Case study: the teacher

The sight of a pupil disappearing off the side of a bridge or bobbing down an estuary would reduce most teachers to a cold sweat, but last time I saw it happen it made me feel good. You see, the kids weren't in trouble; they were loving every minute of it. They were taking part in outdoor activities for the first time in their lives - and I doubt some will ever have the chance to do it again. Teaching in an urban area with its fair share of social problems isn't easy, and students often don't know what's happening in rural areas. Some don't even know the countryside is there.

As a geography teacher I plan visits to a variety of venues, from shopping centres to riversides and mountain environments. Each presents unique situations, many of which, in out-of-school life, might not cross your mind - such as sunburn and convex slopes which hide the view on the other side. A three-day risk assessment course in April changed my outlook; it reinforced common sense and made me think about why each step is put into place. If you see me on a school trip, I'll be the compulsive obsessive forever counting heads and shouting: "Get back on the pavement, get back from there."

Recently I've been involved in three outdoor education visits for students from Year 7 to 11. Most were put into situations they had never before experienced; climbing, abseiling, caving, dry-slope skiing, kayaking, mountain walking and gorge-walking all provided individual challenges - to them and staff members. The look on students' faces as they stepped up for the challenges is something we've all seen before - a mix of apprehension and fear but, above all, excitement. And that's when it really hit me. As teachers, our job is to educate and open up new worlds to our students, be it in a classroom or on a rock face. The teacher will gain immeasurably from both. Indeed, you can see it happening right in front of you, the grin when someone completes a task, the exhilaration and often relief, whichever way you look at it, that pupil has developed.

I have qualified and experienced instructors to work with - which, I admit, makes it much easier. But when you are out there, seeing spectacular views, doing something new and watching the students develop and love every minute of what they are trying, you think: "Filling in those forms was worth it."

An hour or so spent completing risk assessments and collating parental consent is a small price to pay to see these young people improve their skills and experiences. Plus, I now know that a bit of form-filling, done properly, covers you in the event of an incident. To be able to say that you had considered a risk and that you knew what to do if anything happened is, potentially, a life saver. I just wish that more members of staff knew that, and would ask: "Can I come too?"

Iain Condliffe

Iain Condliffe is joint head of geography at The Lord Silkin schoolin Telford, Shropshire

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