With a range of voices from developmental psychologists to the Health and Safety Executive urging the need for children to take risks, it is most timely that the government has recently published a guidance note on ‘health and safety on educational visits’. It applies to academies and free schools, maintained schools, local authorities, independent schools and non-maintained schools.
The guidance is a good starting point for schools when planning educational trips for pupils and considering the accompanying health and safety obligations.
The new guidance covers different types of trips and the circumstances which require further risk assessments and more detailed planning. For example, the guidance details the checks that should be undertaken for adventure activities (caving, climbing, trekking and watersports) and considerations when planning trips abroad. The guidance notes when schools should obtain written consent from parents, and what schools should check for when using an outside organisation to provide an activity. The guidance also provides detail about the appointment and role of an educational visits coordinator.
Set out below is an example of how the guidance might be applied in practice to ensure appropriate health and safety standards are achieved when planning an adventure activity trip.
A school wants to take a class of pupils on an adventure activity trip in England. At an early stage of planning, the school considers the government’s ‘health and safety on educational visits’ guidance and consults with the school’s educational visits coordinator. The coordinator is an experienced visits leader, has received training, has the status to guide the working practices of other staff, and is able to assess and advise in relation to trips.
The school risk assesses the trip and considers the abilities of the individual children as part of this.
An external organisation will lead the adventure activity so the school checks that the organisation holds a Learning Outside the Classroom Quality Badge for the activity, by visiting http://lotcqualitybadge.org.uk. The school notes that the organisation does hold the Badge. The school puts in place an agreement with the organisation that makes it clear what everyone is responsible for.
The school asked parents to sign a copy of the government’s consent form when their child enrolled at the school. The school tells parents about the trip and gives them the opportunity to withdraw their child from it.
The trip leaders are familiar with both the school’s emergency response plan (covering what to do if there is an incident away from school) and the communications plan (covering how routine communications should be handled, including regular check-ins and calls to reassure people).
The trip goes ahead and everyone has a great time.
After the staff and pupils return from the trip, the school evaluates the visit, from the planning through to the visit itself. The school keeps a record of any incidents, accidents and near misses.
As the Health and Safety Executive say: Those providing (these) opportunities should focus on controlling the real risks, while securing or increasing the benefits – not on the paperwork.