A ban on residential school trips risks an “economic, social and cultural disaster” and the loss of 15,000 UK jobs unless it is lifted by spring, ministers are being warned.
A generation of children risk missing out on often life-changing benefits of visits unless there are changes to Covid-19 restrictions that have left outdoor education centres dormant since March, according to companies, schools and parents.
Some of Britain’s poorest pupils – including those from city communities – are among those who stand to lose most. The school travel sector has been closed by since March and wants a change to continued advice preventing overnight educational visits.
“It is a bitter pill to swallow keeping our sites closed while we see hotels, boarding schools and hostels delivering the same overnight experiences unabated,” said Jim Whittaker, the chair of the Association of Heads of Outdoors Centres and a member of the trade body UK Outdoors.
PGL, a specialist school travel company that is one of the biggest in the sector, has already announced 670 redundancies.
In a letter to Johnson on Monday, UK Outdoors said “an existential threat” loomed over the sector, which ranges from the small independents and local authority providers to larger international organisations.
It told the prime minister that nearly 3,000 jobs had already been lost and many outdoor education facilities had permanently closed after losing £500m of revenue. Without change before the spring term, half of outdoor education capacity will be lost permanently alongside more than 10,000 jobs, it added.
Andy Robinson, the chief executive of Institute for Outdoor Learning, said: “Every child’s first trip away from home is such an important and formative experience. The government has to act to protect the industry and ensure its reopening in time for the spring term or face an economic, social and cultural disaster.”
The calls are backed by headteachers and parents, while a petition calling on the Department for Education to immediately allow overnight education trips for schools has attracted more than 10,000 signatures.
Residential trips were described as “essential for children’s emotional and educational development” by the deputy head of John Rankin schools in Berkshire, which sends 90 year 5 pupils every autumn term to a centre with sites in Dorset and south Wales, while 90 year 6 pupils go to Rhos in north Wales for a week in January.
“I don’t understand why it’s OK for a plane full of 300 people to travel to Zante on holiday, yet the government has told us that our year 5s and 6s, already in a school bubble, can’t go away for five days,” added Matt Percy, the school’s deputy head.
Lenka Uhlarova, whose daughter Bea has Down’s syndrome, spoke about how the trips with other John Rankin pupils had helped her, adding: “She was able to take risks and overcome some of her fears. She learned about history in a practical way in a beautiful setting, but most of all Bea developed her independence skills, team building and confidence.”
The Department for Education was approached for comment.