Broken bones and high jinks
Yes, it's another school trip. Sheree Smith tells you how to cope.
Would you like to take your pupils out of school to experience "geography in action"? You know all the benefits resulting from taking pupils out of the classroom - they see corries, walk across a ford, do a survey and get to see their teacher as a real human being. But there are pitfalls to avoid.
*Where are you going and how are you going to get there?
Remember that to get help with funding, an excursion from school should be educational. If anyone raised finance for an Alton Towers trip, let me know how you did it. Have you got a school minibus that you can drive? Can you afford to hire a bus and driver? Has the bus got seatbelts? If you are driving, are you covered by your insurance policy? Is your minibus serviced regularly? Do you have a spare tyre?
Check the availability of the centre or hostel. (I phoned to book Malham Youth Hostel for a night in June 1997 - in October - to find that it was full. ) *Get permissionapproval for your excursion
There will be a form to fill in to ask permission to organise a trip. This will ask for details such as the dates and times involved, the number of pupils and staff, transport arrangements, and the educational nature of the excursion. (If it includes any outdoor pursuits or hazards, or involves overnight stays, then you may need to get approval from your local authority as well as your headteacher.) This form may need to be handed in more than six weeks before the trip.
Some authorities ask for a risk assessment of the excursion. This involves examining the area or activities that the pupils would encounter and guessing what could go wrong and how you would deal with it. Can you avoid all the risks?
Depending on your authority, there are X number of official forms now to fill in, parental consent forms being one of the most important. You need these to take pupils beyond the school gate. These forms differ if you are away overnight or the excursion involves outdoor pursuits - more information, such as contact namestelephone numbers, is then required.
On our annual S1 residential two years ago, we were horrified to discover that a third of our pupils suffered from allergies, asthma, epilepsy and diabetes. Can you cope with this and do you have a first aider with you? Do you take the child of a Jehovah's Witness who specifies that they refuse you the in loco parentis right to allow a blood transfusion if necessary?
Does the centre have all the appropriate accreditation and emergencyrescuehealth and safety procedures in place?
Do you have the necessary staff: pupil ratio? (Are you going over 1,000 feet or near water?) Are the pupils paying for this excursion? If they are, who is going to collect the money, give receipts, chase the bounced cheques, and balance the books?
Do you need to have a parents' meeting where the "rules of engagement" are set out? You will need to meet with the pupils to go over the rules and responsibilities, timing, clothing, and equipment needed on the day.
You need to arrange - the pupil materialsworksheets, first aid kit(s), staff responsibilities on the day, a contact person out of school hours back at base, packed lunches (for those on free school meals) if required, and possibly cash to put towards some pupils' costs if your school can help those in need.
*The excursion day arrives
The weather is lousy and 10 pupils forget their cagoules (we only have four spares). We misread the tide tables for Culzean and have to do our normal walk backwards - the rocks are still wet when we scramble round the headland.
Elizabeth gets lost between the assembly point in the Royal Highland Show Grounds and the coach park - 90 minutes later a tearful pupil is reunited with a coach-load of angry pupilsstaffdriver.
Two pupils (fully clothed) go for a swim in Strathclyde Loch and travel home in their PE kit - the laughing man who took their photos may not send them to a local paper.
We get asked to leave Pollok House after George plays the piano with a "do not touch" sign on it.
Two pupils turn up at the minibus in the Pollok Estate half an hour late because they knocked on the Police Dog Training Centre door and got a guided tour.
I drive back from Hillend Dry Ski Slope with a broken thumb and 13 tired pupils - I never thought to have a reserve driver.
The back row in the coach "moon" at the cars behind until an irate driver lets us know.
Andrew gets knocked down by a car on the day we were leaving Garelochhead Outdoor Centre.
What do you do with the pupils caught shoplifting, under-age drinking, smoking?
No-one thanks you as you arrive exhausted back at the school. You discover a coach seat vandalised after all the pupils are gone and spend most of the next day finding the culprit.
*The days after
Two members of staff ask if you enjoyed your holiday.
You fill in the report form for the headteacher, balance the books, thank everyone involved and vow never again to go out of school on an excursion.
Two weeks later, in a weak moment, you agree to help organise an excursion abroad - but that is another story.
PS: all the incidents mentioned happened, no-one was seriously injured (except me) and I still meet former pupils who start off with "do you remember that excursion when I it was brilliant".
Sheree Smith is a geography teacher and is general secretary of the Scottish Association of Geography Teachers.