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School trips: how to stay safe

Tilden Watson, Head of Education at Zurich Municipal, reveals the top tips for successful school trips

Posted by Lucinda Reid | July 24, 2017 | Law, finance, HR

School trips are a valuable opportunity for learning outside of the classroom, but in many cases they are evolving into much more than a simple day away from the desk.

Trips to museums, stately homes and factories remain staples of the curriculum, but increasingly children are now being offered once-in-a-lifetime trips as part of their education, where they can trek the Great Wall of China, or learn about conservation in an African safari park.

While these trips are exciting, and offer pupils the chance to learn in unique and stimulating locations, the risks posed by taking children to less traditional destinations do exist. We have all read reports of tragic accidents that happen during school trips, and whilst such tragedies are increasingly rare – despite the headlines they generate – the risk exposure of the average trip needs to be kept in proportion with the adventure planned.

Advance planning

A common misconception when planning school trips is the application of health and safety laws, which can often discourage teachers from organising such excursions. Many teachers wrongly assume they will face a mountain of paperwork, and fear prosecution if things go wrong.

In reality, the growth of this risk-averse attitude alarmed the Health and Safety Executive so much that it issued a White Paper clearly stating its belief in the value of school trips.

Despite this, good preparation is still essential, but it should not be seen as a barrier in itself. Overseas trips require extensive planning, but the associated workload can be lessened by booking with a specialist tour operator which has experience in delivering such trips for schools. Their expertise ensures that parents, pupils and teachers are aware of what the trip entails, and have a well-informed itinerary for the visit.

Getting the right insurance cover is also a key consideration. Schools need to be sure that not only they, but their choice of transport and accommodation provider, have sufficient cover. Having the correct insurance policy in place ensures that, should the worst happen, you are clearly aware of the extent of coverage and what it supports.

All plans need to be communicated to students and their parents in advance of the trip to make sure everyone has a full understanding of what the excursion will entail. With sensible precautions in place, and a spirit of genuine risk awareness at every level, there’s no reason not to venture off the beaten track.

Understanding risk

Zurich Municipal have found that understanding proper risk management is key to achieving this balance, keeping staff confident and students safe. Additionally, the more risk-aware teachers are, the more likely they are to lead adventurous trips.

To encourage this attitude, schools need to provide leadership in the form of a regularly-revised Educational Visits Policy and make sure all staff are aware of the document and stick to its recommendations.

It goes without saying that everyone accompanying children off site needs to be competent, trained and vetted. Teachers leading trips therefore need the skills and confidence to write risk assessments at a level of detail appropriate to the trip and, if necessary, carry out advance visits to assess conditions on the ground.

The key to success

A good school trip provides pupils with a great range of benefits: from deeper learning, to a greater understanding of the world and an increase in self-confidence. Balancing these benefits with the associated risks is the key to a successful and safe school trip. By planning ahead, maintaining awareness and clearly communicating all plans to parents, a successful school trip can be enjoyed by all!

For more information about Zurich Municipal, visit their website.

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