Visiting sister schools

Visits to sister schools are considered excursions, including overseas trips. They must comply with the Department's excursion and activities policy

Schools are also advised to read through the relevant policy for sister school partnerships on SPAG and take appropriate action to comply with the advice. See: Sister School Partnerships

Duty of care

School staff have a duty of care to their students to take reasonable steps to protect them from any injury that should have been reasonably foreseen. This duty can extend beyond school grounds, and includes school approved activities. It is important to note that this duty of care cannot be delegated to third parties.

Schools must ensure that they take reasonable steps to ensure that they meet their duty of care to their students when organising and travelling to their sister-school as part of their sister-school partnership. 

Risk management

Schools must carefully consider all of the risks associated with the excursion and prepare a Risk Management Plan. The responsibility for risk management lies with the principal and the school council. This will include consideration of all matters including the transportation, the venue, the activities, supervision, and medical conditions of the students. It will also involve the following assessments and considerations:

  • Identifying the risks
  • Assessing the risks
  • Managing and treating the risks
  • Reviewing the risks

In particular the Department has developed specific Overseas Travel Risk Management Guidelines. It is important that schools have conducted a risk assessment in line with these Guidelines. For more information, see: Overseas Travel Risk Management Guidelines

Approval of Excursion by the School Council

The SPAG requires all overseas excursions to be approved by the School Council. For more information, see: Planning and Approvals

Visas and passports

Schools must also ensure that students have valid passports and the necessary visas to enable them to travel to the host country and to re-enter Australia. Such information should be communicated to parents/guardians with sufficient time for these documents to be processed.

Registration of the travel with Government agencies

Schools must register the overseas excursion with the following agencies:

  • The Department’s Security Services Unit. This should be done at least 3 weeks before the activity
  • The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)– this will ensure that DFAT will assist in ensuring the safety and security of staff and students whilst they are overseas
  • The Department Student Activity Locator, see: Forms

For more information, see: Safety, Emergency and Risk Management

Suitability of host country

Schools must take steps to ensure that all venues that are to be used by the students are suitable and appropriate.

For an overseas excursion, this would include:

  • Consideration of specific country information from the Smart Traveller website ( This would include ascertaining whether there are any travel advice that have been issues in relation to the host country. For more information, see: Travel
  • Consideration of any laws that significantly differ from those in Australia that may influence students’ behaviour. For example, lowered drinking or driving ages, legality of drugs that are illegal in Australia
  • Consideration of any significant cultural differences between Australia and the host country.

Suitability of host school

Schools must also take reasonable steps to ensure that the host school is suitable for the students.
This may include:

  • Obtaining translated copies of school policies and rules and considering any significant differences in the school environment between the host school and the local school
  • Ensuring that the host school’s curriculum does not contain material that would be considered inappropriate, offensive or obscene for Victorian students, and consideration of any controversial material which may form part of the school curriculum. For more information, see:

For more information, see: Venue Selection

Suitability of host families and homestays

Victorian schools must also take steps to ensure that the home stay families’ place of residence is suitable and appropriate given that they will be responsible for the supervision and care of students. Careful consideration must also be given to the suitability of all persons who will be in the host family’s household for the duration of the student’s stay (see below). This may include:

  • Arranging for criminal record checks to be performed on the residents of the host family home.
  • Obtaining references from the host school in relation to each host family selected.
  • Have a representative from the host school visit the host families residences to assess suitability of living arrangements. For instance sleeping arrangements, food to be provided, study facilities available to the student, pets, smoking or alcohol consumption habits.
  • The Victorian school should ensure that the host school’s assessment of the home stay and host family is clearly communicated to the Victorian school.  Based on the information received, the Victorian school staff should satisfy themselves that these arrangements are safe and suitable for their students prior to departure.
  • Ensuring that the host school informs the host families of any significant cultural differences to avoid misunderstandings.
  • Providing students and their families with as much information about their host families prior to departure. For example sleeping arrangements, how student will travel to and from school.
  • Ensuring that the levels of supervision provided by the host family are appropriate, including supervision to and from school and outside school hours
  • Ensuring that the host family has appropriate training and experience to be able to manage the Victorian students’ medical conditions.

For more information, see: Venue Selection

Informed consent

The School must ensure that parents/guardians have provided informed consent for their children to participate in the excursion. This means providing the parents with sufficient information about the overseas excursion. This should include the following:

  • Dates of travel
  • Mode of travel to and from and within the sister school country
  • Accommodation arrangements – this should include information about the checks and balances that have been undertaken to determine the appropriateness of the host families. This may include the following:
    • police checks of all people who are living in the household
    • type of accommodation
    • facilities to be provided to the student eg. separate bedroom, bathroom etc.
    • food and other amenities to be provided to the students and whether these will meet the individual requirements of the student (eg allergies),
    • provision of transport to and from school and other activities,
    • the level of supervision to be provided to the students whilst they remain with the host family
    • the parents should be provided with the host families contact details
  • School arrangements – this should include:
    • Supervision arrangements at the host school
    • School policies, including any significant differences in the host school environment compared with that of the local school
    • Parents should be provided with the host school’s contact details, including an emergency contact number at the school
    • Medical and other emergency procedures and management plans for the duration of the time overseas. This should be comprehensive and include plans for all emergencies that may occur and in all locations including at school, while with the host family, on the aeroplane etc.
    • The level and type of supervision to be provided at all times, including whether students will be accompanied by staff on the flight to and from the sister school country
    • Additional expenses that may be incurred, including whether their child will require pocket money in the host country for personal expenses.
    • Recommendation that students organise travel and health insurance. Parents should be made aware that DEECD does not ordinarily cover student medical expenses. For more information, see:
    • Country information, including any differences in the laws of the host country and any significant cultural differences
    • Passport and Visa requirements
    • Relevant immunisations or vaccinations that should obtained prior to the travel
  • It would also be necessary to obtain parental/guardian consent to disclose student health information to both the host school and host family

It is important to note that under sections 65Y and 65Z of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) where there is a parenting order or a pending application for a parenting order, it is an offence for a person to take or send a child outside Australia unless it is with the written consent of each person with parental responsibility. SPAG reiterates this position. See: Decision Making Responsibilities for Students

Accordingly if schools are aware that a family is subject to family law orders or there are family law proceedings in place or pending, then it must obtain the written consent of both parents in order for the student to participate in the overseas excursion.

For more information, see: Parent and Carer Consent


Schools must also ensure that the issue of student supervision is carefully considered. The Department has guidelines about the minimum staff-student ratios that are required. These guidelines state that in overseas tours, there should be at least one staff member to 10 students.

In any event school must determine the appropriate level of supervision for the students dependent on the following factors:

  • the experience, qualification and skills of the staff
  • the age, maturity, physical characteristics and gender of the students
  • the ability and experience of the student
  • the size of the group
  • the nature and location of the excursion
  • the activities to be undertaken

As part of overseas excursions to visit sister schools may involve students staying with host families and that during this time a staff member will not be with students. Consequently, these parts of the overseas excursions may be considered unsupervised. The Departmental guidelines state that unsupervised excursions should be approved only in a small number of instances and only with secondary aged students. In addition the school principal must ensure that prior to excursion proceeding the following are undertaken:

  • A risk assessment of the activity is completed and
  • The decision and the reasons for allowing the activity to proceed are documented.

For further information on excursion staffing, please see: Staffing and Supervision

It is also important that the specific roles and responsibilities of each person supervising the students is clarified and understood by all supervisors and students prior to the commencement of the overseas excursion.

Medical information

When planning an excursion, and especially an overseas excursion, it is imperative that Victorian schools obtain all up to date and relevant information about the student’s medical conditions, medication and other medical requirements.

A Medical Information Form must be completed by parents prior to the overseas excursion so that the medical information is up to date and relevant for the overseas excursions.

Schools must then ensure that

  • The teacher in charge of the overseas excursion has a copy of each student’s Medical Information Form with them for the duration of the overseas excursion
  • In addition, the medical information forms should be made available to all people who will be supervising the children for the duration of the overseas excursion. For this overseas excursion, this will include the host family and the school in which the students will attend.
  • Copies of the medical information forms should also be kept at the local school.

For more information, see: Student Medical Information

Medical insurance

The cost of medical and hospital treatment is high in some countries. Consequently, all staff and students must obtain travel and medical insurance for the entire overseas excursion.


School staff must take reasonable steps to inform students and their parents that there might be immunisations that are required. Such measures would include:

  • Advising the student and their family to seek medical advice from their doctor
  • Directing the student and their family to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Smart Traveller website for travel advice.

Emergency management plan

Schools must also develop an Emergency Management Plan that is specific for the overseas excursion. This should include:

  • Procedures in the event of an emergency at the different venues in which the students will be located
  • Procedures in the event of a medical emergency including the details of emergency services, the local doctors, and the local hospitals that are located at the different venues in which the students will be located
  • Procedures for students to report any problems at the sister school, including staff members. Such procedures should be communicated to staff and students prior to departing.
  • Procedures for student to report any problems at their homestay. Such procedures should be communicated to staff and students prior to departing.
  • A person should be nominated to be responsible for responding to critical incidents. Students and staff should be made aware of the responsible persons prior to departing.

For more information, see: Emergency Management Planning

Planning the visit

Even with effective planning and organisation, a reciprocal visit requires around 12 months preparing.
The Overseas Learning Experience Resource eBook provides detailed information on how to organise an overseas learning experience for students, including visits to sister schools overseas.