Excursion risk management is an ongoing area of concern for schools. The 2014 Final Report of the Review of the Australian Curriculum revealed that some schools are no longer conducting excursions because of organisational issues and the threat of possible litigation if things don’t go well. This is problematic because excursions provide valuable learning opportunities for both students and staff.
On 23 April 2020, over 380 people from 270 schools attended CompliSpace’s introductory webinar “Overview of Excursion Risk Management” (Webinar), presented by Jonathan Oliver, Craig D’Cruz and Ian Hird. The Webinar was the first in a four-part series about navigating excursion risk management.
Specifically, the Webinar focused on:
- the issues and complexities of managing excursion risks
- how schools should manage their excursion processes
- an introduction to what best practice excursion risk management looks like.
A recording of the Webinar is accessible here. This article summarises, and provides the key takeaways from, the Webinar. This article does not contain all the information in the Webinar and does not seek to act as its substitute.
The Issues and Complexity of Managing Excursion Risk – the ‘Why’ and the ‘Who’
The first topic of the Webinar was presented by Jonathan Oliver, a Principal Consultant at CompliSpace. Jonathan identified the underlying context giving rise to excursion risks. There is pressure on schools to provide a co-curricular environment that is rich and distinctive. In conjunction with factors such as teacher anxieties and parent anxieties, excursion risk is an issue that cannot be ignored.
Excursion risk needs to be addressed for several reasons. Arguably the most important reason is something we have probably all heard of – to uphold the non-delegable duty of care that schools have to their students. This is a duty to make sure that schools identify and eliminate any foreseeable risk and take all necessary measures, having regard to all the circumstances, to prevent students from injury and harm. Other factors for addressing excursion risk include complying with current health and safety laws and the requirements for risk management by school regulators such as the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority.
However, the key issue here is not why excursion risk needs to be addressed but rather who needs to address it. A poll question posed to the attendees of the Webinar found that 73 per cent of school staff are the ones tasked with undertaking risk assessments. However, Jonathon explained that this is not appropriate practice. Rather, school leadership should take on this obligation. Schools should use a top down approach to indicate what their expectations are in relation to risks and safety and should provide policies that must be followed by all staff conducting, supervising and attending an excursion.
Jonathan will expand on the issues and complexities of managing excursion risk in the second webinar in this series on 7 May 2020.
How Schools Should Manage Their Excursion Processes – the ‘How’
The second topic of the Webinar was presented by Craig D’cruz, the National Education Lead at CompliSpace. Craig provided insights into how schools can use the excursion cycle framework to manage their excursion processes. The excursion cycle framework breaks down the stages of conducting an excursion and provides a categorised and comprehensive way of tackling risk management. It consists of the following stages:
- planning and preparation
- risk assessment and approval
- on excursion
- post excursion.
Addressing every stage is crucial to ensure a thoroughly developed excursion process. However, the stage that perhaps places the greatest administrative burden on teachers is the risk assessment and approval stage. Without careful consideration, this stage can result in teachers producing substandard risk assessments that ultimately impact on safe learning spaces for students and staff.
Schools need to consider a wide range of factors at the risk assessment and approval stage, including:
- the type of excursion (day, overnight or international)
- key risk areas such as transport, venues, accommodation, and the currently topical risk area of infection control
- key risk control strategies required to be implemented such as supervision strategies, first aid, critical incident strategies, vendor due diligence, and leaders’ reviews.
Schools should also ensure that they do not underestimate the importance of the often-overlooked post excursion stage. While a school may manage an incident by conducting an incident review, this should not be confused with the broader post excursion review. A post excursion review allows schools to review an excursion holistically in order to, for example, analyse trends and improve future excursions. Craig argued that schools should have excursion reviews for every excursion. In a poll question posed to the attendees of the Webinar, 82 per cent said that their school does not require all excursions to have a post excursion debrief session. This indicates that there is significant area for improvement in the post excursion stage of the excursion cycle.
Craig, together with Deanne Cannizzaro, a Project Manager and Consultant at CompliSpace, will expand on how schools currently manage excursion processes in the third webinar in this series on 21 May 2020.
An Introduction to What Best Practice Excursion Risk Management Looks Like – the ‘How’
The third topic of the Webinar was presented by Ian Hird, a Consultant/Client Relationship Manager at CompliSpace. Ian expanded on the notion of the excursion cycle and how it should be used to inform best practice.
In reality, schools tend to escape many excursion issues and incidents by having good luck. However, this approach is not sustainable. Schools should focus on following best practice excursion risk management to alleviate risk concerns. Best practice places an obligation on schools to approach every excursion cycle stage from a rigorous risk management perspective as if it was going to be put through litigation.
Best practice risk management requires a multilayered management response. Ian suggested the following three-layered response:
- policies and processes
- staff professional development (PD)
- appropriate risk culture.
Policies and processes are foundational to ensuring best practice. Most schools don’t but should have a master excursion policy that should contain risk management procedures and other information such as key risk areas and key risk control strategies for different excursions including the completion of risk assessments. Schools should ensure that this information is structured, clear and detailed. Although policies and processes provide a strong basis for best practice risk management, they cannot address all excursion risks because they cannot cope with the unexpected.
As a result, staff PD is also essential to delivering best practice excursion risk management. In a poll posed to the attendees of the Webinar, 88 per cent said that their school’s staff do not undertake annual excursion risk management training. This is a barrier to a safe environment for students and staff. Schools should provide staff PD that includes training on excursion management end-to-end processes, as well as training that gets staff thinking in terms of a risk framework by teaching ‘risk thinking’. This could involve a program with lots of hypotheticals, role plays and real-world examples that fosters the ability to think on the run.
This risk thinking framework should be developed in order to create an appropriate risk culture. Risk culture is often associated with fear, opacity, and no growth. Schools need to adjust this and adopt a positive attitude towards risk that fosters a supportive learning culture with open communication.
Ian will expand on what best practice excursion risk management looks like in the fourth webinar in this series on 4 June 2020.
Key Takeaways – How Schools Can Get on Track to Having a Robust Risk Management System
The Webinar introduced the ‘why’, ‘who’, and ‘how’ of having a robust risk management system.
The key takeaways from the Webinar are:
- schools and staff should be aware of the context that gives rise to excursion risk management
- schools, not teachers, should be responsible for developing risk management plans
- the excursion cycle is a very useful tool to help schools to manage their excursion processes
- schools should pay particular attention to the risk assessment and approval stage and the often-overlooked post excursion stage of the excursion cycle
- schools should adopt a three-layered best practice excursion risk management strategy to ensure a holistic mechanism by which students, staff and schools can learn and develop in a safe environment.
If you would like to view the frequently asked questions for this Webinar, please click here.
If you are interested in learning more about these topics in our upcoming three webinars, please register via the links below:
- “The Issues and Complexities of Managing Excursion Risks” Webinar by Jonathan Oliver on 7 May 2020
- “How is Your School Currently Managing Its Excursion Process?” Webinar by Craig D’cruz and Deanne Cannizzaro on 21 May 2020
- “What does Best Practice Excursion Risk Management Look Like?” Webinar by Ian Hird on 4 June 2020
Jonathan is a Senior Governance Risk and Compliance Consultant working with CompliSpace school clients. He has more than 10 years’ experience in the school sector as a teacher, compliance and legal adviser and more recently as a Business Manager. Jonathan has been a solicitor for nearly 30 years and worked in both private practice and community legal centres.
Craig is the National Education Lead at CompliSpace. He began his education career in 1983 and has taught in a number of non-government schools including Catholic, PSA, Anglican and Greek Orthodox schools. He spent 22 years as a Deputy Principal and Principal and five years as the Industrial Officer at the Association of Independent Schools of WA.
Ian joined CompliSpace after implementing PolicyPlus, CompliLearn and Assurance at a school where he was Deputy Principal/Head of Secondary School. His career in education has included roles in teaching (English and History), Boarding, Head of Faculty, Enrolments and Marketing, Director of Curriculum, and Deputy.
Parisa Haider is a Legal Research Assistant at CompliSpace. She is currently studying a Bachelor of Law and Bachelor of Business (Economics) at the University of Technology, Sydney.