School visits, journeys and residentials have huge benefits for students, and large numbers of successful learning outside the classroom experiences of this kind take place each year. However, fears about safety and misunderstandings about the application of health and safety law often discourage schools and teachers from organising such activities.

The Benefits

These misunderstandings stem from a wide range of issues, including frustrations about excessive paperwork, fears of prosecution if the activity goes wrong, and the belief that a member of staff will be sued if a child or young person is injured.

The Health and Safety Executive has made it clear that it understands learning outside the classroom helps to bring the curriculum to life, provides deeper subject learning and increases self-confidence. The HSE has published a statement encouraging schools to ditch unnecessary paperwork, ensuring that precautions are proportionate to the risks involved.

In this section we discuss:

  • Risk/benefit – Do educators have a responsibility to help young people learn how to manage risks for themselves, and how can brilliant residentials support them to do this? What exactly has the HSE said about learning outside the classroom experiences?
  • Signposting extra support – Where can schools get help to identify and meet their responsibilities, and to ensure students’ safety on residential?

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Risk/ Benefit

Staff providing residential experiences have a duty of care towards the young people involved, but this must not mean wrapping them all in cotton wool by removing all risks. We have a responsibility not only to keep young people safe, but also to enable them to learn to manage risks for themselves and to benefit from taking part in a full range of residential activities.

Risk/benefit management is a fundamental part of life and is a crucial skill for young people to learn as they move into adolescence and adulthood. Well-planned residentials can provide young people with a degree of freedom that provides an ideal opportunity for them to learn about and manage risk for themselves, taking responsibility for their own safety and wellbeing on the residential then transferring these skills back into their day-to-day lives.

Hear more about the benefits of residentials for children and young people from school staff involved in Learning Away’s action research.

Myth-busting

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has made it clear it understands that learning outside the classroom helps to bring the curriculum to life, provides deeper subject learning and increases self-confidence – as well as helping students to develop risk awareness for their future lives.

To support and encourage schools, the HSE has published a myth-busting statement explaining what teachers should consider when organising learning outside the classroom experiences.

The statement dispels myths about legal action and encourages all schools to ditch unnecessary paperwork, ensuring that precautions are proportionate to the risks involved. It contains four key messages:

  1. Well-managed school trips and outdoor activities are great for children. Children won’t learn about risk if they’re wrapped in cotton wool.
  2. Teachers should expect their schools to have procedures that encourage participation, are proportionate to the level of risk and avoid bureaucracy.
  3. Staff running school trips need to focus on the risks and the benefits to young people – not the paperwork.
  4. Accidents and mistakes may happen on school trips – but fear of prosecution has been blown out of all proportion.

A PDF of the full statement can be downloaded here.

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Signposting

It is important that schools follow their employer’s guidance for the management of residential learning experiences.

For many schools this will continue to be their local authority’s guidance. Until recently this guidance has tended to vary quite considerably from local authority to local authority. This lack of a consistent approach has made planning quite difficult for schools. As a result, the Outdoor Education Advisers’ Panel (OEAP) has recently produced new National Guidance for the Management of Outdoor Learning, Off-Site Visits and Learning Outside the Classroom.

The guidance has been written for employers to adopt as their policy, and as guidance for their staff to use. Employers who adopt this guidance should have a policy document that directs staff to use this guidance, and sets out their specific arrangements for staff training, access to advice, notification or approval of visits and monitoring.  Advice about these issues is included in the guidance. 
Employees must be sure that their employer has adopted the guidance before using it. Find out more here.

It is essential for school staff to check whether their employer has adopted this guidance before using it. To check if this is the case, you can find your local authority adviser here.

The Royal Geographical Society with IBG runs regular Off-site Safety Management courses, which provide training for anyone planning visits in the UK or overseas. Over two days the course takes an in-depth look at the practicalities of risk management while planning, leading and evaluating local visits, fieldtrips, expeditions, residentials and exchanges. Details can be found here.

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