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 (June 2021) Government advice follows the wider Roadmap to Recovery with relation to Educational Visits and you can download the full guidance here.

New Bookings - Schools may begin planning for new domestic residential educational visits to take place. Should step 3 commence as planned, new visits will be possible from and no earlier than 17 May.

Day Visits - In line with the roadmap, schools have been able resume educational day visits since 12 April 2021. Any educational day visit must be conducted in line with relevant COVID-19 guidance and regulations in place at that time. You should keep children within their consistent groups (bubbles) for the purpose of the visit.

Residential Visits (UK) - Domestic residential educational visits can resume from 17 May 2021. Any domestic residential educational visit must be conducted in line with relevant COVID-19 guidance and regulations in place at that time. You should keep children within their consistent groups (bubbles) for the purpose of the visit.

Overseas Visits - Given the complexities with international travel it is recommended that schools do not go on any international visits this year up to and including 5 September 2021.

New Bookings - For new bookings, schools should check that appropriate travel insurance is in place. There will likely be a gap in COVID-19 insurance cover and schools should ensure that they have adequate financial protection in place. Many (but not all) providers are now offering a no cost deferral option to a later date or a full cash refund in this case if a deferral is not acceptable

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 many of these venues within current limitations, especially if they are within walking or cycling distance of the establishment. It might also be possible to negotiate temporary exclusive use of an outdoor area close to an establishment, with the landowner.

Establishments should use their judgement, informed by government guidance about protective measures and safe working during the pandemic, to decide what is appropriate in their particular circumstances. In doing this, it can be helpful to make a clear distinction between ‘educational visits’ and local off-site activities. In making this decision, it is helpful to consider the ‘SAGE’ variables (Staff, Activity, Group, Environment).

There are many ideas and resources for activities available, for example:

The following OEAP documents are available in National Guidance

Council for Learning Outside the Classroom

Learning Through Landscapes

National Trust

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 that 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.


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 principles and procedures for using dedicated transport should align as far as possible with those used in the school or other setting. You should consider:

  • how participants are grouped together on transport - where possible this should reflect the groupings (e.g. ‘bubbles’) used in the school or other setting;
  • the use of hand sanitiser when getting on and off transport;
  • additional cleaning of vehicles;
  • ensuring that boarding and disembarkation are organised;
  • distancing on transport where possible;
  • the use of face coverings.

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 the 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’)

Overseas visits

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.

Step 1

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.

Step 2

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

Step 3

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. 

Step 4

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. 

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