Teachers face a pay freeze.

Schools are paying out thousands of pounds to parents in order to cover the costs of cancelled trips as the popular PGL travel provider refuses to offer refunds.

Education travel providers have been forced to cancel trips due to the coronavirus pandemic – with the government advising visits overseas be called-off even before it closed schools.  

That includes PGL, which runs school trips, summer camps and adventure holidays.

While the provider is offering to reschedule trips impacted, many were final farewells and trips for year 6 and year 11 pupils before they move on to their next step. 

The schools will not let our parents down but that means making cuts elsewhere

PGL is refusing to offer refunds, saying the outbreak has had a “significant impact” on its business. But it means schools are being forced to pay back the cash to parents from their own budget while they look at whether insurers will pay out.

Steve Stafford, headteacher at Co-op Academy Smithies Moor in West Yorkshire, said his school will have to “make cuts elsewhere” in order to pay back £3,600 to Year 6 parents after PGL refused to refund its cancelled visit to the firm’s Caythorpe Court site. 

“Our schools does not serve a particularly affluent area and many of our hardworking parents have saved all year to send their children on this activity holiday”, Stafford said. 

“The schools will not let our parents down, but that means making cuts elsewhere”. 

The trip cost a total of £6,600 –  £150 per pupil – and included 44 children from across year 5 and 6. 

Stafford said PGL have rolled-over the booking to next year and claimed they are not responsible for paying back money to year 6 parents as its contract was with the school, not them. 

The headteacher added: “The lack of humanity from PGL is very disappointing. On behalf of our parents we’ll have to reconsider our relationship with PGL and I know other schools are doing the same.”

A PGL spokesperson told Schools Week the coronavirus crisis “has had a significant impact on our business” and it is contacting all impacted customers and working to re-book “as many trips as possible to an alternative date”.

The firm said it has also opened up additional capacity over the Summer months “to provide maximum flexibility at no extra cost and are also providing credit notes valid for travel anytime in 2021”.

Numerous parents, teachers and school leaders have taken to social media to voice concerns about PGL decision not to refund payments. They’ve also criticised a lack of response from the provider when attempting to get in touch.

Steven Cammiss tweeted he was “really disappointed in the approach… It’s terrible enough that something he’s looked forward to for years has now been cancelled. They’ve decided all monies paid count as the deposit, and not refundable.”

The firm’s website explains it is “unable to offer our usual levels of service” as the lockdown has forced the temporary closure of its centres and offices.

Elsewhere, Garry Ratcliffe, chief executive of The Galaxy Trust, estimates they will be claiming around £95,000 from insurers in order to cover the cost of cancelled trips. 

The trips to Swanage, Edinburgh and Wales were booked across a range of providers, including PGL, and ranged in price from £280 to £330 per pupil.

Ratcliffe warned that due to the “huge amount of claims” insurers were dealing with it is likely to be some time before money is received. However the school is still stepping up to help families on an individual basis “if they are experiencing severe financial difficulties” in order to refund money to those in need as a priority. 

“All our parents will be receiving a full refund in due course”, he said. 

The trust leader explained difficulties arise in striking a balance between giving companies the opportunity to resolve refund requests, contacting insurance companies and responding to requests for speedy refund from parents. 

He added: “Schools aren’t necessarily in the position to pay out all refunds before their money is recouped through either refunds directly from the trip or residential company, or through their insurance.”  

“This is just one more strain on schools, where guidance has been slow to come through”.

Julia Harnden, funding specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said schools have been placed in “a very difficult position over the cost of cancelled trips” due to the pandemic.

She said: “The Association of British Insurers advises that schools should always first seek a refund from the venue or tour provider, and then if needed, speak to their insurer to begin an insurance claim.

“In general they should be covered under their insurance policy, but it may obviously then take time for the claim to be paid, which leaves the school with the dilemma of how to deal with parents who are out of pocket in the meantime.”

ASCL is advising all its members to contact them if they believe an insurance or travel company isn’t complying with expectations and so it can pass on the details of the company to the Department for Education.