Following the tragic events in London and Manchester, schools have been cancelling school trips, both nationally and abroad. This has prompted the National Governance Association to issue guidance on trip planning and risk assessments
Schools will understandably be concerned about taking pupils on school trips to places like central London and other large cities, events and attractions, and as a result, may be seeking advice and guidance.
This in itself does not mean that trips should be cancelled – school trips can be hugely beneficial for pupils – but schools should seek specific advice where this is genuine concern, and ensure that their risk assessment procedure is being closely followed before going ahead with a planned trip.
At the time of writing, the threat level (which signals the likelihood of a terrorist attack in the UK) is being held at severe i.e. an attack is highly likely. Governing boards have a responsibility for ensuring that neither pupils nor employees are put at unnecessary risk while at school or on school business – this includes school trips.
There is no formal government advice against school trips to specific locations and attractions in the UK. The government advice is that the public should remain vigilant and should always be alert to the danger of terrorism and report any suspicious activity.
The metropolitan police have advised that crowded places, events, public transport, and iconic locations are some examples of locations that could be potential targets for terrorists. At the time of writing, the Metropolitan Police have also advised the public to avoid visiting London Bridge and the Borough Market areas of south London, with barriers being installed in various places across London as a precaution “to make the capital a safe place for people to live, work and visit”.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of ASCL, was quoted in The Guardian on 6 June saying: “Our advice to schools concerned about planned trips to London is to review and amend risk assessments as necessary, and to talk to parents to gauge their views.
“Where school trips go ahead, parents who are concerned can withdraw their children. If schools choose to cancel trips, we would ask that people respect that decision, which will have been made after full discussion and in light of the individual circumstances.”
The National Governance Association (NGA) would echo this advice.
Regardless of the heightened risk of terrorist attacks, all school trips should be well planned and be guided by an appropriate risk assessment. This will help ensure that the trip will be a success and that staff have peace of mind beforehand, as well as crucially providing that same reassurance to parents and carers as well as to the pupils themselves.
However, while preparation is key to any school trip, not every eventuality can be prepared for. It is important to weigh up the risk, in relation to the purpose of the trip and its specific location, while being sensitive to the views of both concerned parents and pupils.
It is a requirement of health and safety law for employers to assess the risks to pupils and staff in terms of health and safety. Governing boards should seek assurance that full risk assessments have been carried out and all possible precautions have been taken prior to any trip going ahead. Governing boards should also assurance themselves that the views of all stakeholders (parents, pupils and staff) are being taken into account and senior staff are ensuring that there are clear communication strategies in place.
Finally, governing boards should ensure that emergency procedures are in place, both for use in school premises, but also specifically while on school trips, and that these have been explained to all staff and that staff understand the expectations placed upon them for the health and safety of pupils while on school trips.
The role of the governing board is to ensure that a robust risk management strategy is in place – not to actually carry it out. This is the operational role of the school staff and needs to be done in line with the wider role of the school senior leadership team.
As part of their risk assessment, schools should contact both the local authority and where appropriate, the police for advice where they have concerns. Governing boards should also ensure that necessary insurance cover has been arranged.
The Department for Education has existing general advice on health and safety for local authorities, school leaders, school staff and governing bodies and for more specific information on the operational duties of school staff for school trips, Hampshire County Council has recently provided some advice to schools and Outdoor Education Advisors’ Panel have provided specific guidance on visits and the threat from terrorism.