What Are You Risking When It Comes to Activities Outside the Classroom?

by David Gregory.

As school leaders, we always have a lot going on. There are so many programs which now run outside the classroom. The skills required for these are often quite different from those inside the classroom.

On the one hand, we have a highly structured and controlled environment with clear and consistent parameters around the nature of classroom activities and definitive timeframes on how long a teacher is responsible for the students and those activities. If something goes wrong, you can either call the office for support or send a student to get help. Generally speaking, teachers are well-trained and prepared for the classroom environment.

Outside the classroom, however, is dramatically different. It’s now a highly dynamic and uncontrolled environment without clear and consistent parameters. Activities can vary dramatically in length and nature. This means the type of supervision required and the skills and experience needed to conduct these activities are dramatically different. Teachers usually, are not specifically trained for and are often ill-prepared for the environment outside the classroom.

When you’re dealing with students, staff, transport, activities, airports, foreign cultures and laws, medical concerns, mental health issues, disparate activities, remote operations and communications, there is no shortage of complex considerations which need to be made in relation to the planning for and management of risk.

Consequently, the level of real risk involved in any sort of offsite activity and the exposure of school leaders to the liability which comes with this can be significant. When I was a head of school, this was something of which I was well aware, not only due to my background, training and experience in outdoor education but added to this the first school I ever worked at had had a fatality a matter of months prior to my starting, after which safety was at the forefront of everything.

Having worked in such a broken organisation and devastated community, this shaped my thinking on risk management and safety. That was over twenty years ago. Unfortunately, I’ve seen the contributing factors which led to the tragic death of that boy in 2000 occur again and again, mainly due to the disconnect between the reality of the skills and experience which classroom teachers have in the structured environment versus the skills and mindset needed for unstructured environments. 

Often, it’s a case that many schools only put training in place for their staff and focus on safety after they’ve had a significant incident, injury, or even a fatality on one of their programs. This should never be the case and yet we see it happen, time and time again. When, looking at the tragic outcomes of these situations and the subsequent evidence presented in court, they are invariably easily preventable incidents if only the teachers had some basic training and experience outside the classroom.

Nobody is ‘just a classroom teacher’ anymore. The more our school programs venture out into the real world, the more important it is to have teachers with great risk management skills. Every time our teachers leave the school gates with a group, they’re responsible for the safety and well-being of that group. With the sheer volume of co-curricular programs, excursions, activities and overseas trips which now form part of a normal school life, it is now more critical than ever that teachers have training skills and experience in both the classroom environment as well as outside the classroom.

The reality is that if this skills’ gap is left unaddressed, this becomes a critical risk to every school and its leadership and something which could potentially sink you. If something like this ends up in court, on average, these sorts of cases, take around six years to work their way through the system. That’s six years of highly combative emotional trauma for school leaders, the staff who were on the program and the families involved. But we know the cost is always greater than that on so many levels.

As an educator, activities outside the classroom have always been a huge part of my work and the benefits to a student’s overall educational experience can be phenomenal. I never want to see these great programs which schools run cut back or cancelled due to fears that they’re too risky. If staff are untrained in risk management outside the classroom, I would agree they are too risky and shouldn’t be run. However, with specific training and support in risk management outside the classroom for those same staff, the risk profile of all these activities changes dramatically and can form some of the most amazing educational experiences which are memorable for all the right reasons.

David Gregory is the CEO of Xcursion Safety

To connect with David on LinkedIn, click Here

LYIS is proud to partner with TIC Recruitment

If you are considering becoming an International School Principal, then why not sign up for our course in January – ‘Becoming an International School Principal’.

In next week’s Leading Your International School Principal’s Blog, Samuel Hodge – Deputy Principal at Prince Of Wales Island International School, writes about ‘Empowering Future Leaders: Service Learning and the Sustainable Development Goals

2 thoughts on “<strong>What Are You Risking When It Comes to Activities Outside the Classroom?</strong>”

  1. Thank you David for sharing such an insightful article. Having worked as an international school Events Coordinator, I can not agree more with you. Safety should not only just be emphasised on campus, but everywhere the students go. Especially during outdoor activities, and long-distance trips. Before the trip, risk analysis/management and a detailed plan are so important! During the trip, the whole support team for activities should be aware of the potential risks, and how to respond/report when the danger happens. We understand the whole process does need practice and training, and our staff need help, meanwhile, finding a reliable risk management expert is also a smart move.

  2. Thanks David for this amazing article!
    This is a great reminder that investing in educators’ skills outside the traditional classroom environment is crucial for both student well-being and the long-term resilience of educational institutions.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *