Don't let health and safety ruin school trips

  • School trips are a valuable opportunity for learning and improving self-confidence
  • Real risk awareness is the key to striking a balance between safety and adventure
  • Teachers need to have the skills to write appropriate risk assessments

The school trip is not what it used to be. While trips to museums, stately homes and factories are still staples of the school calendar, children might also be offered a once-in-a-lifetime African safari or visit to the Great Wall of China.

Headteachers now see trips as a critical aspect of curriculum enrichment – and an important tool to positively differentiate themselves from other schools in their area, with international trips becoming increasingly common.

While the risks of taking children abroad and off the beaten track are often massively exaggerated, they do exist. For example, in July 2014 British teenager, Jack Burden, died from an allergic reaction while on a school trip to Tanzania.

But such tragedies are increasingly rare – despite the headlines they generate – and the risk exposure of the average trip needs to be kept in proportion.

Risk v reward

The key to carrying out a successful trip is successfully striking a mature balance between the real risk exposure and the rewards to students from engaging in genuinely life enhancing experiences.

To do this, it is essential to challenge some of the widely held misgivings about the application of health and safety laws that can discourage teachers from organising such trips.

For example, many teachers wrongly assume they will face a mountain of paperwork, and fear prosecution if things go wrong.

The Health & Safety Executive was so concerned by the growth of this risk averse attitude, that it issued a White Paper that clearly states its belief in the value of trips, and exhorts teachers to make sure that “mistaken and unfounded health and safety concerns do not create obstacles that prevent these from happening”.

The HSE believes that a good school trip: “Provides deeper subject learning and increases self-confidence. It also helps pupils develop their risk awareness and prepares them for their future working lives. Striking the right balance between protecting pupils from risk and allowing them to learn from school trips has been a challenge for many schools, but getting this balance right is essential for realising all these benefits in practice.”

Risk management is key

Zurich Municipal believes that understanding proper risk management is key to achieving this balance, keeping staff confident and students safe. Additionally, the more risk aware teachers are, the more likely they are to lead adventurous trips.

To achieve this, schools need to provide leadership in the form of a regularly-revised Educational Visits Policy and make sure all staff are aware of the document and stick to its recommendations.

The teachers leading trips need to have the skills to write risk assessments at a level of detail appropriate to the trip and, if necessary, carry out advance visits to assess conditions on the ground.

Everyone accompanying children off site needs to be competent, trained and vetted.

Getting the right insurance cover is also essential and schools need to be sure that not only they, but their choice of transport provider and accommodation also have sufficient cover.

These plans need to be communicated to students and their parents in advance of the trip to make sure everyone has a full understanding of the plans.

With sensible precautions in place, and a spirit of genuine risk awareness at every level, there’s no reason not to be adventurous.