Off-site trips - summary of advice

Taking students off-site covers a vast range of activities, from supervising students onto buses at the end of the school or college day to taking an intrepid group of youngsters to Tibet. Outdoor education enjoys a long tradition. It is estimated that over one million educational visits/trips take place each year. ATL believes that these activities are an essential part of any young person's learning.

The vast majority of educational visits are very successful. High profile incidents have caused concerns about liability for accidents, but with support and advice from ATL all members can safely and carefully plan and lead most types of educational visits.

ATL's Taking students off site publication is a detailed guide to the issue. The HSE has also produced comprehensive health and safety advice specifically related to school trips and outdoor learning activities - see the School Trips section on the HSE website or download the handy HSE guide.

ATL members in Northern Ireland will find the guide Education Visits - Best Practice 2009 useful. Published by Northern Ireland's Western Education and Library Board, this provides comprehensive guidance for all those involved in planning and carrying out educational visits.

ATL members in Scotland should examine guidance provided by the Scottish Education Department, Health and Safety of Educational Excursions.

What are my responsibilities?

If you are leading or participating in an educational visit, you need to understand where responsibilities lie - if in doubt, ask your headteacher/principal.

The responsibilities of employers and employees under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 apply regardless of whether activities take place at school or off-site. Details of these can be seen in the Legal Framework section of this website.

Governors should be consulted and give their approval to trips overseas, those involving travel by air or by sea and those involving at least one night's absence. They should satisfy themselves that a sufficient number of staff will remain to run the schools/colleges effectively when educational visits take place during term time. Written procedures for approval of educational visits should be in place - approval could be given by the full governing body by the chair on its behalf or through a sub-committee.

Each local authority should also have an outdoor education adviser to assess the risks of all school visits, review policies and procedures and disseminate good practice. This adviser may need to give their approval for certain kinds of visit. 

Responsibilities of headteachers/principals

Headteachers/principals are responsible for the internal organisation, management and discipline in schools/colleges and for consulting their employers to ensure that satisfactory arrangements are made for educational visits. ATL  recognises that some of these responsibilities can and often are delegated to a member of staff such as the educational visits co-ordinator. However, the delegation must be reasonable and the person concerned should be receiving appropriate training, information and support to enable him/her to carry out these duties competently.

Headteachers should ensure that:

  • all preparatory work, including travel arrangements and risk assessments are completed

  • adequate child protection measures are in place, as well as arrangements for those with special educational and/or medical needs

  • the group leader has sufficient experience and time to organise the visit

  • training needs have been considered by a competent person

  • any necessary approval has been given and all consent forms have been signed

  • adult : student ratios are appropriate

  • first aid facilities are adequate and appropriate insurance cover is in place

  • the group leader/supervisor and nominated persons have a list of all the students and adults on the visit, the contact details of each of them and a copy of the procedure to be followed in an emergency

  • the address, telephone number and name of contact person at the venue are obtained

  • a contingency plan is in place which caters for any changes in the itinerary or for any delays.

Educational visits co-ordinators

Every educational establishment is advised to appoint an educational visits co-ordinator (EVC) who has received sufficient training and resources to enable him/her to carry out his/her functions capably. Among other things, the functions of the EVC are to:

  • liaise with the employer to ensure that visits meet the employer's   requirements, including those of risk assessment

  • support the headteacher and governors in their decision making roles

  • assign competent people to lead or otherwise supervise a visit

  • make sure that the appropriate child protection checks have been made

  • work with the group leader to obtain the consent or refusal of parents

  • organise emergency arrangements

  • keep records of individual visits (including reports of accidents and 'near-accidents').

Group leaders

If you are the group leader of an educational visit, you will have overall responsibility for the group at all times. Before a visit, either the group leader or the EVC should:

  • obtain approval for the visit

  • undertake or secure a risk assessment of the proposed visit, including appropriate contingency and emergency arrangements

  • decide what the staffing, supervision and training needs are

  • ensure that the visit is insured adequately, in accordance with school/college/local authority policy

  • plan transport arrangements

  • inform parents and obtain parental and medical consents

  • prepare students for the visit

  • conduct an exploratory visit.

During a visit, the group leader must ensure that:

  • s/he takes general charge of the visit and activities, consider the risks involved in any decisions to follow the normal course of the visit, or implement any alternatives

  • accompanying adults fully understand their supervision responsibilities

  • regular head counts are carried out

  • supervision is ongoing during downtime before, between and after activities

  • the accommodation is safe and secure

  • there is proper supervision and basic safety during travel

  • ongoing risk assessments are undertaken

  • everyone understands/agrees the emergency procedures.

Need further advice?

Your first point of contact is your ATL rep in your school or college. Your local ATL branch is also available to help with queries, or you can contact ATL's member advisors on tel: 020 7930 6441 or email us. Please have your membership number to hand when telephoning and include it with any correspondence - this will help us to answer your query more quickly.

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