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September 14, 2016

How to Avoid Litigation and Ensure All Your School Trips Are Care-Free and Fun-Packed

Who would take a school trip in today’s ‘compensation culture’ society? Embarking further than the school gates with groups of young people is an increasingly terrifying prospect, given the alarm caused by highly publicised disasters and the explosion of paperwork that accompanies such events.

Despite this, every year, around one million, four hundred thousand passengers take excursions with Belle Vue and return fit and well, with a new enthusiasm for one another.

“There is no doubt,” said one teacher, “that trips are entirely worthwhile - they can have the effect of transforming one’s relationship with children. You have a chance to experience each other with the defences down and make contact on a human level that school often precludes.”

By starting early and keeping the tips below in mind, a school trip can be a rewarding and relatively painless experience. Funtastic school trips start here….

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Your 57 top tips to ensure fun-packed, care-free excursions

1. Plan ahead and reserve your transport a.s.a.p.
Teachers should always give themselves as much time as possible to plan a trip and should talk to their school trip’s transport provider early on in the process. Not only will this mean that groups are more likely to get their first choice of transport mode because of vehicle availability, but you can get a better price. It also gives parents a fair amount of time to save for the upcoming trip. Yellow School Buses are far more economical and a better choice for local journeys. Executive-style coaches can be chosen for further distances and coach holidays.

2. Be careful with your volunteers
If you’re choosing a colleague to help you lead a trip,pick one you think will make a good co-leader, so you aren’t stuck holding the teacher’s hand as well as the kids’. Care should be taken against using volunteers to ‘make up numbers’: a school or college might be negligent if it does not send enough employees with appropriate authority over the pupils in their care.

3. Check your venue’s staff team
People can make all the difference to the success of your school trip. Choose a venue with staff teams that you feel confident about dealing and working with during your trip. Staff and instructors at your chosen centre should be fully trained in any activities they are delivering, especially for adventure activities and sports which are regulated by the National Governing Bodies for each activity. This ensures a high level of instruction and also, more importantly, attention to health and safety practices for those activities.

4. Do your homework
There’s no better way to prepare for a school trip than actually seeing the location personally before booking. Many teachers like to organise a preview visit to the place they are considering ahead of the trip. This is a great opportunity to meet senior personnel at the location and see other school trips in action before you commit. This can also help you to think about the particular courses and educational modules you would like your group to take part in.

5. Make it fun
One of the main reasons for a school trip is learning through having fun, whether that’s key life skills such as teamwork and leadership, or even investigating a river. Once all the basic elements of your trip are decided on, it’s time to introduce the trip to parents and students. A great way of doing this is via a letter home or at a Parents’ Evening, where the proposed trip can be presented and any questions answered and objections overcome.

6. Collecting payment if students are contributing
Do not take money from students encountering you in the corridor or in lesson time. It is always a cheque thrown at you, not in an envelope and with none of the paperwork attached, that will later go missing, costing you hours of heartache and fruitless searching. Set specific times to accept cash or cheques, where you administer things properly and ensure the procedures are fair. Number deposit envelopes according to when they are received so that there can be no question of favouritism when it comes to allocating places.

7. Set deadlines carefully
Be crafty with deadlines. Make sure you set students deadlines well in advance of the actual ones that you must meet so that you give yourself a bit of room for manoeuvre. It is inevitable that someone will forget to bring back their form or get it signed in time!

8. Plan the return time accurately
Although Yellow School Buses can mean good savings for your school budget, they have to be back for school contracts in the afternoon, so you have to decide if you can fit in with this by planning the boarding and departure time early enough to get back in time, or alternatively hire a coach that can stay with you all afternoon.

9. Safety
Safety is at the top of the list of concerns for trip organisers and parents in today’s litigious society. This concern for health and safety issues does not have to stifle the adventurous spirit of school trips and visits though. Instead it should create an environment which promotes challenge by choice in safe surroundings. Check before booking that your chosen transport provider is registered with all relevant organisations and authorities, such as TfGM,(or your local authority) the CPT and DVSA. (See tips 10, 11 & 13).

10. Vet your supplier with the local authority
TfGM (Transport for Greater Manchester), or your equivalent local authority, have vetted and qualified all suppliers who provide transport to schools on a contract home to school basis. They have a scoring system based on performance and reliability and roadworthiness which includes annual fleet inspections. Ask for a reference on their scoring or get a report. Getting a good report of an operator who operates with high service levels week in week out, ensures you are on to a winning partnership.

11. Check your supplier is a member of the CPT
The CPT (Confederation of Passenger Transport) is an organisation which represents coach and bus operators at government level. The CPT promotes compliance amongst operators and they have operational and technical departments to assist operators in meetingup to date regulations and standards also benefiting from newest innovations.

12. CPT backup for handling emergencies
The CPT also ensure emergency back-up procedures in the event of a road accident for all their members,including roadside emergencies and assistance in press and public relations handling. All good-quality operators are members of this association. Ensure your supplier is.

13. Check operators roadworthiness with the DVSA.
Ask your operator for their DVSA OCRS report. The Vehicle Operator Service Agency have records on file of all transport operator’s maintenance records. This includes MOT pass rate on their vehicle fleet, roadside inspections and a general scoring system that gives quality information on the road worthiness of the coach/bus operator in question. The score rates from Red, Amber and Green and from 1 to 10. Green1 is low and Red 10 is high. Quality operators are in the green, with a score as low as possible. This is your ultimate guide to checking maintenance records of your chosen transport supplier.

14. Check your operator’s Insurance Claims Records
Quality operators manage their staff and operations very tightly and will be happy to disclose this ifrequested. This is also an act of confidence, to highlight how low the claims record is and how safely they operate their business. Coach passengers are valuable cargo and a low claims record is a safe bet in anyone’s book.

15. How to measure Insurance Claims Records
As a rule of thumb, insurance brokers would expect to pay on average 60% claims of the cost of the insurance premium. Quality operators will have claims records of less than 40% with top draw operators below 20%. You can assess the management of the operator by the number and type of the claims record.

16. Discover how quality operators improve poor driving standards
If a driver has had an incident through his own negligence on the insurance policy, the operator should have placed him on a retraining assessment course with a qualified instructor, requiring him to obtain a qualifying score to maintain his position. Any small accidents that drivers have had can be assessed and monitored. Not assessing driving incidents results in greater calamities later. To ignore the danger is to deserve the disaster.

17. Does your vehicle have CCTV on board?
Quality operators also have CCTV fitted to counteract false insurance claims and ensure secure evidence in the event of an incident due to a third party’s negligence and not their own. Operators also use this evidence to periodically monitor their drivers’ driving habits and behaviour, so as to improve their service to future passengers.

18. Ask transport operators about their recruitment policy
‘Cowboy operators’ have no strategy for recruitment and training. They throw the keys at anyone with a nice smile, such is their desperation to put a driver behind the wheel and start earning them money.(There is a national driver shortage in the PCV industry). Good quality drivers are in short supply in the industry. For this reason, not checking a driver’s career history can be detrimental to the trip. Quality operators assess application forms thoroughly,including a personality test to evaluate how skilled and enthusiastic the applicant is about the job. They carry out a thorough interview, sometimes two, with the second incorporating a driving test.

19. Ask operators about their induction and training policy
Good operators spend anything from a day or two to a week inducting new drivers. The induction includes a thorough exercise going through the company’s H&S policy and the Drivers’ Handbook/Operations Manual. The second day and additional days includes driver training,including up-to-the minute customer service skills. Having properly trained drivers results in you getting better performance on your trip. Also, check if drivers are CPC qualified.(Certificate of Professional Competence – the highest standard form of training in the industry).

20. Has the driver been checked out?
Every operator’s recruitment policy should include two former employer’s references and a DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check. After this qualifying process a full day’s induction and training takes place to set the new applicant into the company’s operating systems. You are then assured that you are being served by a high-quality professional bus/coach driver who operates to a company’s operations manual.

21. Ask about quality control
Some operators have no control over the standard and upkeep of their fleet of vehicles. Good maintenance starts with good cleanliness. Quality operators will have a vigorous system in place that is double or treble checked on a daily basis with a paperwork management system in place. At the higher end of the market they will be a member of the ‘Coach Marque Scheme’ which is the Industry's Quality Scheme for a quality auditing system, or better still, operators will be certified to ISO9001, which is recognised across Europe.

22. Ask to see customer testimonials
Ask to see previous customer testimonials. There’s nothing like seeing testimonials of a good service received from recent customers to put your mind at rest and give you confidence that your business has been placed in the right hands. If customers receive exceptional service they will record it with the supplier such was their gratitude. Quality operators receive testimonials by the bucket-load.

23. Check out the reviews on Google, Facebook and their website.
Check out your operator on Google Places, Facebook and even their website. You can now check all the reviews that previous customershave left. This is another good indicator of the quality of the company’s service.

24. Check out the breakdown backup systems
Although vehicles are well maintained, even a brand new one can break down. In the event of an unfortunate breakdown beyond the operator’s control, enquire about backup procedures or systems. When you are stranded at the side of the motorway, what’s the plan? Quality operators have spare vehicles ready for such events, or can supply another vehicle from their large fleet that happens to be near the area.

25. Extra backup plan for breakdowns
As well as spare fleet vehicles quality operators have an army of quality approved suppliers that they can call upon. If it is a minor technical situation operators have their own ‘rapid response’ maintenance team and/or established relations with a ‘breakdown company’ that they can call upon for rapid assistance anywhere in the UK. Also the CPT have numerous operators that can be contacted. This simple point can get you back on the road in minutes rather than hours.

26. Safety On-board
Before making a booking, ask the transport operator about on board safety systems. Most quality operators have a management card that is given to the customer,highlighting boarding and disembarking procedures,emergency exits, fire extinguisher, first aid kit, toilet location, emergency window exits with ‘break glass’hammers and designated teacher/supervisor seating positions to allow you to supervise the party during transit.

27. Comfort
On-board The on board management card also highlights comfort facilities such as reclining seating, toilets,lighting, CD/DVD facilities and air conditioning. Having your team sat together and not strategically placed could result in inadequate supervision of the students and potential illness that could have been dealt with quickly could instead result in a sick passenger causing unpleasantness for the others.

28. Making the booking
When you have a travel requirement and have obtained a satisfactory quotation from your supplier book the transport and ensure you get a confirmation. Be sure to indicate your full contact details, the date of travel,the time of collection, the number of passengers, the address and location departure point, the destination,any vehicle facility preferences and any special needs requirements. Also indicate the date and time of return journey and the payment terms.

29. Confirm the booking by acknowledging it
Once you have received your confirmed booking,some operators like you to sign and return one copy of the contract along with a deposit or payment (not necessary if you have an account) to confirm your acceptance of the transport booking. Make sure you acknowledge the booking and check your travel details. A day or two before the date of travel you can obtain the driver’s name and contact details, should you wish to speak to them in advance. Most efficient drivers would call you the day before to cross check all your wants,needs and expectations.

30. Check the T&Cs and ensure your group are aware of them
Obtaining and reading operator's terms and conditions ensures you can abide by the rules of the coach. This will earn you the respect of the driver who will go the extra mile to meet your expectations. You must express the important terms to your passengers. Such things as; wearing seat belts, not blocking emergency exits, rules of the toilet, rules on smoking, drugs and alcohol. Abiding by the rules ensures a great day out. Failure to abide by the rules can, in some cases, result in cancellation of the journey; a disappointment for all concerned.

31. Get value for money
You get what you pay for. If a trip is cheap then it will probably lack frills and could have poor vehicle maintenance standards and poor customer service. It could result in landing you in trouble with a breakdown and worst of all, stranded passengers. The cheapest price does not always mean the best value. When it comes to transport, you do get what you pay for. There is a difference between getting ripped off and paying a little extra for added value so it is worth doing your homework and ensuring you know what you are getting for your money.

32. Get added value from your supplier
Coaching and bussing is a seasonal business. Between April and July, supply is short and prices go up, sometimes over-stretching budgets. The winter is quieter. Forming a long-term relationship with a quality operator will mean consistent prices throughout the year, rather than paying extra in the high-demand times, as operators will give discounts to regular clients. You can have extra assurance,having completed all your checks; much better than repeating the process again each time you organise a trip.

33. Visit your chosen transport supplier
There is nothing like seeing who you are dealing with and what vehicles you are going to be travelling on,so visit your chosen supplier. Check out the driver’s appearance. Do they take pride in their uniform? Are the vehicles clean and presentable? Do the offices look tidy and organized? Is there a Mission Statement that drives the business? Depending what you find,you can judge what your trip might be like.

34. Get your risk assessments organised
Do not be put off by risk assessments. Although they are a notable part of the organisation for teachers, risk assessments can be off-putting. Your organisation will have a straightforward procedure and policy in place. Transport operators should be able to cut down much of the work by helping with these. Quality operators will be audited on an annual basis, usually as part of an insurance policy and will be able to supply risk assessments for their transport operations to you with ease. If you are visiting an attraction, then obtain the attraction’s risk assessments and you will soon have the job done with ease.

35. Waiting for the bus
Wait inside the school until the bus arrives or in a safe area in the school grounds. The driver will make his announcement on arrival. Avoid dangerous horseplay while waiting. Stay out of the danger zone: stand at least seven to eight steps (10 feet) from the edge of the road. Wait until the bus stops, the door opens and the driver says it’s okay to board the bus. On the return journey back to school, arrive at the bus stop or meeting point a few minutes early and wait for the driver to give the go ahead before boarding.

36. Getting on and off the bus
Watch clothing or backpacks with dangling drawstrings or straps. Never try to retrieve an item dropped near the bus—get out of the danger zone immediately. Besure the bus driver can see you and you can see him or her. Never walk in front of the bus to cross the street, whilst the passing traffic cannot see you. Wait until the bus departs then attempt to cross the road. Never go behind the bus. Look both ways before crossing the street. If it is dark on the way to or from the bus, wear hi-visibility clothing or carry a book bag with reflective tape.

37. Listen to the driver’s safety instructions
Listen for the driver’s safety introduction before departure (all drivers should complete one). This is a chance for the driver to make their personal introduction ensuring you will have a safe and fun experience. This introduction will highlight the position of the fire extinguisher, first aid kit, emergency exits, break glass hammers and also run through the facilities of the vehicle you are travelling on to ensure you travel safe and comfortable at all times throughout the journey. Ensure your group listen scarefully to this.

38. Riding on the bus/coach
During the journey, your group must obey the driver, stay in their seats, face forward and never stand upon a moving bus. Seat belts must be worn at all times. Keep noise levels reasonable and do not distract the driver unless absolutely necessary.

39. Keep hydrated
Never forget to bring bottled water during long bus trips. Keeping yourself hydrated normalises your body’s functions, something that will be beneficial to people who occasionally experience motion sickness.

40. Encourage comfortable clothing for the students
On longer journeys and holiday trips wear comfortable attire and conserve your body heat by wearing something warm like a jacket or a sweatshirt,especially during the cold seasons. In addition, avoid tight tops, tight trousers, or any attire that can constrict your system’s blood flow. Stretch once ina while. Sitting still for hours can numb the muscles of your body that are not used. Thus, grab every opportunity to stretch and move around in your seat.

41. Avoid Boredom
Recruit an entertaining driver from your operator. Most quality operators recruit based on personality and then teach the required driving skills. Quality drivers like to entertain and go the extra mile, especially on day trips and holiday tours. Most drivers give a tour description when passing places of interest. In the quieter times of the journey, you can play something on the vehicle’s CD or DVD system.

42. Take advantage of the internet
With the advent of the internet, it is now easier than ever to research topics online. For constant travellers,this is great news since they can get all sorts of online information while on a trip using their mobile phones or laptops. Also, they can make informed decisions about their travel plans when they arrive at their destination. Or, on longer trips you can catch up on email chores and get organised for when you return!

43. Pick a destination your students will find interesting
Always have your students in mind when choosing a destination for a field trip. Pick something that is appropriate to their academic level and that they’ll actually enjoy. Field trips should be fun! You might think it’s super-exciting to hear the perspective of a local representative talking about the politics of trash pick-up, but be ready to hear “I’m booooooooored”the whole day.

44. Liaise with your transport operator and/or driver beforehand
Liaise with your transport provider when making your booking for advice. Also, liaise with the driver on the day. Make them your friend. They do the job, day in and day out and will have some suggestions that maybe a fresh approach to your own. When it comes to trips and excursions, drivers have seen it all multiple times. You would be surprised at what positive input they can offer you, resulting in better enjoyment for the students and a hassle-free day for you.

45. Research your destination’s attractions
There are websites that provide online reviews about museums, galleries, theme parks, seaside resorts, farm visits, mills, restaurants and other places of interest, giving you a good idea of the places that are worth visiting. You can also get feedback from your transport provider, as it is most likely they have been there before with other organisations and can advise you accordingly. Check out www.funtastictrips.co.uk

46. Leaving without a plan
There’s always that one teacher who wants to give the students a little extra learning by taking a detour or lingering at a site far too long. This can cause confusion and upset the trip for other groups, so always have all teachers involved agree to a schedule beforehand and stick to it. Always leave yourself a generous allocation of time by setting students deadlines well in advance of the actual ones you must meet. Group movements swallow time up at places of interest, so include ‘lingering time’.

47. Plan outcomes
Know exactly what you want the outcome of your trip to be. Is your priority that your pupils learn life skills such as leadership or teamwork? Do you want them to develop an understanding of other cultures and languages? Or do you simply need to cover a key element of the curriculum that you cannot achieve in the classroom on some historical or geographical subject? Or is it just an excursion to have some fun as part of an annual reward for all the hard work put in over the year?

48. Always have a backup plan
Though we’ve talked about the importance of sticking to the itinerary, let’s face it—stuff goes wrong. The planetarium is closed, or the super-cool dinosaur the kids were excited to see at the museum has been taken down for cleaning—or maybe the fair’s hot dogs have given everyone food poisoning. Having a backup plan can be helpful, but so can ‘a good attitude’ and a ‘commitment to having fun no matter what’ on the trip.

49. Communication with other teachers
Many schoolchildren are banned from having mobile phones on in class, but make sure each teacher has one to communicate if separated and to facilitate making new plans on your trip.

50. Make sure you do headcounts
Headcounts, headcounts, headcounts! Many teachers will tell you their most embarrassing and frightening moment on a school trips was when they realized they were missing a student. Count heads on arrival, during your visit and before departure!

51. Be prepared for messy moments
Kids are like another species—they’re always sick,or getting dirty, or about to wipe their nose on you. Prepare for each trip by stocking up on wet wipes,towels and spare clothes, and make sure you have a contingency plan in case one of the children gets sick mid-trip.

52. On-board emergency situations
In the event of an emergency situation or road traffic accident the driver’s training should kick in. They will want to ensure that the vehicle's position is not in further danger, way up any casualties fast, activate the emergency services and administer first aid if required. Your assistance will be required in calming the remaining passengers, moving them to a safer position and keeping good order. Ensure your team are prepared to handle emergencies like this.

53. Medical needs
Be sure to have researched the medical needs of your group. Anyone with an essential requirement needs to be planned for in advance. Ensure you have emergency medical supplies at hand. Also have high-factor sun cream, after-sun, lip salves, sick bags (pupils prone to sickness should bring pills),travel wipes, plasters and bandages. Be aware that teachers require express permission from parents to administer drugs of any kind, so make sure you getthis in advance if necessary.

54. Praise your students
Queuing up for entrances, waiting for the bus, having manners at the dinner table, being on best behaviour during museum lectures can sometimes be tedious for students, especially the younger ones, so always take time to highlight how good they have been and thank them sincerely.

55. Thank your driver
If you have had a great driver on your day trip be sure to express to them how much you appreciated their input and enthusiasm. If their efforts have been appreciated even by just a ‘thank you’ they are sure to push the boat out for you on the next occasion and they are sure to spread positive vibes about you should other drivers be serving you in the future.

56. Give your operator some feedback
Quality operators love your feedback so they can measure and improve their service levels, resulting in a better experience for you next time. Be sure to complete the aftersales form if there is one or failing this, drop them an email or letter.

57. Give the students something to remember the day by
Parents love to share the experiences of their children. If you have any photographs of the day, any great stories, be sure to send a letter or memento of their child’s day to the parents or, if they are older, send it to the student directly.

Thank you for reading my blog. I hope this proves of some use in making all your school travel experiences risk-free and fun-packed. Let’s face it, carrying 60 children from A to B on a day trip outing can be a military operation and could result in disaster if you don’t do your homework. Plan carefully and you can sit back and enjoy the adventure and create a learning atmosphere where the bond between teachers and students can become even stronger away from the classroom. Belle Vue have been providing professionally organized school trip excursions for the past 20 years. (We also have a professional coach holiday touring department that caters for holidays in the UK and EU.) Speak to our team to get free advice,help in planning your day, and discounted tickets to many theme parks, zoos and places of adventure.

Travel far and have fun.

Phil Hitchen.

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