School Trips in the UK and Visits Abroad
What every parent should know before your child goes on a school trip...
Schools are required to have a written risk assessment for all school trips in the UK or when visiting abroad. This must include activities, accommodation, flights, ferry crossings and road transport used. It must also include who will be driving and how many drivers will be required to comply with Drivers’ Hours Regulations. Emergency procedures need to be in place that the youngest passenger can understand and all passengers, pupils, helpers, staff and the coach driver need to be aware of these.
Schools should also have a Seat Belt Wearing Policy with details of how this will be enforced. Many coach companies now have a Health & Safety Policy or a Safety Charter so it is advisable to request a copy of this prior to booking a vehicle/s.
It is normal practice for schools to obtain three quotes for coach travel and then choose the cheapest without any questions asked. BUSK challenges the legality of this because all schools that make transport arrangements for pupils and staff are legally obliged to provide a ‘safe journey’. A school is unable to do this if it has not researched the transport provider to ensure they are legally and safety compliant. A school could not argue that if a coach operator has a license that this must mean they are ok.
Are schools legally obliged to hire the cheapest transport? Under the current financial climate many schools often say they are required to choose the cheapest products and services. This is not true. Schools must take into account safety and quality as well as cost. National guidance for schools on this issue clearly state that schools must look at safety/quality as well as cost and that they must be balanced. BUSK views balanced as meaning 50% safety/quality and 50% cost.
Certainly, if a school hired a coach because it was the cheapest they could find and something went wrong during the journey, resulting in a child or teacher being injured or killed and a legal action was mounted, then that school could find itself having to explain to a court why they did not take account of safety and at the very least, why it had not looked at the past operational history of the company. A school could not raise a defence that they did not understand the subject.
It is worth bearing in mind that a company constantly offering cheap coach hire is normally only ever possible because the transport company has cut corners, usually on maintenance or using drivers who are not employed by them and may not even hold the correct driving license or have lost their driving license for offences or because they are not medically fit.
Usually the additional cost of hiring a coach from a reputable operator is as little as an extra £1 per head. Parents and carers are entitled to the fullest of information about every aspect of a school trip. Any parental or carers concerns should never be dismissed by a teacher or head of a school. If schools are provided with additional information about safety and how to recognise a reputable transport provider, such as the content provided on this website, then governors are legally obliged to take any additional information into account when decision making. When discussed at a governors meeting, minutes will be produced and these should be available to parents upon request, either by going into the school or asking for a copy/downloading from the local authority website.
The school’s transport policy should be made freely available to parents and carers if they ask to see it. As good practice, all parents should be provided with a means to access it as a matter of course. It is worth checking a schools website to see if it can be accessed there.
Schools should also have a Seat Belt Policy and details of how this will be enforced. Parents might also check that teachers and helpers on school trips are familiar with the seat belt legislation and more importantly how to fit a safety belt onto a child correctly. Parents and carers should be aware of this so that they can ensure their child knows the seat belt rules and complies with them.
A local authority preferred list
Some schools will say that they must hire from a preferred list of transport companies provided to them by the local authority. The school may have been advised by their local authority to use a preferred list but the school is not legally required to. It is the legal responsibility of the governing body and head teacher to research and choose the transport operator for school trips – not the local authority. The transport companies listed and recommended by a local authority are normally the companies used by them for home to school transport. Local authorities rarely background check transport companies to ensure they are legally and safety compliant.
BUSK carries out background checks for legal and safety compliance and can recommend Benchmark members for this reason. If parents and carers checked this out with their local authority they would have to confirm if they make such checks on transport companies. If they confirm they do not make the checks, then how can they still recommend your child’s school to use them? Schools do not normally double check or question the local authority's instruction, thinking it must be correct.
An exception to this is where a local authority own and operate an in-house fleet and employ drivers to operate them. Some authorities do this and offer schools the opportunity to hire directly from them. This is different from a school using an operator on a preferred list. Click here to view and download a template for a School Trip Information & Consent Form that can be used by schools for each trip. Visits abroad If your child is going to travel abroad on a skiing trip with the school or other activity it is essential to ask the right questions before giving consent for your child to participate. Ask BUSK for a check list of questions you may wish to raise with the school if this would help.
Using private cars for school trips
Some school use private cars for school trips. National guidance is available for schools via their local authority but specific written permission is required from parents whose child is to be transported by a teacher or another parent. BUSK guidance is not too different from the national guidelines. If your child’s school wants to transport your child in a private car for a school trip they must:
- Ensure that the driver is not alone with any children. These are for safeguarding reasons but also because a driver cannot supervise children and drive.
- Ensure the driver understands their legal obligations when transporting pupils.
- Evidence that drivers (teachers and parents) have a clean and valid driving license without points for speeding, drink/drug driving, talking on a mobile whilst driving, careless or dangerous driving. A copy of the driver’s license should be taken and kept on file and reviewed every three months.
- Evidence that adequate insurance cover is in place.
- Evidence that the car is road worthy by taking copies of the MOT certificate, records of how often the car is serviced, checking tyres are safe and correctly inflated.
- Evidence that drivers (teachers and parents) are medically fit to drive and that they have had eye tests to determine if driving glasses are required.
- Ensure that each driver has knows how to get to the destination and not drive in convoy.
- Ensure that each driver is equipped with a mobile telephone for emergencies.
- Ensure that drivers are given an emergency plan to follow in the event of breakdown or road traffic collision.
- Ensure that drivers understand and are familiar with seat belt legislation and that all passengers will be secured properly.
- Ensure that all children will be provided with child or booster seats if they are under 12 years of age or under 135cms in height, whichever they reach first. Ensure that no child is carried in a seat with or without a child or booster seat in a lap belt.
- Ensure that no child is carried in the front seat of a vehicle where an active airbag fitted.
- Ensure that specific written permission is given by each parent for their child to be transported in private cars.
A coach driver's perspective on your child's safety on school trips abroad
This was provided to us by a coach driver. You may want to make sure your child’s school governing body have sight of this because they are legally responsible for risk assessing school trips in the UK and school visits abroad. It is an account of a typical couple of weeks in the life of a coach driver assigned to home to school work and driving on school trips abroad.
An account from one coach driver of a typical work load...
For those parents who will happily send their child abroad later this year or planning to for next year, perhaps you should understand clearly, what the daily duties of a coach driver like myself are leading up to just before the key goes in the ignition of my coach on the homeward journey to the UK.
This account is common practice in the few weeks in the life of a driver in the winter, particularly skiing trips. Most ski trips are from a Saturday to a Saturday. This means the driver might not get back from the trip the week before until a Sunday afternoon. He will have been subject to variable sleep patterns and have driven 20 hours through the night. The driver will then get into a car and head back to the depot. This might add another 4 hours plus onto his day. Upon arriving at the depot, he will then get into his own car, drive himself home and go to bed.
Usually, but not by any means always, he will have the next day off. Although the tachograph may record 09.00 UK time, his boss will see that he has had 24 hours 'off' and want him and expect him to come into work to undertake a school run. Now, he will be scheduled for another skier the coming Saturday, and as he is expected to have had two days 'off' in resort, which should be pointed out, this simply means not doing any recorded driving ... its nothing to do with having proper rest and relaxation in the same way that other people such as office workers have at the weekend. So on the company’s planner, the driver will find himself doing school runs, day trips, theatre breaks, shows and rail replacements right up until the next weekend.
Now, this is where it gets complicated. Depending where the driver’s base is, he might be sent down to Dover or Folkestone to take a 'day bed' at a hotel. He will only sleep if his body clock will allow it. While he is in the day bed the coaches will usually start arriving at the docks in time for the 20:00 ferry crossing and any later ferries. This may, and very often DOES mean that he will travel down to Dover early in the morning for his 'day bed', which might involve at 03:00 start to get to the yard, to meet the other driver; to get in a car to drive down south to get to the hotel check in, go to bed in the middle of the day and sleep is possible, so that he is 'legally' rested which is different from being ‘actually rested’. The driver then get up, gets washed and dressed and travels by car to get to the dock and wait for the coach to get through check-in for boarding the ferry. The driver will then visit the driver’s restaurant on board and have something to eat. After disembarking at the destination, the party will be driven through the night, often to a pre-designated 'breakfast stop' before continuing to the resort and then drive to the hotel, or a lunch stop, ski fit, then back to hotel, disgorge his passengers and luggage.
Drivers then clean the coach (and boy, will it need it) ready for the next morning. The driver will then get some sleep, usually fairly easily due to exhaustion, and just hope that he wakens up for dinner. If he sleeps in, he will have no food until the next day, because these hotels have only one sitting for meals. They do not have a restaurant in the hotels that drivers or anyone can visit when they want to and are often some distance from away from take-away outlets.
The next day will begin at 06.30. After washing, shaving and dressing, the driver will start the coach, de-ice it if necessary, put the heaters on to warm it up ready for the passengers and then go back into the hotel for breakfast. He will need to make a couple of rolls up for his packed lunch as no other catering is provided. Then the coach is driven to the ski lift. The driver waits there all day. His co-driver will come with him. Why? The alternative is to sit in an empty hotel all day with no TV, no Wifi and no company. This is sufficiently soul destroying for him to prefer sitting on a coach all day where, he at least has the chance of company and companionship.
At the end of the day, the party are driven back to the hotel for them to have dinner. After dinner, the driver will drive the party for their apres ski activities, swimming, pizza, bowling, disco or even shopping and ice-cream. Once the driver returns the party back to the hotel he will go to bed once the children settle down around 22:00.
To recap, that is a 06.30 to 22:00 day for two drivers, every day for six days. On the last day of the school trip, the driver might be required to drive the group to the ski lifts. A local firm might bring them back or might not. Either way, this day is departure morning. The party will be leaving in the evening and the driver will be driving through the night. The crescendo of noise will continue as the pupils are screamed at by teachers to get packed and bring their cases to a central point. The cleaners will be in all the rooms. They will be hoovering all morning. When the group get back they will shower, change, and head into dinner. They board the coach around 17:00 to 18:00 local time. The party begin the long haul journey back to the UK. Now, lets work BACKWARDS ... and you'll soon start to see how the CUMULATIVE lack of rest will have an effect on the driver’s reactions and his ability to perform as all passengers have the right to expect him to… Drivers will have had virtually NO sleep during the day - and why would they when they will have been asleep from 22:00 as described above. A person cannot sleep more than the body can sleep! That means…
- 22:00 - 06.30 with a few hours of intermittent dozing in between.
- 12-14 hour shifts every day for the whole week prior to this.
- Intermittent sleep in a 'day bed' prior to boarding the coach in the first place.
- An early rise to drive or be driven to the day bed.
- A weeks worth of work before the driver even goes on the ski trip.
- A short rest and an illegally excessive period of work at the end of last ski trip....but this illegal act is almost undetectable.
The simple answer to this safety breach is to ensure that all drivers have a suitable room in a quiet area of the hotel away from the children and that they are not disturbed when they need to sleep. How difficult is that?
Drivers have tried to bring this matter to the industry’s attention and it is only now that BUSK, independent from the industry has taken our concerns seriously and set up the Nightcap campaign, that we have decided to tell parents the simple truth. I am a driver. Would I allow my child on a trip like this? NO! The final question drivers have, now you have had this crucial situation brought to your attention is this… with this knowledge, is whether you're the one who's willing to lose their child in a coach crash on a French motorway at 4 o’clock in the morning? Remember the return journey home is normally during the night, its a 21-hour drive shared by two drivers who, by the end of the shift will have been awake for more than 30 hours. For more information see the Nightcap section on this website. Dont' stop your child going on trips, just stop your child's school booking with a tour company that refuses to accommodate drivers in single rooms in a quiet place.