Five things you need to know about the Department for Education’s new guidance on health and safety for educational visits, to unlock these transformative experiences for your pupils. By Kim Somerville, CEO of the Council for Learning Outside the Council (CLOtC)
We hear so often about children today being ‘cooped up’ in their homes and classrooms. Three quartres of young people in the UK spend less time outdoors than prisoners; more than one in nine children have not set foot in the natural environment in the last 12 months; and last year only 57 per cent of children aged 11 to 15 visited a museum (a drop of six per cent on previous year). The reality is the only chance some children will have to explore the world beyond their four walls will come from the educational visits offered at school.
Venues all over the UK are providing inspirational opportunities for children to learn outside the classroom, whether in a museum or gallery or outdoors in a farm or adventurous activity centre. These hands on experiences enable children to see, hear, touch and explore the real world as part of their learning, deepening their understanding and teaching them to appreciate and be inspired by the world around them.
Teachers agree that children learn best through first-hand experience. Ofsted also endorses the power of learning beyond classroom walls, finding that getting out and about in small, frequent doses improves understanding and standards as well as helping social and emotional development.
The Department for Education’s (DfE) has recently released new straight forward guidance on health and safety for educational visits. Here are five things you need to know to make your educational visit run smoothly, so that you can enjoy the transformational changes when you get back to the classroom.
Appoint an educational visits coordinator
Schools should appoint an educational visits coordinator and make sure they have the training they need. They should be an experienced visits leader and have the status to be able to guide the working practices of other staff and be confident in assessing outside activity providers. The headteacher has this duty if there is no coordinator. Local authorities or academy trust outdoor education advisers can advise on appointing and training coordinators. Coordinators can get guidance on the Outdoor Education Advisers’ website oeapng.info
Know when to get consent
For children over nursery age, written consent is not needed for most trips, as they’re part of the curriculum. However, it’s good practice to tell parents about them. Written consent is usually only needed for trips that need a higher level of risk assessment or are outside normal school hours. Schools can ask parents to sign a copy of a consent form when their child enrols. Schools should still tell parents about these trips and give them the opportunity to withdraw their child.
The LOtC Quality Badge
Schools using an outside organisation to provide an activity must check they have appropriate safety standards and liability insurance. The Council for Learning Outside the Classroom (LOtC) awards the Learning Outside the Classroom Quality Badge to organisations who meet nationally recognised standards. The accreditation is awarded to organisations offering good quality learning experiences and managing risk effectively. Choosing accredited providers makes life easier for teachers organising educational visits as they can feel confident that their pupils are receiving good quality and inspiring educational experiences in an environment where any risks are well managed.
Trips abroad can have extra risks and need a higher level of risk assessment. If the trip includes significant risks, such as challenging terrain, going to remote places or extreme climates, follow the guide to the British Standard for adventurous activities outside the United Kingdom as the basis for the planning and risk assessment.
Organisations employed by the school should follow this too. If they have LOtC Quality Badge then they follow this standard.
Schools should have an emergency response plan that covers what to do if there is an incident away from school. Schools should also have a communications plan that covers how routine communications should be handled, including regular check-ins and calls to reassure people and trip leaders should be familiar with these plans. Schools can get advice on these plans from their outdoor activity adviser or the Outdoor Education Advisers’ website oeapng.info
Evaluating educational visits
Schools should set up a clear process for evaluating all visits once they have been concluded from the planning through to the visit itself. The educational content of this should be evaluated like any other lesson would be. For residential trips there is a free evaluation toolkit designed to help those responsible for planning or leading residentials in schools evaluate the experience to understand the impact and what could be improved on the Learning Away website.
Schools should keep a record of any incidents, accidents and near misses. This will help the school evaluate whether its planning has worked and learn from any incidents which took place.
It is imperative that you follow the legal requirements of your employer for planning and risk assessing all educational visits.
Department for Education guidance can be found here.