School trip tips: Effective planning and organising

Written by: Gill Harvey | Published:
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Gill Harvey offers her advice on planning and running educational and safe school trips, including tips for schools that decide to work with a tour operator or other provider

Organising a school trip can be a daunting challenge. The paperwork burden, risk minimisation and need to secure buy-in from parents can put many teachers off the prospect of offering learning outside the classroom experiences to their pupils.

However, research from the Learning Away project in 2015 found that travel helps children to develop their sense of independence, experience new cultures and bond with their classmates.

While the planning and arranging of a school trip can be seen as stressful and time-consuming, there are ways to streamline the process and ensure that the trip runs smoothly.

Equally, parents will buy into an itinerary with strong educational content alongside enjoyable, interactive and hands-on visits. So, here are some tips from members of the School Travel Forum to help you achieve a safe and educational school trip.

Start planning early

Ideally you should start planning 12 months in advance of your trips. For longer trips to more exotic destinations, you should start to plan your trip a minimum of 18 months in advance.

There is a lot to organise, so it is best to give yourself plenty of time. Not only will this make the process less stressful for you, it also gives parents more time to budget for the trip, thereby making it more affordable.

Make a clear plan and stick to it

Take a piece of paper and write down your tour objectives. What exactly do you want the tour to deliver to your students? It could be to focus on one key area of your curriculum, to provide a broader understanding of a subject, combine cross-curricular subjects, be within a certain budget, or simply leave from a certain airport/station. If you are using a tour operator or other provider, during your first contact ensure that these objectives are passed on clearly and that both you and the provider are happy and confident that the proposed tour can be delivered.

Itinerary planning

Ensure the itinerary is suited to the needs of the students and when planning activities consider if all students are able to take part and if activities will be optional or compulsory. At the end of the day, it is all about the learning outcomes. From the point of initial planning, double check that the planned visits meet your learning objectives.

Share a learning outcomes checklist with any venues, operators or providers you may be working with.

Ask the right safety questions

One benefit of working with tour operators should be the round-the-clock support you get for a whole range of emergency situations – delayed flights, ferry strikes, sick children, extreme weather and so on. A good tour operator will have 24-hour emergency support and should be able to provide solutions to help your trip to still run smoothly should there be problems.

So if you are using a tour operator, ensure you ask some key questions immediately:

  • Is the company regularly audited for safety standards?
  • Does your tour operator have a 24-hour helpline?
  • How do they deal with emergency situations?
  • Can you see testimonials from customers on how they have dealt with emergency situations?

Assuring health and safety credentials

When school trips are proposed, fears of legal action and the fear of unfortunate events while away can be a real barrier preventing buy-in from schools and parents alike. That is why it is so important to ensure that any tour operator acknowledges the importance of maintaining health and safety standards and goes above and beyond their duty of care. Schools should always demand transparency with regards to their chosen provider’s health and safety credentials.

Additional costs

When comparing tour quotes from tour providers, look carefully at what is included and, sometimes more importantly, what is not. Meals, entrance fees, guides, local transport, local tourist taxes and tips – these costs can add up and mean that your actual tour cost is higher than you think.

Tour operators should have good relationships with suppliers who they do business with regularly. The more business they do, the better rates they get – how are these passed on to you?

Be careful where a tour provider includes insurance – frequently these policies only provide the very lowest level of cover and your own school travel insurance may be a better option.

Inspection visits

If you are travelling for the first time or visiting a new destination, organise an inspection visit to help you plan the trip.

Most educational tour operators offer two nights B&B accommodation free-of-charge at your chosen destination when you book. Take advantage of this to go and familiarise yourself with the destination.

Not only will this help with your risk assessments it will also give you confidence when taking your students there. Organise this early so that when you return you have time to make any tweaks and changes to your itinerary.

Be wary of flight bookings

A lot of tour quotes with flights using estimated prices based on low season travel can fluctuate and occasionally do not actually exist. Beware, once you book, you may be asked to pay a supplement due to increased flight costs or find that you will be flying to or from an airport on the other side of the country. Ask your provider to detail the flights they are booking for you, including the exact costs and preferably with airline details, routes, times and flight numbers.

Currency tip

Many teachers and parents are concerned about how costs will be affected by changing exchange rates. A good tour operator buys currency in advance which means the price you are given when you book is based on a fixed exchange rate, so your tour price should not change even if the exchange rate drops. Ask any operator about this.
International students

Check that international students have the correct visas. If there are any students of a foreign nationality on the trip, they will need check whether they require a visa to enter the country you are travelling to. They should do this as early as possible to ensure everything is in place before they travel.

Government guidance

The government has just published guidance around health and safety on school trips (see further information). The new document is in line with the Learning Outside the Classroom (LOtC) Quality Badge and sets out advice relating to consent, coordination, providers and risk management. All schools should take these guidelines into consideration and, when in doubt, look for the LOtC Quality Badge.

Think outside the box

Why go to the same place year after year? We live in an accessible world and there are so many options for you to consider. Often more offbeat destinations can be better value than destinations already busy with school groups during the popular half-term travel periods.

Launching your trip

One of the main reasons school trips fail to get off the ground is insufficient numbers. Creating a buzz around your trip will encourage more students to sign up. If you have run the trip previously, make sure you show students any photos and videos, so they can see how much fun they will have!

Departure day

Check everyone, including the coach/transfer company, is aware of the exact meeting point and keep a little contingency time for any late-comers. Travel sickness can be a problem, so check to see if any of the children get travel sick. This is best sorted before boarding your chosen method of transport.

Give parents peace of mind

Be firm with your parents – you are in charge of this trip. However, they will appreciate being kept up-to-date, especially when you are on the trip. Some tour operators have a secure log-in area which displays a tour diary, where you can post updates and photographs throughout your trip. If your tour operator doesn’t have this, then you could set up your own blog page or post updates on social media. This will help to keep their minds at rest.

Make time for reflection

Ensure your trip provides time for reflection – both during and after. This can be a daily recap at dinner, or during the coach journey back to the hotel highlighting what has been seen and visited each day. There is huge value in summarising the day’s activities after your students have experienced them.

During these sessions encourage your students to ask questions and to compare and contrast their thoughts and experiences. This could help with attainment and the overall success of the key educational elements of the tour/trip.

The greatest feedback any teacher, and tour operator, can receive is to know that the trip was worthwhile. Bringing classroom subjects to life enables learning to be brought back into school, creating lasting memories for pupils and teachers alike.

Multimedia diaries of the experience and post-travel presentations to parents can reinforce the positive aspects of the experiences and pave the way for successful future trips.

  • Gill Harvey is from the School Travel Forum. Contributions to this article came from Sian Belfield (WST Travel), Darren Davies (Travel Places) and Sue Sharkey (Halsbury School Travel).

Further information

  • Health and safety on educational visits, Department for Education guidance, November 2018:
  • The School Travel Forum is a not-for-profit organisation of school tour operators that promotes good practice and safety in school travel. School Travel Forum members adhere to a Code of Practice and Safety Management Standards:


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