Despite the bewildering array of paperwork, forms, documentation and general risk to job and sanity, many teachers are willing to organise school trips abroad.
If you have never organised one before, then it can be quite a daunting prospect. We spoke to one teacher who has arranged a number of successful ski trips (as risks go, these trips are right up there) and we thought it might be useful to pass on his advice. The following suggestions are tailored specifically for a school ski trip though much of the paperwork and ideas apply to any group outing involving children This will not be an exhaustive list, but it represents a lot of what needs to be covered.
Use a recommended travel firm
Speak to friends and colleagues about firms they have used before. These companies take the headache out of searching for flight times, dates and locations and have their own reps both abroad and at home who help out. They should also have comprehensive processes and documentation in place which take some of the responsibility off the organiser.
Choose your destination carefully
Depending on the age of the kids, the chances are they will be let out in groups of three or four to do their own thing for a couple of hours a day. Choose a destination with minimum traffic where pupils can move around safely and that has shops and amenities which are within walking distance of your accommodation.
Documentation you will need
This is the really tedious part. The list below is an outline of the minimum documentation which you will require:
• Travel insurance policy – details of the policy and who to contact in the event of a serious accident.
• Risk Assessment (yours) – outline all potential risks and mitigating actions which you propose to take.
• Risk Management System (the travel firm’s) – your travel company should have documentation regarding their own risk mitigation.
• Parent/guardian contact details – this is vital for medical emergencies as well as the numerous other reasons you might need to contact them.
• Medical details – each child’s parents need to provide details of allergies, family doctor, medical conditions, whether the child can be given paracetamol or not, and they must agree to any treatment which medical professionals in situ recommend. Pre-existing conditions must be declared to the insurance company beforehand – usually by the parent.
• Passport – each child will need a valid passport. Ensure that the nationality of the child allows them entry to the destination country without a visa. Staff should have a record of all passport numbers, expiry dates etc. Note as well, that some countries (like the US for example) require the passport to have a minimum of six months validity in order to stay in the country.
• Communication chain – if there is going to be a serious delay, calling a large number of parents from abroad is expensive and time consuming. Ensure that colleagues in the UK can be called and are each responsible for contacting a set number of parents.
• Code of conduct – expected standards of behaviour should be defined and the penalties for transgression of the rules outlined. These should be signed by pupils and counter-signed by parents.
• Photographs – each pupil should bring two photos. One for the ski pass and one to distribute to the authorities should a child go missing.
• Tickets and travel documents – get the tickets in a timely manner so that any errors can be corrected. Ensure that you have supplied the names that are on the passports. For example “James” is different to “Jamie”. Pupils are sometimes called by a perfectly sensible-sounding first name which actually turns out to be a middle name.
• Disclaimers – some activities will require pupils’ parents or guardians to sign a disclaimer.
Parents of a pupil with a pre-existing condition need to be consulted before the child can be accepted on the trip. Severe diabetes, for example, can be difficult to manage, and the unexpected exertions and calorie-burn for the novice skier can cause problems for even children who are good at managing their condition. Any teacher organising a ski trip should take the following to dispense to those who have forgotten/lost their own supplies:
• High factor suncream
• Lip salves
• Sick bags (pupils prone to sickness should bring pills)
• Travel wipes
Pupils travelling abroad together tend to be an excitable bunch and moving a large group through a busy airport is tough. A ratio of one adult to ten pupils is generally the legal minimum though the teacher we spoke to says he prefers one to eight.
The pupils should be divided up equally between the staff and then move, check-in and clear security as individual groups. It is quicker, more efficient and pupils are more easily accounted for.
Airport security can be difficult with children and it must be impressed upon them that jokes and flippant comments can potentially cause serious consequences. They should also all be made aware in advance of what can and can’t be taken through security. The rules on liquids in particular mean that many pupils have their toiletries confiscated. See article Fluid dynamics – the rules about taking liquids through security.
The major worry for teachers who embark upon these trips is injury to the children and the resulting fall-out upon their return. The teacher we spoke to had experienced dealing with a number of children with broken bones as a result of skiing accidents and suggested the following:
“The main thing to be aware of is that staff should never ski with the children unless there is a qualified ski instructor present as well, since medical insurance can be invalidated. Parents accept there’s a risk associated with skiing and if accidents happen – which they will – as long as a qualified ski instructor is with the class, the teacher can feel confident that he or she is following procedure.”
“The medics in ski resorts are more experienced at dealing with sports injuries than the majority of doctors in the UK. If I broke something, I’d prefer to be in a ski resort than anywhere else.”
A final thing to think about is that there’s likely to be an excess with the medical insurance which either the child can pay (should they have plenty of spending money) or failing that, the teacher will have stump up the cash and then ask for reimbursement from the parents when the party returns.
To run an expensive trip you are clearly going to need parents who can afford it and this will not be possible in many schools. Should you want to run a ski trip, the costs can be kept down by using a coach, rather than flying and also by going outside the school holidays though this would mean taking time off school.
Additionally, resorts in countries like Bulgaria for example are far cheaper than the likes of Val D’Isere in France or Aspen in Colorado and so money can be saved there too. A large kitty for staff is not necessary. The teacher we spoke to suggested charging an extra £5-10 per child to cover things like prizes for pupils and buying necessary supplies for the trip.
Many schools will have a finance person in the office to coordinate payment by parents – those paying in a lump sum or in instalments. If you run the money side yourself then make sure you are 100% accurate – preferably using a spreadsheet to keep track of what is coming in and going out. Most travel companies will ask for an initial deposit of £50 – £100 per child and then it is up to you to work out a payment schedule for the balance of the trip.
The company you choose can make a big difference and it’s important to try and cultivate a good relationship with your point of contact there. You’ll inevitably have a lot of questions about the trip (particularly if you have not been to the destination before), and you should not be afraid to ask them.
When it comes to the safety and well-being of children, there is no detail too small to consider and thorough preparation will mean a safe and enjoyable trip for everyone concerned.
For packing tips see: Travel Light: How to pack with hand luggage only