When I was 8, we went on a class trip to Hampton Court Palace. I remember it well – not because of the history or what we learnt, but because a boy in my class fell in the fountain. He had to travel home on the coach wearing his underwear and the teacher’s poncho.
When telling that story at a staff training session on educational visits, it turned out most of my colleagues had similar tales of surprise events happening on school trips. The message was clear – expect the unexpected.
On a more serious note, I was working in Lambeth in 2001 when Bunmi Shagaya, a Y6 pupil at a local school, drowned while on a school trip abroad. After that we had to fill out risk assessments comprising reams of paper when simply walking to the local library. For me, ensuring that trips and visits run smoothly comes down to ‘PPP’ – policies, procedures and protocols – at three different levels:
1. School level
Every school should have educational visit co-ordinators. We have three, in case one leaves or is absent long term. EVCs are members of staff with the experience, know-how and training to spot the things teachers may miss. They’ll ask the awkward questions, be able to advise on insurance, know who the LA/MAT contact is and which trips will need registering with which body.
2. Year group/ department level
This where you’ll hear ‘Well, Y1 always go to Tonbridge Castle.’ They don’t have to! But if they do, there’ll be staff who have been before and know the layout of the day. They’ll have learned where to have lunch if it rains and how many steps it is from the top when Freddie needs the toilet. They’ll be familiar with the timeline for booking venues, getting letters out and so on. They may also know why Y1 keep going to Tonbridge Castle, rather than anywhere else.
3. Class teacher
The most important level for the risk assessment, since these are the people who know the individual children best. Generic risk assessments are great for, say, walking down the street – ‘In pairs, adults spread through the line’ – but only the class teacher will know that 9-year-old Freya is scared of dogs and once ran in the road to avoid one, so will need to hold an adult’s hand.
Having considered those risks, undertake a preliminary visit – I let my staff go during PPA time if they wish. Once there, think about your class. Who’ll react to what? Consider the children’s likely behaviour, any SEND requirements, allergies and which parents will prove more of a hindrance than a help. Think also about what might happen that’s out of everyone’s control. Is it likely that a gunman will rampage through Brighton Toy Museum? What about the terrorism threat level when planning a trip to London?
What might happen? What could you do to stop it? What will you do if it happens anyway?
There’s your risk assessment. One of my brilliant teachers once wanted to take his Y2 class ice skating as a reward. I shuddered at the thought, but told him to do the risk assessment and then see what he thought. He came back a few days later saying they were going to the cinema instead!
Kate Owbridge is executive headteacher at Ashdown Primary School, Crowborough.