How to make school trips accessible for everyone

How can schools ensure their trips are inclusive and accessible for everyone? Justine Lee from School Travel Forum shares some advice.

Some of our best memories of our time at school are the trips we enjoyed – the places we visited, the things we did and the people we met. As well as supporting the curriculum and enhancing the learning experience, educational visits give students the chance to learn about topics in different ways, which can be especially beneficial for pupils with special educational needs (SEN).

Being excluded from these trips and visits can have a devastating impact on a student and their family. These excursions provide valuable opportunities for young people to be independent and to socialise with peers. The Equality Act and what is expected The Equality Act states that schools must not discriminate in the way they afford pupils access to a benefit, facility or service which includes school trips.

Schools and service providers have a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments to ensure all students can benefit from an educational experience. This means schools must think about how to ensure all pupils, including those with disabilities, can take part in the learning experience and services provided.

The Equality Act applies to all trips, whether they are within the UK or overseas. Trips abroad can present extra risks and need a higher level of risk assessment. It is advised that schools use tour providers that hold the Learning Outside the Classroom (LOtC) Quality Badge.

This gives teachers assurance that the necessary checks and assessments have been undertaken. How to make trips accessible to all When you sit down to start planning your next school trip, you should look for activities students with disabilities can access and take part in. The facilities and services must also be appropriate. Steps to make your trips accessible We have outlined some of the ways you can help create inclusive opportunities at your school and ensure your next school trip is accessible for everyone:

Plan early

This is vital, as pupils' needs should be considered at the outset when planning a trip. This will ensure the activities, location or destination chosen are accessible and/or there is sufficient time to make reasonable adjustments to ensure all pupils can take part.

Collaborate with colleagues

By starting planning well in advance, you will have time to consult with and involve everyone who provides support for the students – parents, support staff, teaching staff etc.

This will give you time to learn about and understand each child’s specific needs, preferences, and concerns.

Talking to your chosen venue or tour provider

Some school trip destinations and providers have programmes which have been specially devised to meet the needs of children with SEND.

These tailored programmes can help each child get the most out of their school trip. Involving your visit provider or venue as early as possible in the planning process will help ensure the trip is a success.

You must also consider what support is required for every individual, as everyone’s needs vary. Involving colleagues and the student’s family in the planning process will ensure the right support staff or teaching assistants are able to accompany the trip or there will be sufficient time to train other staff members on how to provide appropriate support and assistance.

Accessible accommodation

Ensure that all trip components – hotels, transportation, venues - are accessible and equipped with necessary facilities such as ramps, elevators, and accessible restrooms.

If you are using a tour operator, be clear about the needs of students so they can choose the most appropriate destination, hotel or transport.

Some people find creating a tailored itinerary can help to accommodate the needs and interests of all students, including those with SEND. Consider factors such as accessibility, sensory sensitivities, and physical limitations when selecting destinations and activities. Again, your tour provider will be able to advise on suitable trip and excursion options.

Clear communication

Even before you embark on the trip, make sure your students are well prepared and understand what will be happening throughout.

For example, you can talk about the journey and what the accommodation will be like. Share schedules, expectations, safety information and emergency protocols. Early planning means you will be able to build in frequent references to the trip ahead of the venture to ensure students feel comfortable about the upcoming experience.

Sensory considerations

Be mindful of sensory sensitivities, especially on the journey or if staying away overnight. It is a good idea to encourage students to bring a familiar item with them and to use noise-cancelling headphones if appropriate. You can also identify areas where students can have ‘time out’ should they become overwhelmed in busy or crowded environments.

You can also make sure you allow for flexibility in your itinerary to accommodate the varying needs and energy levels of students. Build in breaks and downtime to prevent sensory overload or fatigue.

Finally, you can provide safety training for staff on emergency procedures and how to support students with specific needs during emergencies.

Keep a record of what you learned

You could share a brief post-trip survey with students, staff, and parents to gather feedback and identify areas for improvement.

This information, along with your own reflections, can be used to inform future trips and ensure your school’s continuous improvement in inclusivity.

Where to get advice

When choosing a tour operator for your overseas trip, make sure you use a School Travel Forum member.

All STF members hold the LOtC Quality Badge, which gives you additional assurance as to the standard of checks undertaken.

STF members are also members of either ABTA or ABTOT meaning your trip is financially protected.

The Outdoor Education Advisers’ Panel produces the National Guidance for educational visits and outdoor learning, and has a Good Practice guide for supporting students with SEND. 

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