer per mile than cars (Transport Statistics 2000: DETR). This is due in part, to the installation of seatbelts. It’s important for teachers to firmly explain to pupils that seatbelts must be worn while travelling. School trips organised through STF and LOtC assured tour operators mean that the safety standards of the coach and its drivers have been thoroughly checked, providing extra reassurance for teachers, pupils and parents.
By choosing to travel with an STF member, schools can feel confident that their tour operator complies with all national, local, trade and other laws, regulations, rules and codes of practice. The contract that members adhere to also stipulates a robust set of safety standards regarding drivers’ hours, driver vetting, insurance cover, sub-contracting and vehicle age.
Why schools can trust the badge
STF members organise over 16,000 school trips each year and statistically the school trip environment is one of the safest for children to be in. Having the backing of the assured support procedures and wealth of experience that STF Assured Members offer provides vital reassurance for parents, teachers and schools.
School party leaders can select STF members displaying the ‘STF Approved’ logo. Alternatively, they can access the STF website at www.schooltravelforum.com. The website will enable schools to verify a tour operator’s membership of the STF and the site contains full information on the STF Code of Practice, as well as offering a wide variety of useful information and links for party leaders.
As the national awarding body of the LOtC Quality Badge, the School Travel Forum ensures that each holder has passed a stringent assessment process designed to ensure that they are meeting schools’ learning and risk management needs. This takes an immense amount of pressure off teachers, reduces paperwork demands and helps teachers to identify opportunities for learning to help make the visit a positive and rewarding experience for teachers and pupils alike.