Walking a group of children on foot through the busy streets is a crucial part of the teacher's art. Gerald Haigh shows you the way
A head remarked to me recently that the skills required to walk a class of children along public roads in time-honoured "crocodile" fashion seem to be disappearing. Schools don't walk to church as often as they used to, and a more utilitarian curriculum means fewer nature walks, local library visits and singing expeditions to the old people's home.
Now, with the carol season coming up, a more creative curriculum on the way and the need to visit places of worship for RE, perhaps it is time to look again at what used to be part of a teacher's basic stock-in-trade.
So, here you are with, say, 30 mid-KS2 pupils, about to lead a walk from school to a meeting place about a mile away on the other side of the town centre. How is it done?
First, you should do a risk assessment. Read your local education authority's guidelines. Work out the safest route - which may not be the shortest. You should know the route yourself, so make sure your knowledge is up to date so you can avoid being caught out by roadworks or blocked pavements. If there is a busy road to cross, the police may put an officer or warden there if you ask. You should also make sure you have enough adults to help. Your local authority guidelines will tell you the minimum, and you should aim for at least one extra. Before the trip, brief pupils, with helpers present, about behaviour and procedures. Allow time to get ready, find coats, go to the toilet and so on.
Get the children to line up outside in twos, with reliable children at front and back. Place a capable assistant as sweeper at the rear. Spread extra helpers along the line, and keep special needs assistants in touch with their charges.
Parents of your pupils are often helpers. Try to have at least some whose own children are not involved as they are more likely to be impartial in their attentions. This is especially important with younger children.
Pat Steward, deputy head at a primary school in Warwickshire, paints a lovely picture of how a Reception class's walk to church can easily turn into an unruly caravan of children, adults, baby buggies, toddlers and even the family dog.
Once lined up outside, wait for the children to settle. Smile and give an encouraging message. Then take up your position beside the leading pair and set off at a steady pace - not too fast or you will have to keep stopping to close up. Keep checking the line.
With very young children, you need to be particularly patient about pace.
"They bump into the wheelie bins," says Ms Steward. "You can guarantee that if you have to walk children anywhere, it will be bin day."
Then, of course, there is the classic hazard of the urban pavement. "Older children have developed dog-mess radar, but younger ones just trail through it," she says.
From one side to the other
Position the leaders a yard or two back from the kerb, then step to the edge of the road yourself. By arrangement, another adult should now come up to the front. When there's an opportunity, walk into the road and stop the traffic, both ways. When all traffic is stopped, beckon the line to cross.
Stay in the road until the last person has crossed. Smile and wave at the traffic, and hurry to regain the front of your line, praising the children as you pass.
When you reach your destination, don't take the children straight in with you. Let them close up and settle down, then go into the venue yourself to reconnoitre. When you have done this, go back to the door and call in the children with another adult leading them from the front, keeping everyone calm as they pass you. As children settle - in a church or a theatre, for example - watch out for seating disputes or misunderstandings, and don't seat yourself until all is calm.
Always be calm and friendly - if you seem breathless and panicky, pupils will notice. Be politely assertive to members of the public, particularly drivers who are critical or impatient. (Pat Steward recalls banging on the bonnet of a car that was trying to push through her line of children. "I got the police involved in the end," she says.) When you reach the meeting place, take on board the needs of the people there, but make sure they understand that you are the person in charge of the children.
ON THE ROAD: REMINDERS FOR PUPILS
* Stay in pairs - no overtaking and no lagging behind
* Be considerate to the other pedestrians around you.
* Don't stray into the road.
* Don't shout or push.
* Listen attentively to all instructions.
* If you misbehave after a warning, I'll phone the head who has agreed to drive out and fetch you - and boy will you be in trouble then!