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.

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.

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. 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 to achieve a safe and educational school trip.

Start planning early

Ideally you should start planning 12 months in advance of your trip. 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.

Don’t make the trip too long

Primary school children can be more prone to homesickness, so day trips or short overnight stays are usually best. The bonus of an overnight stay is that it will introduce them to the idea of being away from home and will help to improve their independence without it being too overwhelming for them.

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 maybe working with.

Emergency support

One added 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 for you and should be able to provide solutions to help your trip to still run smoothly should there be problems of this nature. Ask any providers about what emergency support they can offer.

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.

The benefits of local knowledge

Understanding the local area is not just crucial in a crisis, it can also determine how much pupils learn and how much they appreciate their new location. Any trips you plan should have local support to help with planning the finer details. Again, if you are working with a tour provider or operator, ask them what kind of local knowledge they can bring to the table.

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 your tour cost is higher than you think. Many tour operators have good relationships with suppliers who they do business with regularly. The more business they do, the better rates they get, so you will find tour operators sometimes get a better price for accommodation, ferries, visits and restaurants. However, 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 will be a better policy.

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.

Make time for reflection & discussion

Ensure your trip provides time for reflection – 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. This assists greatly with attainment and the overall success of the key educational elements of the tour/trip.

  • 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).

The School Travel Forum

Founded in 2003, the School Travel Forum is a not for profit organisation of leading 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. Visit

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