School travel specialist in legal challenge over government advice over trips

A Blackpool educational travel specialist is supporting a challenge to the Department of Education over its overseas travel advice to schools.

WST is part of Next Generation Travel of Blackpool, a member of the School Travel Forum, the association for companies providing overseas educational visits.

It has sent a pre-action protocol letter to the Department for Education (DfE) on behalf of its members challenging the failure of DfE to give the green light to schools to plan and book International educational visits for 2022 and beyond, citing the advice as “irrational” and seeking a Judicial Review to overturn this guidance.

Maria Whiteman, managing director of Next Generation Travel, said: “It takes schools nine months and upwards to plan a successful and safe educational visit overseas. This gives families time to save and teachers time to build the trip into their yearly plans and to prepare students.

“Schools may not be intending to travel in the next six months, but they do want to be able to plan for next year and the conflicting advice given by DfE and FCDO (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) is preventing them from doing so.”

She added: “It is unprecedented for the DfE to give travel advice or advice that contradicts other government departments.

“We have been unable to operate or even take advance bookings since March 2020. We hold the DfE-backed LOtC Quality Badge which ensures stringent health and safety measures specific to educational visits are in place.

“There is a real risk with the current restrictions from the DfE that, once we emerge from this pandemic there will be far fewer specialist accredited travel companies available for schools to use, putting safe school trips in jeopardy.”

Each year more than 560,000 students undertake an educational visit overseas.

Members of the School Travel Forum have been contacting their MPs to highlight the plight facing schools and students.

Gill Harvey, chief executive at School Travel Forum, said: “Educational visits have a transformative impact on young people. They broaden horizons, build understanding, bring a subject to life and have been proven to improve academic attainment, confidence and behaviour.

“If these opportunities become the preserve of the well-off, it will further widen the education and social mobility gap.

“Schools need to be able to make their own decisions about future travel plans. Being able to plan ahead will mean they can secure the best price for their group, so all students have access to the same benefits and opportunities.”