UK to ease travel requirements for school groups from France

London: The Financial Times reported last week that, “The UK government is to sharply reduce post-Brexit border bureaucracy for French school trips as part of plans to revamp educational exchanges with Europe…Government insiders confirmed rules to be introduced in the coming months will allow children coming on school trips from France to use national identity cards, while rules requiring non-EU citizens to obtain a visa to travel with their classmates will be dropped.”

Junior travel from the European Union to the UK has dropped off sharply post-Brexit, and the easing of travel restrictions for school groups has been a focal point of industry lobbying in recent years.

A campaign guide from English UK highlights that: “UK ELT’s biggest market was the hundreds of thousands of school children from the EU, who enjoyed group study holidays. The new requirement for an expensive passport for a short educational trip, and sometimes a visa as well, means the overall number of school groups coming to the UK in 2022 was 83% down on pre-pandemic volumes, with many choosing to go elsewhere.”

Reports on progress to ease the way for French school groups to travel to the UK follow a March 2023 declaration from British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron. It stated the intention of each government to cooperate around smoothing student travel, and set out that:

“Cooperation and policy exchanges on school education, facilitation of school trips and exchanges, including in the field of vocational education, opportunities for language learning will be expanded. On school travel, the United Kingdom committed to ease the travel of school groups to the UK by making changes to documentary requirements for schoolchildren on organised trips from France. France commits to ensuring appropriate mechanisms are in place for visa free travel for children travelling on organised school trips from the United Kingdom and to facilitating the passage of those groups through the border.”

The FT report indicates that new rules could be in place early enough to allow for school groups to more easily travel to the UK in 2024: “The rules are expected to be introduced in the coming months and will require changes to existing legislation. They were drawn up after nine months of protracted negotiations in Whitehall, according to two insiders with knowledge of the discussion, while a third person said the outline of the deal could be agreed by year-end.”

The significance of this development could extend well beyond the French market as reports indicate that policies around easing school group travel could be extended to other EU markets, following a successful trial with France.

“This would be greatly, greatly welcomed from all sides of the industry,” said Emma English, the executive director of the British Educational Travel Association, in speaking with FT. “It can’t come soon enough, and the sooner it can be rolled out to include other EU countries, the better for everyone.”

Speaking for English UK, Chief Executive Jodie Gray added, “It is very good news that the government has listened to English UK and others who have been pushing for a solution for school groups from France and other EU countries. The abolition of ID Card entry and the List of Travellers’ scheme has had a strongly negative impact on the school group mini-stay market in particular. We urge the government to implement this scheme as soon as it can and to extend it to other EU countries. The goodwill this will create will be incalculable.”