Overnight UK trips should be able to resume after Easter and international travel should follow in the 2021/22 school year - that’s the message from the outdoor education and school travel sector.
It is understood that England’s guidance on residential school trips would be reviewed by the Government this month.
The sector has highlighted that millions of children have missed out on valuable residential experiences over the last year with trips not being able to take place - either in the UK or overseas.
The School Travel Sector Stakeholder Group, in conjunction with the School Travel Forum (the industry body for specialist overseas school tour providers), has submitted a proposal to the Department for Education as to how domestic and overseas educational visits could be restarted.
The group has also warned that without urgent action, the sector faces decimation.
The proposal, which has been developed by a consortium of 12 industry groups, includes the following key elements:
- Amended guidance to allow domestic and overnight educational visits to resume in the summer term, in line with background transmission rates in Tiers 1, 2 & 3.
- Targeted restart of international educational visits in the 2021/22 academic year.
- Development of a Covid-safe operations protocol in consultation with Public Health England to allow outdoor education centres to operate safely and within existing school bubbles.
- Development of a Government-backed Insurance Policy to reinstate Covid-19 pre-trip cancellation cover in both commercial insurance policies and the Department for Education’s Risk Protection Arrangement.
- Access to funding help along with an extension to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme up to 30th September, 2021.
Gill Harvey, chief executive of School Travel Forum, said: “The pandemic has been catastrophic for educational visits and the overseas school travel sector has been hit particularly hard. Our members were required to stop operating on 12th March 2020, making it one of the first sectors impacted by the pandemic restrictions, and have not been able to operate since.”
“Over 560,000 children benefit from an overseas school trip each year, by the time our members are able to re-start, more than a million students will have missed out on these experiences and the many opportunities that they open up in terms of enhanced learning, direct experience of different cultures, languages and environment and being able to connect textbook learning with the world around them.”
“Over 560,000 children benefit from an overseas school trip each year, by the time our members are able to re-start, more than a million students will have missed out on these experiences…”
Gill Harvey, chief executive, School Travel Forum
“Many jobs have already been lost and our £500m industry is on a knife-edge. However, with the right support and guidance, the sector can be saved. This Roadmap to Restart sets out a clear and prudent route for a phased restart to the educational visits sector and provides a sustainable path to survival.
“If no action is taken and no targeted assistance provided, these specialist providers who have supported their school customers for decades will disappear taking with them the chance for future generations to experience high-quality safe educational visits abroad.
“We thank the Department for Education for their recognition of the importance of this sector and convening this group, and for their support in bringing this roadmap to the Sectary of State.”
Andy Robinson, chief executive of Institute for Outdoor Learning and member of UK Outdoors, said: “The pandemic and the Department for Education’s guidance have been catastrophic for the sector, with thousands of jobs gone and a worrying acceleration in the number of centres closing forever. Our £700m industry is on a knife edge. But with the right support and guidance, the sector can still be saved.
“Our Roadmap to Restart provides a clear and prudent proposal for a phased restart of the outdoor education sector in time for the critical summer term, giving providers a sustainable path to survival.
“If no action is taken and no additional support is provided, the sector stands to lose all its 16,000 jobs, snuffing out a vital British industry.”
Jim Whittaker, chair of the Association of Heads of Outdoor Centres and UK Outdoors member, added: “Outdoor education is a vital resource for all schools with over two million children a year taking part.”
“At a time when Covid has so disproportionately affected the nation’s children, outdoor education has a unique role to play in helping to restore and rebuild their confidence and mental health.”
Jim Whittaker, chair, Association of Heads of Outdoor Centres
“This is particularly true for disadvantaged children and the thousands of inner-city schools, students and parents for whom outdoor education is a unique and life changing experience. Without meaningful action by the Government now, this invaluable resource risks being lost forever.”
Financial support for outdoor residential centres
Gareth Davies, operations manager at the Arete Outdoor Centre in North Wales, said that several outdoor centres had closed in 2020 with more under threat. He added: “We need sector specific funding now to save these treasured centres.
“We need clarity on how we can operate in 2021, which we believe should be part of the roadmap for schools fully reopening as we head towards Easter. So far two million young people have missed out on visits and without summer residential courses this number will increase significantly at a time when wellbeing needs to be urgently addressed.”
“So far two million young people have missed out on visits and without summer residential courses this number will increase significantly at a time when wellbeing needs to be urgently addressed.”
Gareth Davies, operations manager at the Arete Outdoor Centre
Almost 13,000 people have signed a petition to urge the Government to provide financial support to outdoor residential centres while they are closed.