School trips are never out of the news for very long. Often the slightest mishap attracts disproportionate media attention and it is little wonder teachers have become increasingly wary of undertaking the organisation and responsibility of such activities. Paradoxically, almost everyone associated with education, the government, parents, the general public and most sections of the media maintain a strong belief in the value of educational visits and want them to continue. Teachers remain willing for the most part but do want more and more reassurance, help and guidance. The latest School Trip Safety Management Conference, hosted jointly by SHA and World Challenge Expeditions, attracted a wide audience of educationalists, and a range of speakers sought to give a positive but balanced view as to the best way forward.

The Right Perspective

School trips tend to not have a very high public rating, but let's try and put things into perspective. Whilst noone would argue that even one accident or death on a school trip is one too many, the following statistics speak for themselves:

There are approximately 13 million young people under the age of 18 in the UK and every year there are 1400 sudden or accidental deaths.

* 700 result from road traffic accidents.
*400 result from undiagnosed heart disease.
*140 from suffocation.
*125 from poisoning.
*100 are suicides.
*90 die from drowning.
*80 die in fires.
*65 from falls.
*50 are murdered.
*3 perish on school visits.
*1 child dies on average on school adventure holidays.

Looking more closely at adventure holidays that have an element of perceived risk, records tell us that since 1985 51 children have died on school trips (an average of three per year or less). Of these 18 were road traffic accidents, one was a murder and 23 were drownings. 19 involved adventure holidays, an average of one per year.

Whilst we can see immediately that young people are 200 times more likely to be killed on the roads than on a school trip, it is nevertheless true that few of the 700 fatal road accidents reach the national press whereas every fatality on a school trip is sure to do so.

Media coverage

Why this discrepancy and why have school trips attracted so much bad press? There would seem to be 4 main reasons:

1.Obscure and unusual accidents are the bread and butter of the media. The horrific killing of a British teenager in a Brittany youth hostel is well remembered by almost everyone.
2.Moral panics. The well-publicised death of a child on a school trip easily tugs at the heartstrings of the nation.
3.Perceived risk. This is reflected in ever higher insurance premiums.
4.The ‘Hatfield Effect'. Just as the awful rail tragedy had the effect of turning many people away from train journeys, at least for a while, so the same snowball phenomenon tends to occur after a school trip tragedy.

In short, however distasteful this may seem, the fact remains that serious accidents and deaths on school trips make the headlines because such accidents are few and exceptional.

Not that this is much comfort to the conscientious teacher who is striving to organise as risk-free a school visit as possible. Many people bemoan the current' cotton wool' environment in which children are being brought up nowadays ‘though the mere fact that the safety of children on school trips is given such a high profile has to be a positive development.

Important planning considerations

A number of key issues were reinforced by the team of speakers at the conference:

*Teachers planning school trips must liaise closely with their EVC (Educational Visits Coordinator) and adhere closely to the LEA's or individual school's visits policies.
*Teachers running and escorting school trips are subject to the same duty of care (in loco parentis) as when they are with their children in the school environment.
*The key words REASONABLE and RESPONSIBLE summarise how teachers must behave at all times in relation to school trips. When planning a visit, ask yourself the simple question: Is this an activity I would happily and confidently do with my own child? If the answer is yes, you can proceed with confidence.
*Accidents will inevitably happen from time to time and will occur despite the most thorough preparation. The law accepts that there are such things as accidents and simply requires what is reasonably practical. Parents need to understand this fully. The inclusion of the following paragraph in a consent letter to parents should make this potentially clear:

I am aware that the school has a detailed policy on the safe running of educational visits, which I can obtain from the school on request. I am also aware that the school's educational visits are always well organised with a particular attention paid to health and safety. I understand there can be no absolute guarantee of safety, but appreciate that the school leaders of the visit retain the same legal responsibility for pupils as they have in school and will do everything that is reasonably practicable to ensure the safety of everyone on the visit.'

*Never take risks with the planning of school trips or when out in the field. Children nowadays want more and more excitement and greater challenges. However safety must always be the number one consideration and those teachers organising adventure holidays or DoE expeditions must ensure that safety benefits are never hijacked by such things as a higher level of performance and/or trust in improved equipment.
*When starting to plan any school trip begin by looking first at the benefits. Then look at potential problems and control measures in that order. This triangle of risk is important. In the majority of cases benefits will far outweigh potential hazards and the need for safeguards, so be positive with your planning.

Managing risk

The Conference also included workshops on issues of concern such as the involvement of students themselves in safety management and child protection headaches in respect of regard to home-to-home exchanges. However by far the greatest number of delegates were attracted to risk management, a topic which continues to generate considerable anxiety and a high degree of misconception. The following key points were stressed:

*By law risk assessments are now needed throughout any school as well as on school trips. There are three types of risk assessments: generic, specific and continuing.
*Risk assessments are nothing new. Teachers have always had to weigh up potential hazards on a day-to-day basis. The big difference nowadays is that potential risk must be ‘recorded'.
*In reality risk management and control are more important that the assessment itself.
*There is no exact definition of risk. In a school or trip situation it is what you as a professional perceive to be a risk. In other words the only risk assessment that really matters is your own.
*The legislation suggests that a school will have done what is reasonably practicable if it has considered the following three issues: supervision of the pupils, protection and training.
*The only obvious difference between in-school risk assessments and those required for school visits is that the environment is less familiar and therefore more care is required.
*To be able to risk assess a school trip effectively the organising teacher must first consider the environment in which the activities will take place, the qualifications and experience of those leading and accompanying them (especially important for adventure-type expeditions) and the suitability of the equipment and resources as well as the age, ability, aptitude and experience of the pupils on the visit.

To be as thorough as possible the risk assessment process needs to be considered in eight stages:

*Identify possible problems/risks.
*Consider what needs to be done to minimise them.
*Define the necessary actions.
*Identify people to be responsible for the actions.
*Set a time frame.
*Monitor progress.
*Review afterwards (make changes next time around).

Grounds for optimism?

The general tone of the conference was upbeat and all the speakers and workshop presenters were united in their desire to see school trips of all kinds return to their former glory and flourish. Public opinion may never be won over totally especially since there is every likelihood accidents will continue to occur from time to time. It was felt that the only logical way forward was to:

*Ensure that every effort is made to encourage young people to take part in educational trips.
*Ensure that adequate facilities are available to provide these activities.
*Ensure that these facilities are appropriately managed, with due regard to their benefits and safety.

Furthermore there may be as glimmer of light at the end of the dark tunnel. Following a very positive Select Committee report earlier this year the Prime Minister and the new Education Secretary made speeches promising to cut the paperwork associated with school trips and also help teachers from being sued for accidents.

They announced that later this year new guidelines on trips would be published together with a manifesto for education outside the classroom. Amongst the proposals are a recommendation that schools use generic risk assessment forms wherever possible and LEAs being told to take out one insurance policy for their schools, which cover all liabilities relating to trips. These are at least moves in the right direction.

Contact Sandy Twinning Association:

Chairman, Max Hill
21 The Green,
SG19 1PE
Telephone: 01767 681469

This article first published in About my Area SG19

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