Coronavirus (COVID-19)

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COVID-19 Implications for Outdoor Learning

COVID-19 Outdoor Learning, school trips and insurance

This information has been written by the OEAP (Outdoor Education Advisor’s Panel) and provides guidance for planning and managing outdoor learning, off-site visits and learning outside the classroom during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. It 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.

For more information contact Mike Harwin – mike.harwin@buckinghamshire.gov.uk

Government Guidance

It is essential that current government guidance is followed. It should therefore be monitored for any changes. The Department for Education (DfE) has issued guidance to educational settings about COVID-19:

Guidance for schools and other educational settings about Covid-19.

It has also issued specific travel advice for educational settings:

Travel Advice for Educational Settings – GOV.uk

What is Possible Now?

At the time of publication of this document:

  • Most schools are closed except for the children of key workers and some vulnerable children, who may need to attend a different school from the one they normally attend;
  • The government is advising against both overseas and domestic visits.

Options for outdoor learning, off-site visits and learning outside the classroom are therefore severely limited. However, the educational and health benefits of such activities are such that establishments that are operating should consider whether there are opportunities for them within current government guidance and while managing any risks to participants, staff and the public due to COVID-19.

For example, in normal circumstances many schools routinely use outdoor areas adjacent to and nearby the school for educational activities, sometimes designated as a ‘Local Learning Area’. It may be possible to continue to use some of these venues and activities, and to develop new activities 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 available online, for example:

Council for Learning Outside the Classroom

Learning Through Landscapes

National Trust – 50 things to do before you’re 11

Planning and Managing Local Activities

The following guidance for planning and managing activities is specific to the current situation regarding COVID-19. You should also be familiar with other National Guidance documents relevant to your role, as the normal principles of good practice still apply.

It is particularly important to follow government guidance about social distancing and hygiene, whether indoors or outdoors, on-site or off-site, because many of the children continuing to attend school will have parents who are key workers:

  • There is a risk that children pick up the virus when at school and bring it home;
  • Some of these parents are in high-risk jobs (e.g. NHS or care staff), so their children are more likely to contract the virus at home than other children are, and there is then a risk to the wider community.

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. This includes isolation from children who normally attend the establishment, or other local establishments, but are currently not doing so and who may therefore be attracted to your group and be disruptive.

The consideration about isolation from the public, including children not at school, also applies if the activity is off-site and so involves walking or transport (such as by the establishment’s minibus).

Venues should therefore be selected to minimise any possible interaction with the public, including children not at school, and to keep travel distance to a minimum.

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;
  • Thoroughly cleaning/sanitising vehicles before and after use.

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. Some schools will be working with staff and children who normally attend other schools, where policies, procedures and expectations are different, and so it may be necessary to establish a common understanding with staff, parents and children.

Where staff are working with children with whom they are unfamiliar, or in an unfamiliar establishment and local area, they should take this into account when planning activities.

Future Visits

Restrictions on visits could continue for a significant time, and so it would be unwise to make any definite plans until it is known when they will be relaxed. When the time comes to make such plans, 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 during a residential 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.  If you plan to visit a venue such as a museum or gallery, or to attend a public event such as a concert or sporting fixture, or to stay in accommodation such as a hostel or hotel, or if you are using a tour operator or activity provider, discuss the potential effects of COVID-19 with them at the time of booking, and keep in touch with them during the run-up to the visit.

If you make any bookings or financial commitments, you should clarify how the terms and conditions will apply if you have to cancel, or are prevented from going ahead because of COVID-19. 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 virus control measures (such as members of the group being isolated at home or in a hotel and prevented from travelling)?

The Association of British Insurers has published advice on the travel insurance implications of COVID-19, mainly focused on overseas travel, at:

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Information Hub ABI

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.

If you are planning a visit which involves another group (perhaps a group overseas), such as an exchange visit, or if you are planning to host or work with another group (perhaps an overseas group visiting the UK), you should keep in contact with them and be aware that they might need to change or cancel the arrangement.

Future Overseas Visits

It is likely to be some time before overseas visits become possible again. You should monitor the government's foreign travel advice for any country you plan to travelling to or through: Foreign travel advice - GOV.UK

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.

The advice given above about 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

Insurance

The advice given above about insurance is particularly important for overseas visits.

Please see also the Association for British Insurers page for more information: Insurance for Schools

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