One of the perks of being a teacher, you might think, is that you can visit interesting places with your class free of charge. But be warned, just one lapse of your duty of care could be very serious. It has been said, with a ring of truth, that teachers are a thousand times more careful with other people's children than they are with their own.
So while what follows is not intended to prevent you from enjoying yourself, you must always remember that you are in loco parentis and that duty comes first. The children's safety is paramount, which is why your school should have a written policy concerning all aspects of school visits and off-site activities. Study it carefully.
The following suggestions could be considered an essential minimum for an educational visit by coach, depending on the nature and purpose of the journey.
For a group leader within a larger party the basic things to remember are:
* Know the plan for the day and exactly what is expected of you.
* Always carry a whistle and a list of the children in your care.
* Remain very vigilant and alert to danger. Don't take anything or anyone for granted. Children can be unpredictable.
* Know where each child is and never leave anyone isolated, unsupervised or at risk. Make frequent checks.
* Refer to your team leader if you are in any doubt.
If you are the designated team leader, with parent helpers for example, your duties are more exacting. The basic requirements in addition to the above are:
* Obtain your headteacher's permission.
* Plan the day well in advance with anticipated learning outcomes. The success of the visit will be in direct proportion to the thinking which you put into it. Consider who might deputise for you in an emergency. It must be a school employee.
* Contact the venue, if appropriate, and obtain some literature about it. Find out what is available. Make a preliminary on-site survey if possible.
* Give the school secretary ample notice to book the coach, especially for peak periods, so that the best quotation can be obtained from an approved coach firm as well as your preferred date. Much secretarial time can be wasted trying to book mere outings which are hastily arranged. I would question their value in any case.
* Estimate individual costs, and abide by the school's charging and remissions policy. Find out about insurance cover.
* Give the parents written details, including advice about clothing and footwear and meal arrangements - fizzy drinks and glass bottles are not a good idea - and whether limited pocket money is allowed. Also indicate your expected time of return. Parental consent should be in writing.
* Think carefully about the adultpupil ratio and take advice. Realistically it depends on the age and maturity of the children as well as the experience of your helpers. It is wise, especially with older pupils, to have adults of each sex.
* Arrange your groups thoughtfully. Potentially troublesome children are best separated and put with experienced adults.
* Discover whether the children are expected to carry a means of identification and, if so, whether it is the practice to name the school but not the child.
* Convene an advance meeting of your helpers in order to brief them and to explain their responsibilities.
* Consider medical needs. Medication marked with each child's name should be given to you, clearly labelled with the correct dosage plus written authority for you to administer it. Check your school's policy on this matter, though. You could be sued if anything goes wrong. Bring a First Aid kit and a sick bucket.
* Give the children clear instructions in advance, reminding them that their behaviour will reflect on themselves, their families and the school. Tell them that if anyone is foolish a helper must be informed immediately.
* Carry a list of the groups with you and inform the group leaders about any absentees.
* Once on board the coach, ensure that the children are no more than two to a double seat and that their seat belts are fastened. Helpers should be interspersed throughout. Board the vehicle last yourself. Children should never be the first or last to board the coach.
* When the whole party is walking anywhere, assign one adult to lead (not too fast) and another to bring up the rear. Others should be in between. Maintain a disciplined short line.
* Do not expect anybody to do anything which you would not be prepared to do yourself. Lead by example.
When you return to school report to the headteacher or person in charge. Review the whole day as soon as you can and share your experiences, especially any benefits and concerns, with other members of staff.
A newly qualified teacher is unlikely to lead a residential visit so early in their career, but you may take the chance, if it is offered, to gain valuable experience by undertaking one.
Leading a residential visit cannot, however, be required of you in a maintained school. Living and working with the children, and helping to develop their self-confidence, is immensely rewarding, but it is a huge full-time responsibility and requires separate advice.
However, even a day's visit can be taxing for those who are in charge. If it is completed safely, as most are, and if you have gained what you set out to achieve because you set about it professionally, you will enjoy job satisfaction and perhaps, as you unwind, a well-earned cup of tea in the staffroom afterwards. Offer your helpers one as well.
Luke Darlington is headteacher of St Mary's CE Primary School, Yate, Bristol