Life is a risky business and, as everyone from Peter Moss and Pat Petrie (see sidebar quote) through to the Health and Safety Executive acknowledges, we do our children no favours by eliminating all risk from their lives.
So, if exposing children to risk in a managed and supportive situation is a positive aspect of early years practice, how do we balance the benefits of risk against the potential for harm? How do we introduce challenge whilst keeping hazards to an acceptable level? How can we offer children adventure and keep them safe? There is no one right answer to these questions; instead it’s necessary to use our professional judgement to reflect on what is appropriate for our children and their families in our setting. Gail Ryder Richardson wrote about managing risk outdoors in early years settings and by kind permission of Nursery Management magazine, her article can be downloaded here
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA) takes a common sense approach to managing risk and recognises that one of the key ways that children learn about safety is by experiencing risk. ROSPA recommends that schools and settings use an approach that focuses on making experiences “as safe as necessary not as safe as possible”. It acknowledges that some degree of risk-taking is an important part of life, and suggests that “without learning to safely manage risks our children and young people cannot fulfil their full potential and as adults, may never realise their dreams”.
Within education there is both statutory and non-statutory information to take into account when thinking about learning away. The early years the statutory curriculum framework requires that:
“Children must be kept safe on outings, and providers must obtain written parental permission for children to take part in outings. Providers must assess the risks or hazards which may arise for children, and must identify the steps to be taken to remove, minimise and manage those risks and hazards. The assessment must include consideration of adult to child ratios. The risk assessment does not necessarily need to be in writing; this is for providers to judge”. EYFS (2012) p25, 3.64: Outings.
The Health and Safety Executive has issued very useful guidance for schools:
“Schools need to ensure that the precautions proposed are proportionate to the risks involved, and that their paperwork is easy to use. They should also take account of the assessments and procedures of any other organisations involved, and ensure that communications with others are clear.”
“The school’s arrangements for trips should ensure that:
- risk assessment focuses attention on real risks – not risks that are trivial and fanciful;
- proportionate systems are in place – so that trips presenting lower-risk activities are quick and easy to organise, and higher-risk activities are properly planned and assessed;
- those planning the trips are properly supported – so that staff can readily check if they have taken sufficient precautions or whether they should do more.”
Read the whole of the HSE’s High Level Statement on school trips here.
For some schools and settings, the first residential experience offered is a camp in the school hall or out on the school field. This experience enables children and staff to do something very different whilst remaining in familiar surroundings – and not too far from home! It can be argued that not all experiences carry the same risks, and that the risks are different for individual children. Different adults carrying out the same risk assessment may also perceive risks in different ways. A calm and sensible discussion to reach a shared perception of the risks and challenges is therefore a vital first step for any staff team considering developing a residential experience. There is lots of information about camping residentials in the Lower-cost models set of free resources, including downloadable planning tools such as a kit list, parental permission form and a worksheet to help children think about their hopes and fears for the camp out.
The Bulwell EAZ Learning Away partnership runs a series of progressive residentials starting with a one-night, one-school camping residential in Year 2 within the secure walled garden of a local stately home, Wollaton Hall. Each school takes their Year 2 pupils to camp in tents on the site overnight, where they take part in activities including den building, orienteering, team games, storytelling and toasting marshmallows on the camp fire as well as using the Hall itself for curriculum-related activities. Teachers visit the site and plan the residentials together, and deliver the vast majority of activities themselves – by doing so they are able to assess and manage risks collaboratively, ensuring that the learning experiences are totally appropriate for their pupils. Read more about this residential here.