School-Sponsored vs. Non-School Sponsored Class Trips

First things first.  Basically, there are 4 approaches for schools to educational student travel.  1).  Non-school sponsored with an educational travel partner (a company hired to deliver the trip – like us! ) 2). School sponsored with an educational travel partner 3). School sponsored and delivered (no company hired) and 4). No sponsor, no travel.  

While this article is more informative than evaluative…why would anyone choose not to take their classroom on the road?  No place-based education, no mind-challenging, horizon-broadening, potentially life-influencing experiences?  Let’s call that the last option.   

With #3, school-sponsored sans educational travel partner, you save a little money, but it’s also more expensive.  Pardon?  It’s a contradiction, but still true.  In the business world it’s called ‘opportunity cost.’  The little money saved is unequally off-set by the amount of labor hours required to deliver a trip for a group of students larger than, say, 15 travelers.  Essentially, time is valuable – especially for teachers, parents, and school administration – and most have little, if any, extra.  So, in a holistic way, it’s actually more affordable to partner with a professional company that is invested in you, your students, and even your community.  Note the partnership.  Your choice is more important than you realize.  

Now, what about the sponsorship question, approaches #1 and 2?  You have an annual or semi-annual class trip, but is it school-sponsored or not?  What does it mean for a trip to be school-sponsored versus non-school sponsored?  An important subject, especially over the past year, and one that is often misunderstood.  So, let’s shed some light on it. 

First, it’s important to understand the differences.  For instance, what exactly makes a trip school-sponsored?   The following are some tell-tale signs:  

  • Teachers are covered under the school liability policy
  • School typically maintains a contract with a student travel company
  • Payments are often facilitated through the school instead of families 
  • School advertises and promotes trip as an official program and encourages participation
  • All school rules, dress code, and behavior standards apply throughout the program
  • School can remove students from the trip beforehand for behavioral issues or bad grades

So, then what makes it non-school sponsored?  Much like you’d expect, the scenarios are switched:

  • The educational travel program assumes 100% responsibility for delivering the trip as promised at the price promised, group safety, and resolving any challenges such as weather delays, cancellations, or any other aspect of trip implementation
  • At no point is the school or district ever involved in collecting payments, communicating with enrolled travelers, answering questions, or any other aspect of pre-trip planning
  • Families independently agree to booking conditions
  • All program language (print, digital and verbal) clearly states something like “While [name of school] is supportive of the educational benefits of student travel, this is not a school-endorsed or school-sponsored trip” 
  • Typically, the trip dates occur outside of official school days

Now that we know this, which is preferred?  Thankfully, both have their value.  With school-sponsored travel, you’ll have the full support of administration and resources provided by the school and generally school-wide encouragement for participation.  

With non-school sponsored trips, you’ll benefit from the independence of working solely with a helpful and professional educational travel partner.   You, the group leader, and the company will be able to make decisions and deliver the trip with your vision and without the potential headache of multiple decision makers.  Simple, straightforward, efficient. 

Non-school sponsored does not have to mean non school-supported, however.  One of the many benefits of working with a trusted student travel partner is that schools can still support non-school sponsored trips in various ways without carrying the burden of liability.  Examples – schools can:

  • Allow enrollment meetings and pre-trip meetings to occur on school property. Global Travel Alliance, for instance, would be happy to rent classroom or meeting space like other clubs and programs. 
  • Encourage teachers to post trip materials and openly speak about the opportunity with students. 
  • Promote your travel program in school announcements, newsletters, and other communications – much like educators do for other programs outside of school hours and school days. 

The beauty of the partnership, whether non-school or school sponsored, is that a school can essentially win twice.   If, for instance, school administration delights in the benefits of education travel but, in their opinion, the concerns outweigh the advantages, an outside educational travel company is just the answer.  An advantage for the students and teachers without the risk to the school.  

Or, if the powers that be in the school are supportive of educational travel and wish to officially sponsor the programs, the educational travel partner can be the professional entrusted to deliver a top-notch experience that takes hundreds of labor hours and months to accomplish.  Essentially, the company works behind the scenes while the school takes the credit.  Win-win!

Understanding the differences between sponsorships is important; it can give hesitant school decision-makers the tools to make informed decisions, to say nothing of peace of mind.  If you’re unsure about what your tour is or should be, talk to your administration about the details of both and figure out which is right for your school and community.  And if you’re unsure about that, reach out to a trusted educational travel partner that has experience with just such questions.  A good partner is willing to sit down with you and the school decision makers to help find the best way forward for all of those teachers and students who desire the many benefits of the traveling classroom. 

If you’re ready to complement your curriculum with a customized tour, are considering a new travel partner, or maybe you’re just curious, please reach out to us! We would love to hear from you.

With degrees in history and a background in education, tour guiding, and travel, Tim Smith serves as the Lead Guide for Global Travel Alliance and Global Guide contributor.

What to Read Next: