In the first part of this four part series, we discussed the background to the changing excursion landscape and the influences on teacher decisions to run an excursion. The first part concluded with the question “how can schools encourage teachers to continue to organise and execute well-planned and successful out-of-class learning experiences while keeping the burden of ‘paperwork’ down to a reasonable level?”
A key component of addressing this question is to identify the macro and micro risks in developing an excursion management plan as discussed below.
The Excursion Management Plan
Teachers today are very aware that they are personally accountable for, and have a specific and non-delegable duty of care towards, their students. They also know that some learning activities carry a certain amount of risk but that carefully planned lessons that incorporate risk mitigation strategies ensure that risks are minimised, and the focus can be on learning.
All schools are required to undertake extensive planning for excursions including the documentation of risk assessments with respect to each aspect of the excursion. These include risks associated with the use of an external vendor. As noted in the previous article, a due diligence exercise should be carried out for each vendor regardless of the vendor’s own risk assessments and documentation.
Schools need to develop a policy and a set of procedures that must be followed to help them manage the various risks associated with regular off-campus activities, day trips, overnight excursions and international/interstate trips. The policy should outline a set of general principles to direct the planning of excursions to minimise the risks, such as the requirement of a management plan to be completed and approved beforehand.
The management plan should identify the risks posed by the particular excursion and outline the strategies to mitigate each of the risks. Final approval of an excursion should only be granted by the principal if they are satisfied that the risks have been appropriately identified and addressed in the management plan.
The Identification of Macro Risks
Some of the overarching (or macro) questions that should be asked by schools and excursion leaders when developing a management plan for a camp, tour or excursion could be:
- What is the purpose of the camp/tour/excursion and is it in keeping with the school’s ethos and expected learning outcomes?
- Has there been a recent visit to the site to assess if it is suitable for the students concerned? If it is a regular venue, have there been any changes since it was last used by the school?
- Has a risk assessment been completed to clearly identify each aspect of the excursion and has there been an overall risk assessment completed?
- Has each risk been clearly identified and mitigated by suitable strategies and procedures?
- Have the activities with risks that are deemed to be too high or unable to be reduced been omitted from the program?
- Will the school insurance cover every detail of this camp/tour/excursion?
- If using an external provider, does the provider have sufficient public liability insurance?
- Has the school conducted a due diligence process with all external providers involved in the excursion to ensure their competence and compliance with child safety and WHS/OHS/OSH laws and regulations?
Other risks include but are not exclusive to transport, particular venues, accommodation, student abilities and medical conditions. Once the risks have been identified, teachers then need to implement more detailed or micro (granular) risk mitigation strategies including those relating to supervision, communication and critical incident response procedures. The reality is that there is a necessity to balance the need to achieve educational outcomes and the overall duty of care for students.
The Identification of Micro Risks
Further steps a teacher should take in developing an excursion management plan include responses to micro (granular) risks. These micro risks can be broken up into three main groups:
- Supervision – who oversees the camp, tour, or excursion? What is the teacher/student ratio? Are the supervisors appropriately trained?
- Laws and Regulations – Working with Children Checks (or equivalent) for supervisors, volunteers, contractors and external providers, up-to-date medical details for students and supervisors, parent approval, appropriate medical records, appropriate due diligence checks of vendors, a risk assessment has been conducted or not.
- Logistics – external variables such as weather and time of year, putting suitable communication strategies in place, transport, accommodation, meal, sickness and misadventure arrangements, ensuring the suitability of accommodation arrangements, especially for special needs students, consulting with staff, parents, students and external providers regarding nature and potential hazards of the excursion.
In addition, the management of excursions should include debriefings following school trips, where staff can outline areas of risks not previously considered which may be factored into future management plans. Schools should keep records from each school trip, from the management plan, names and contacts of students, staff and teachers in charge, parent approval documents, contracts entered into with any third-party organisations, risk assessments and records of any incidents that may have occurred on an excursion.
Many schools are aware of the extensive list of questions that should be answered by staff when they plan and conduct off-campus activities. The examples given in this article cannot be considered to cover all aspects of every activity because the requirements for each school can vary considerably. However, regardless of the types of and amount of information required, these matters are often addressed by the schools through the provision of detailed policies and procedures with accompanying application and approval forms.