School Visits and Avoiding Risk

I wrote on Wednesday some thoughts about taking children to London. On the general principle of taking children on visits, I’m asking: do we do it enough?

I had been amused a couple of weeks earlier by a good friend of mine who told me of a school visit that would probably make the papers these days. Some 25 years ago, his rather eccentric history teacher took his group to London, told the students when to meet him and proceeded to spend the rest of the day in the pub. Meanwhile, my friend wandered round London with a couple of others (including now-education minister Matthew Hancock) for the day, having a great time and learning loads. In fact my friend described it as being a formative – even inspiring – experience, but one that his mother was not best pleased about when she found out how the teacher had ‘managed’ the visit.

I’m sure many of us of a certain generation can remember teachers of that ilk: risk takers who liked to explode things, leave students unsupervised and drink heavily during the day. We may look back with a misty-eyed view of ‘that didn’t do me any harm‘ and wish for a return of the days when ‘risk assessment’ meant arriving somewhere and saying “oh, that’ll be alright.”

And I’m sure many of us in schools have attempted to plan a visit, only to become mired in unrealistic amounts of process and paperwork. Unfortunately a few, much-publicised fatalities on school visits have pushed many schools into reducing risk to zero and not taking children on visits at all.

These approaches do not benefit our children. Neither dangerous visits with absent teachers, nor risk-averse schools with absent visits will give children the inspiration, understanding and experience of the world that will really benefit them in future life.

I’ve tried to get round this by using the risk assessment process as the visit planning process also. Previously, the risk assessment was something you had to *do* after the visit was organised, not it’s just something that you plan for as you plan the trip, just as you would any other lesson. So alongside the hope for learning, you make a note of any likely risks and write down any necessary interventions to make to help students avoid the risks. This has helped me simplify the processes to a single one, saving time and also (I think) making a better visit.

Maybe it doesn’t sound quite as fun as spending the whole day in the pub, whilst the students wander around London, but it makes for a safer visit, keeping the inspiration for the students and keeping down the paperwork for the teacher.

Taking children to That London

Looking through the Gates of Buckingham Palace
Looking through the Gates of Buckingham Palace

I love my home city: Birmingham.

But I love London too, and whenever I go there, I can’t help feeling just a little parochial. It’s a great privilege to be able to take children to London and something that I’ve enjoyed doing over many years. Back when the O2 Arena was known as the Millenium Dome, I brought children down to experience what all the fuss was about.

London is so amazing, that you don’t even have to go into anything. A tube pass is all you need and you can spend the day boggled by Buckingham Palace, awed by the Houses of Parliament and stunned by the Tower of London.

I brought 6 children to BETT this year and aside from the ideas they’’ll be taking back to school council for future technology spending, they really enjoyed the whole travelling to and being in London.

Some of the group had not been on a train before (Birmingham is a very spread out city by English standards: the car and the bus reign supreme), but by the time we had finished the day we had travelled on ten trains.

Some of the groups had not seen a Palace Guardsmen in real life before, nor Big Ben, nor walked down the Mall. We did all those things as well as our visit to the technology show known as BETT.

I would love to take a whole class to London every year, but finances and time do not allow. Wouldn’t it be great though if every child had that opportunity, so they could find out all about their capital city, see the building in real life that they only normally see on Doctor Who and walk the same streets of those who make the decisions that shape their lives.

Yet many children in Birmingham never even travel to Birmingham City Centre, let alone London – is this an issue schools should address?

Help! Workflow crisis!

Visits_workflow2

First day back at school and we begin with the usual. Big picture stuff: what happened last year and how we can get better.

 

Then the inevitable policy tweaks – and here’s one: educational visits. They’re the kind of activity that children remember, makes classroom learning more real, but can be a nightmare for teachers to organise and schools to administer. Having listened to the talk by the EVC (Educational Visits co-ordinator), I tried to draw out the workflow on my new ACECAD Digital Notepad. But it looks a bit complicated.

 

So 2 questions…

 

  1. Does anyone have a really smooth and efficient process for educational visits?
  2. Are there any good software packages for presenting flow diagram type material?