COVID-19 Implications for Outdoor Learning
COVID-19 Outdoor Learning, school trips and insurance
Guidance for planning and managing outdoor learning, offsite visits and learning outside the classroom during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
This guidance must be read within the context of current government guidance which is likely to change as the situation develops. Although the guidance is focused on schools, it is also intended to be applicable to other establishments such as children’s homes.
Outdoor learning and off-site visits during COVID-19
Learning outdoors has many educational and health benefits. During the pandemic, it also provides opportunities for ‘social distancing’ and fresh air, and so establishments should consider how they can maximise the amount of time that children and young people spend outdoors.
Current (January 2021) government national lockdown measures apply and with schools moving to online educational provision until February half term at the earliest.
The Government advise against educational visits at this time. This advice will be kept under review.
Any outdoor learning will likely be onsite for any vulnerable or key worker pupils. This should be done in line with protective measures, such as keeping children within their consistent group, and the COVID-secure measures in place at the destination. Schools should also make use of outdoor spaces in the local area to support delivery of the curriculum. As normal, schools should undertake full and thorough risk assessments in relation to all educational visits to ensure they can be done safely. As part of this risk assessment, schools will need to consider what control measures need to be used and ensure they are aware of wider advice on visiting indoor and outdoor venues.
In addition to using their own playgrounds and gardens, many schools routinely use outdoor areas adjacent to and nearby the school for educational activities, sometimes designated as a ‘Local Learning Area’. It should be possible to continue to use most venues that are in walking distance, within current limitations. It might also be possible to negotiate temporary exclusive use of an outdoor area close to an establishment, with the landowner.
There are many ideas and resources for activities available, for example:
The following OEAP documents are available in National Guidance
Planning and managing activities during the pandemic
The following guidance for planning and managing activities is specific to operating during the COVID-19 pandemic. You should also be familiar with other National Guidance documents relevant to your role, as the normal principles of good practice still apply.
You should review your standard operating procedures to ensure that they include the measures that you need to take to reduce the risks from COVID-19. It is particularly important to follow government guidance about ‘social distancing’, group sizes, personal protective equipment and hygiene, whether indoors or outdoors, on-site or off-site.
You should consider avoiding activities which have a high likelihood of minor injuries, so as to reduce the need for first aid, close contact with participants, or visits to hospital. If the planned activity is in an area open to the public, you should consider carefully how you will ensure that your group is isolated from the public.
The same attention should be given to hygiene when outdoors as when indoors, for example:
- Regularly washing/sanitising hands including when going outside, before and after touching shared objects such as activity equipment, before eating, after using the toilet, when getting on or off transport such as a minibus, when returning inside;
- Avoiding touching objects shared by the public – for example, a member of staff could hold a gate open to avoid everyone touching it;
- Avoiding activities which involve touching each other (e.g. holding hands);
- Sanitising equipment before it is used.
Consider carrying, or having easily available, antiseptic hand gel, antiseptic wipes, tissues, bags for waste, gloves and face masks and possibly disposable aprons and eye protection, in case staff need to administer first aid or give direct support or personal care to a participant.
Be aware that antiseptic hand gel usually contains a high proportion of alcohol, and could therefore be a temptation for abuse by some young people. It should be used under close staff supervision.
During some activities, it may be possible to designate or mark out ‘zones’ within which individual participants work, to avoid contact between them.
It is important to keep parents informed about your plans and the precautions you are taking, both indoors and outdoors, as they will naturally be concerned.
For all other visits, if you need to travel you should stay local – meaning avoiding travelling outside your village, town or part of a city where you live.
When planning a visit, you should take the current government guidance into account as part of your process of risk assessment, and then check it regularly in the days and weeks leading up to the visit and make any changes necessary to your plans.
Parents and participants may naturally be concerned, so you should discuss their concerns with them and keep them informed about the situation and how you plan to mitigate any risks.
Because of COVID-19, there may be a higher than normal risk of leaders being unable to go on a visit, and so you may need to take this into account when planning the staffing of visits.
You should check that any provider you intend to use has assessed the risk of coronavirus and implemented control measures to prevent infection. Some providers may not have had the benefit of the advice and support available to education establishments, and so may not be fully aware of the measures that are expected. You should consider making a preliminary visit to check the measures in place and to discuss any issues with the provider.
In normal times, using public transport for a visit has many educational, environmental and social benefits. However, the government currently advises that public transport should be avoided if possible.
Where walking or cycling is not possible, dedicated transport (such as a minibus or coach) should therefore be used. The following guidance is taken from the DfE advice for home to school transport.
“Pupils on dedicated school services do not mix with the general public on those journeys and tend to be consistent. This means that the advice for passengers on public transport to adopt a social distance of two metres from people outside their household or support bubble, or a ‘one metre plus’ approach where this is not possible, will not apply from the autumn term on dedicated transport.
The approach to dedicated transport should align as far as possible with the principles underpinning … the approach being adopted for your school. It is important to consider:
- how pupils are grouped together on transport, where possible this should reflect the bubbles that are adopted within school;
- use of hand sanitiser upon boarding and/or disembarking;
- additional cleaning of vehicles;
- organised queuing and boarding where possible;
- distancing within vehicles wherever possible;
- the use of face coverings for children over the age of 11, where appropriate, for example, if they are likely to come into very close contact with people outside of their group or who they do not normally meet.”
Managing the financial risks
If you make any bookings or financial commitments, you should clarify how the terms and conditions will apply if you, or the provider, have to cancel, or are prevented from going ahead because of COVID-19 or its effects – for example, due to government guidance or a ‘lockdown’. You should also ensure that parents are clear about any financial consequences of cancellation.
If the visit involves any significant financial commitments, such as travel or accommodation, you should discuss the potential effects of COVID-19 with your travel insurance provider. For example, will the insurance cover the cost of cancellation, curtailment or delay due to changes in government guidance or virus control measures (such as members of the group being isolated at home or in a hotel and prevented from travelling, or due to a ‘lockdown’)
Current government guidance for educational settings advises against all overseas visits for children under 18. You should monitor the government's foreign travel advice for any country you plan to travel to or through in Foreign Travel Advice
Liaise closely with your travel provider about the situation in the country that you are planning to visit and consider the alternatives and options should that visit no longer be able to proceed.
Specific advice for people travelling overseas during the pandemic, and on
protecting themselves on their return, is in Foreign Travel Coronavirus
The advice given above about cancellation terms and conditions, and insurance, is particularly important for overseas visits.The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) has published guidance about travelling overseas at: Coronavirus advice for customers | News | ABTA
School trips -refunds guidance
Where schools have had to cancel trips due to Covid19 Buckinghamshire have produced guidance on how schools should deal with refunds to parents where appropriate.
View the school trip refund guidance.
Insurance claims for Educational Visits cancelled due to Covid-19.
Virtually all Educational Visits organised by external providers have been cancelled from March 23rd 2020 onwards due to the Coronavirus pandemic that has swept the globe. If your school has been affected by this then the procedure for claims is set out below.
Contact your tour operator/provider in the first instance and request a refund or arrange an alternate date for the visit to take place. Bear in mind that the visit may still be affected by C-19 restrictions for some time to come and parents/pupils may have a different view on whether to attend the newly arranged dates. Your insurance may also be compromised with rearranged dates and may not automatically cover you in the same way, so it is advisable to check with your insurer to see if any changes will come into place.
If you are requesting a refund you may not get the full amount. Ask for written information about how much has been retained and why. You will need this information or a refusal of the refund in writing in order to pursue an insurance claim. Some companies have limited staff on at this time and do take a while to respond. It can be helpful to give an expected timescale for a reply (e.g. 7 or 14 days). Keep all correspondence for the insurance company to see, including all sent and potentially unanswered email replies from the company.
You may have successfully negotiated a full refund or arranged an agreed alternative date. If not, you will probably begin discussions with your insurer. Like providers, insurance companies are inundated with a great many claims at this time, a proportion of which are school visit claims.
Our Council Insurance section can be contacted via emails to the insurance mailbox:
The Risk Protection Arrangement (RPA) have been proactive sorting out claims efficiently and have accepted all overseas and UK travel cancellation claims for this academic year from RPA members. They kindly ask that members return to their venues; tour operators; booking agents; credit card companies in the first instance to see if you can recover any monies back direct from them initially. They kindly ask that you evidence this action when you submit your claim(s) as per the RPA membership pack.
Further information from the RPA can be found here: The risk protection arrangement (RPA) for schools - GOV.UK
For other claims contact the insurer directly as stated in your policy. Information from the Association of British Insurers (ABI) can be found here: Insurance for Schools ABI
Keep the parents informed and updated about the status of the visit and the refund/rescheduled date. There has been a lot of high profile information in the press about certain large providers of residential school visits and the lack of refund options offered.
If you are unable to secure a refund from your insurance provider, it is worth going back to the provider and explaining the situation. There have been several cases where this is the case and particular hardship will ensue. This has provoked a larger refund from the provider who will be keen to keep an element of goodwill to secure future visits.
You may also have recourse to claim if the school paid for the visit using a school credit or debit card, the school may be able to claim back under the Chargeback arrangements. Equally if the provider/tour operator is covered with ABTA or ATOL then the school should be covered under the Package Travel Regulations.