Dear Secretary of State
Financial compensation for cancelled school trips
I hope you are as well as can be at this challenging time.
I write as the Leader of Basildon Council on an issue that has been affecting residents of my borough, but one which is not unique to us.
As I am sure you are aware, the escalation of the coronavirus pandemic in the UK coincided with a time in the academic calendar that is full of school trips.
As you would expect, all of these school trips were cancelled and, leaving the dashed hopes of the borough's youngsters aside, this has caused significant challenges in those cases where personal holiday insurance is refusing to pay out due to the timing of cancellations.
And the timing is critical, as instructions from central government were fragmented and confusing. Teachers, parents and trip organisers thought that they were doing the right thing to cancel their trips as soon as the Prime Minister said, in his briefing on 12 March, that the government position was to "advise against international school trips". I think you can agree that if the Prime Minister, during a time of crisis, confusion and widespread anxiety, advises against going on school trips, the only responsible course of action for parents, guardians and teachers to take is to cancel all trips.
However, the official Foreign and Commonwealth Office guidance against travel was not issued until 17 March, and many people who cancelled trips immediately upon receiving the Prime Minister's advice have been told by their holiday insurance providers that they will not be able to claim because the PM's advice was not "official".
I am sure you can appreciate that this is an untenable situation for many parents. I have received correspondence from parents who are already being pushed to the limit by the financial pressures caused by coronavirus, who understandably thought they were doing the right thing by following the Prime Minister's advice, and who are now significantly out of pocket. This money that these parents have lost on trips for the benefit of their children's education is now sorely needed to plug the gaps in their personal finances created by furloughing, businesses shutting and, in some cases, redundancy.
I am therefore writing to seek your assistance in reimbursing parents who have been affected in this way. Compensation should be available for any parent who has found themselves out of pocket after their children's school trip has been cancelled during the period between the Prime Minister's advice and the official FCO guidance.
The exact mechanism for providing this compensation would be best decided centrally to ensure consistency across all of the English school system. However, I am aware of schools outside of the Basildon area that have been able to utilise their own insurance to compensate parents who have lost money due to cancelled school trips, and I would suggest this as an avenue worth exploring.
Clearly this is an incredibly challenging time for all departments of the UK Government and I know that you will be busy with a range of high priority areas within your department. However, I think this issue requires and deserves support to ensure that the public sector can work together to help our hard-pressed residents when they need it most.
I look forward to hearing from you with a proposal for addressing this critical issue.
Councillor Gavin Callaghan, Leader of Basildon Council
CC: Basildon borough MPs
John Baron MP
The Rt Hon Mark Francois MP
Stephen Metcalfe MP