Without a doubt, developing students’ independence is a central part of education, but as I’ve learned as a parent, this is easier said than done. When I was 10, I’d play happily with my friends, unsupervised, down by the canal. Yet now I have palpitations when my 10-year-old daughter walks home from school by herself.
The summer term typically brings a glut of amazing school trips that are perfect for building independence: science museums, art galleries, trips to the beach, theme parks. Some may even be abroad – just make sure it isn’t one of those adventures where you discover you’ve left a child in Calais halfway across the Channel.
To avoid this happening, every trip should have a risk assessment. It is a little frightening how often these are seen as an inconvenient admin task rather than central to keeping children safe. School leaders can help with this by providing exemplar risk assessments to refer to and ensuring there is dedicated time for the trip leaders to write it together: how in the world can all members of the team be familiar with the document unless they’ve contributed to it?
It also makes sense to distribute the risk assessment to parents. Rules have to be explicit, shared and reinforced. Not just the obvious ones, such as “don’t drink alcohol”, but also those around conduct in religious sites, graveyards and turning off location settings on devices.
Just a phone call away
As children grow older, school trips invariably build in some free time for them to wander off on their own. Waving farewell to excited teenagers with a, “see you in six hours, and if you need us we’ll be in the coffee shop”, isn’t really the best approach to this.
Schools should invest in a pay-as-you-go mobile phone, and share the number with staff, parents and students.
I would go so far as to not let students off the bus until they can prove that the number is saved in their own phones. It is also worth letting the venue know who you are, where you can be found and providing them with the number.
When choosing a staff base, walk the students there, show it to them on a map and always ensure someone is there to meet with any students who have gone astray. Children should stay in a minimum group of three at all times and, if one of them becomes separated from the others, they must know to call the trip hotline.
In loco parentis is never as critical as when you’re supervising activities off site. Approach the situation as if you are each child’s overbearing, anxious parent and everything should be fine.
Keziah Featherstone is co-founder and national leader for #WomenEd. She is a member of the Headteachers’ Roundtable and an experienced school leader. She tweets at @keziah70