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Last reviewed on 23 May 2017
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Is there advice on managing school trips following a terrorist attack? We relay expert advice on managing risks during a school trip after a terrorist attack, and look at guidance on responding to incidents during a visit. We also link to examples of risk assessments for offsite visits.

Managing risks before and during a visit

Pharos Response, an organisation that provides support to schools and businesses during critical incidents, outlines security advice on its website for school trips during periods of higher risk of terrorism.

In most circumstances, school groups are unlikely to be specifically targeted ... but they could easily become caught in post-incident disruption...

It says:  

In most circumstances, school groups are unlikely to be specifically targeted by terrorists but they could easily become caught in post-incident disruption following an incident. 

Much of our advice should be included in risk assessments and ultimately, a decision needs to be made on whether to go ahead with the trip or not as altering plans is the only way to guarantee safety.

Factors to consider

Pharos lists a number of factors to consider to help manage risks before and during a visit including:

  • Consider increasing supervision ratios from normal arrangements
  • Stay alert to local and national news before and during the visit
  • Assess the needs of students with special educational needs or disabilities and their ability to react and respond to dynamic situations
  • Research the venue/s to avoid occasions when large crowds are likely or political demonstrations are planned in the area
  • Consider providing all participants with a printed emergency contact card with the school's or office's telephone number on it
  • Be additionally vigilant in crowded places such as shopping malls, travel hubs and stadiums
  • Consider changing either the date or visit location to a time or location that carries less risk

It also advises that schools may want to consider using private transport rather than the Underground or other public transport when travelling in and around London.

Trevor Bailey, one of our associate education experts, also suggested that schools should:

  • Check government advice on terrorist threats to the UK (linked below)
  • Read the government’s advice on how to respond if you are involved in an incident (linked below)
  • Seek advice from the Metropolitan Police if travelling to London or the local police force

Conduct a risk assessment as normal

Trevor said that the school should do a risk assessment for the visit in the normal way, bearing in mind what the activity is and whether there is an increased risk of being affected by a terrorist attack. However, Trevor said that, in his view, it would be very difficult to fully prepare for such a situation.

The critical thing is to know what you would do if there was an incident

The “critical thing” is to know what you would do if there was an incident, including having a plan for getting pupils back to school. 

He advised schools to think about how they would manage the situation and keep pupils on the trip safe if there was an attack on the venue visited.

Checking terrorist threat levels

The National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO) has published advice on recognising terrorist threats. It says that you can check current threat levels in the terrorism and national emergencies area on the GOV.UK website, and on the MI5 website.

It also sets out the ‘STAY SAFE’ principles, which list actions to consider during an incident.

The GOV.UK website says that the government will issue a warning to the public if that is the best way to protect a community or place facing a specific threat.

Incidents during a visit

The advice from Pharos International, linked above, also provides guidance on how trip leaders should respond if groups are caught up in a security incident. It explains:

Leaders should attempt to keep everyone together whilst moving away as quickly as possible. Keeping together may be difficult and is ultimately less important than speed of action and staying safe.

Staying low and even better, moving away whilst behind solid objects such as concrete barriers or buildings (as opposed to just parked cars) will provide good protection 

Consideration should be given to arranging proactive trauma counselling for students and staff...

It also says:

  • Using public transport following a security incident may not be the best option as some terrorist organisations plan secondary attacks that specifically target transport hubs
  • The group leader should notify the home contact as soon as practicable, noting the known whereabouts of all members
  • Activate your organisation’s crisis plan. Establish a crisis team at the school or head office that can become a communication focal point and receiving area for next of kin and students upon return in schools
  • Arrange the group’s return transport when the situation is sufficiently secure to do so. In schools, parents should collect their children from school rather than travel to the incident location
  • Consideration should be given to arranging proactive trauma counselling for students and staff after such an event

Emergency procedures should be regularly tested

The Outdoor Education Advisers Panel (OEAP) has also published guidance for trip leaders on emergencies during off-site visits. It explains that while emergencies can be stressful, training and careful pre-planning of what to do beforehand can help to mitigate any trauma.

It adds:

All emergency procedures should be regularly tested and all members of a visit leadership team should feel able to deal with an incident, including alerting the establishment in the event of an emergency.

The guidance also outlines post-incident actions and media or legal points.

Article answers icon

Educational visits: policies and checklist

Further support with planning and leading educational visits can be found in the following articles:

School visits to London: contacts and advice

Metropolitan police

The Metropolitan Police provides guidance on identifying signs of possible terrorist activity, reporting activity and staying safe from terrorism. It can be contacted for further advice via its website:

Public transport

Contact Transport for London for advice on trips

We spoke to a representative from Transport for London (TfL) who said schools can contact the main TfL telephone number for information and advice about using the Underground and other London rail services with pupils.

TfL travel information: 0343 222 1234

The website also has general information about using London transport safely, including advice on how to respond to an emergency on the Tube.

Follow instructions from rail staff and police

The British Transport Police has further guidance on using the rail network safely. Their webpage asks passengers to remain vigilant, and also explains what to do if you notice unattended items or suspicious activity when using the rail network.

Overseas visits

Pharos Response's security advice for school trips, linked to in section 1 of the article, also outlines factors to consider when leading school visits overseas. These include:

  • Research and adhere to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's (FCO's) advice for the country being visited
  • Confirm with insurers that they will cover costs resulting from acts of terrorism, including medical care, repatriation and cancellation/curtailment
  • Scan copies of passports, visas and travel insurance details and save these onto a secure cloud-based storage system in case of lost documents following an incident
  • Avoid political or religious celebrations/demonstrations or venues. Contact embassies or high commissions in advance of any proposed visits to these locations
  • Enforce student awareness to cultural sensitivities, clothing and behaviour
  • Comply with instructions from legitimate security forces and officials

The FCO's travel advice can be accessed using the link below:

Schools should have a critical incident plan

Schools and any third party providers should have an emergency or critical incident plan outlining actions that should be taken

The OEAP's guidance on overseas visits says that schools and any third party providers should have an emergency or critical incident plan outlining actions that should be taken. The plan should include:

  • 24/7 emergency contacts back at the establishment/school, including overnight, holiday periods and at weekends
  • Whole group evacuation/repatriation
  • Contingency funding arrangements
  • Getting support out to the group

An article from The Key relays guidance and links to examples of critical incident plans.

Risk assessments: examples

Hertfordshire Grid for Learning (HGfL) has published examples of risk assessments for offsite visits including assessments for:

  • Overseas visits
  • Travel by rail (including the Underground)
  • Theatres and museums
  • Theme parks

Another article from The Key links to examples of risk assessments for educational visits.


Trevor Bailey has extensive experience in school leadership and management. He was a secondary school headteacher for 14 years.

This article was updated in response to a question from a school leader in a large urban primary school in the south east.

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