At this time of year many schools will be in the throes of finalising arrangements for educational visits and trips for the spring and summer terms. Schools are likely to have tried and tested policies, procedures and risk assessment practices in place but there may be occasions when extra considerations are required, potentially at additional cost to the school.
This article discusses the duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for disabled pupils and how this will affect a school’s ability to plan and execute educational visits. It also discusses some of the practical issues to bear in mind when considering supervision arrangements.
Disabilities and reasonable adjustments
Schools have a duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for disabled pupils. This duty requires schools to take positive steps to ensure that disabled pupils can participate fully in education and take full advantage of other services and facilities which the school offers. These duties go beyond life in the classroom and include all school activities and educational visits.
Schools should first consider whether a pupil has a disability. This may not be obvious, as a significant proportion of children who are disabled under the Equality Act 2010 do not have an identified SEN. If a pupil experiences a substantial disadvantage for a reason related to their disability, the school has a duty to make reasonable adjustments.
A reasonable adjustment is anything which provides additional support or assistance to a disabled pupil and may include the provision of an auxiliary aid or service, such as a prosthesis or a dedicated member of staff. The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to charge for making a reasonable adjustment, and this extends to adjustments made for a school trip for which parents have already been charged.
The school must therefore consider whether a proposed adjustment is reasonable. The determination of reasonableness and therefore whether the cost of the adjustment must be borne by the school is a process which applies to each individual situation and circumstances rather than something which can be prescribed. The reasonableness of adjustments should be determined on a case-by-case basis ‘at the coal face’ by taking account of a range of factors including:
Whether an adjustment will remove the disadvantage
The effect of the disability on the individual
The cost of the proposed adjustment
The resources available to the individual school
Health and safety requirements
The interests of other pupils
The practicality of making the adjustment
The school may charge for any adjustments that are not considered to be reasonable, and this is likely to be the case where they are particularly costly or onerous. The consent of the parents should always be sought before incurring these costs.
Residential and certain higher risk school trips may pose additional difficulties and in some cases, it may be necessary to consider different trips altogether, which do not include a residential element or a higher risk activity.
There is no easy answer as to how to proceed in these situations. Schools should carry out the usual risk assessments and have a conversation with the parents to consider the options and associated costs. In some cases, it may be necessary to consider alternatives. Cancelling a planned trip may not always be the best option, as this may put other pupils at a disadvantage.
The DfE’s guidance acknowledges that there will be times when adjustments cannot be made because doing so would have a detrimental effect on other pupils and would therefore not be reasonable. Provided that a school has fully considered the alternatives to accommodate a disabled pupil who is unable to take part, and has concluded that there is no viable alternative or way for the disabled pupil to participate, it is unlikely to constitute discrimination if the school does decide to continue with the trip.
Thorough planning is therefore essential when arranging educational visits. Thought must be given to the cohort and to trips that all pupils are able to participate in. Schools should look for ways of including rather than excluding pupils on any trip and risk assessments must include consideration of the reasonable adjustments required for pupils with a disability.
As part of the risk-assessment process, schools may need to consider additional supervision requirements and staff assistance, whether or not these are required as reasonable adjustments for disabled pupils.
Teachers organising and taking part in educational visits accept responsibility for the care and welfare of the pupils. However, there are no specific legal requirements which cover the supervision of pupils on school trips.
There must be an adequate ratio of adults to supervise pupils throughout the visit. Ratios are not prescribed in law (other than in EYFS settings) and what is adequate will depend on the individual circumstances and should derive from the risk assessments undertaken and risks identified before the trip.
Supervision needs to be available at all times throughout educational visits. However, this does not have to be close supervision. The DfE accepts that remote supervision (where pupils may be unaccompanied but subject to control measures) may be appropriate in certain circumstances, for example to encourage independence or teach investigative skills.
Remote supervision should not be seen to be a ‘light touch’ alternative, and it will often require much greater care and planning than for direct supervision.
Schools which use remote supervision must ensure that pupils have sufficient maturity to understand their responsibilities. Schools may wish to phase-in remote supervision (with parental consent if appropriate), giving pupils more freedom as they develop. Pupils need clear instructions, including the limits of what they may and may not do, the risks they may face, how and when to check-in with their supervisor, and how to react in an emergency.
Supervisors must also know their responsibilities and must have the training and resources to properly carry them out. Clear protocols and lines of communication need to be established, both between pupils and supervisors, and between supervisors, the school, parents and emergency services. This applies equally to routine check-ins and updates, and in emergencies.
Supervision arrangements will vary, but may include watching pupils from afar or meeting at prescribed times or locations. Mobile phones and radios, whilst useful, should not be relied upon and should be used to supplement rather than replace other control measures.
Risk assessments are not a paper exercise, but should be a reasoned consideration of the hazards posed by a school activity and the control measures required to reduce the risks to the lowest practicable level. The necessary risk assessment may simply be a review of a previous risk assessment but schools may wish to carry out full risk assessments where the activity is new or there are additional considerations, due to the needs of those involved. This will form part of the school’s duty to risk-assess the welfare of pupils more generally and guidance on this may be included in the school’s written risk assessment policy.
Risk assessments should be updated throughout the trip, and must be flexible enough to react to unexpected developments, such as changeable weather. In addition, schools should routinely monitor the effectiveness of arrangements and debrief supervisors after trips to learn lessons for the future.
Inadequate supervision arrangements expose pupils to risk of serious harm, and leave schools open to claims for injuries suffered and to damaging criticism from parents and from regulators. Schools should review their arrangements now to make sure they are suitable for their pupils and their activities, and take action where necessary to minimise any undue risks.
Tabitha Cave is a partner at leading education law firm Veale Wasbrough Vizards.