Organising Overseas School Excursions is challenging for schools in an increasingly risk-averse, litigious society. Australian Schools need to recognise, assess, and manage risks associated with taking students overseas on educational tours, if they want to expose staff, students, and the school as a whole to learning, personal growth, and development opportunities outside the classroom.
So what risks must schools be mindful of?
- Getting overseas school excursions off the ground involves dedicated staff filling out a lot of administrative and legal paperwork, so that the excursion can be approved by the appropriate authorities before it is allowed to go ahead.
Schools must inform parents and students in writing about:
- The logistics of the trip.
- The activities students will participate in.
- Emergency policies and procedures. Schools must notify parents if their child is injured and must obtain parental permission for medical procedures.
- The benefits of taking out travel insurance, and recommend travel insurance options.
- Any excursion information provided must stress that all reasonable care will be taken to ensure that students are properly supervised during activities and that students will be instructed in the safe and proper use of equipment, if applicable.
- Make it clear that constant supervision inhibits a child’s independence, problem solving abilities, resilience and ability to cope in the real world, and also that it is impossible to supervise students at all times.
- Explain to parents that students will have free time in between planned activities. Most students who are 15 or above may be trusted to use this leisure time as they wish. Let them know that free time will be denied if it is abused. Free time is unsupervised and student-directed, however it must still be scheduled, with students advising teachers of their plans and expected return time if they go out. Teachers must be near at hand if students go out, remaining discreetly in the background if possible, and give students emergency contact numbers. They must regularly check on students in their lodgings.
- Schools must seek parental permission before taking students off school premises. Getting parents and older students to sign off that they understand and accept the potential risks with regard to overseas trips and specific activities will minimise a school’s liability should something go wrong.
- To minimise risk, staff must ensure that planned activities and equipment are age-appropriate and comply with safety regulations.
- Schools can hire an external Tour Provider to assist with the burden of paperwork, planning activities and complying with safety regulations but should take care to choose a provider with a proven track record of success and experience in the Industry. Doing so can be a cost-effective and sensible way to manage risk, as liability may be shared with others.
But what about the practicalities of keeping School Students entertained, out of mischief, and above all, safe? To ensure this, teachers need to:
- Research the foreign countries students will travel to, and choose age-appropriate and inexpensive activities that will keep them occupied and interested. Bored students may be inclined to wander off and take risks!
- Take note of government-issued travel warnings, and be prepared to cancel the trip due to potentially dangerous conditions.
- Ensure that there is an adequate student to teacher ratio, and remember that the younger students are, the more supervision they need. Organise frequent roll calls, and point out landmarks to students so they can find their way back if they get lost.
- Encourage students to support teachers by being responsible, looking out for one another, and complying with rules and safety directions.
A mismanaged trip can damage a school’s reputation and result in legal action, so care must be taken to minimise associated risks.
Successful Overseas School Tours reap significant rewards for schools dedicated to organising them.
- Accounts written by parents and students which highlight how participants benefited from the experience can boost the school’s profile.
- Schools can use overseas trips as an opportunity to establish networks or partnerships with other educational institutions which may facilitate student exchanges.
- In-country experiences benefit foreign language learners, and make a school’s foreign language programme attractive to students.
- Teachers can become part of a global network of educators and exchange learning resources.
Provided that schools effectively manage the risks associated with taking students overseas, such excursions will greatly benefit staff, students, and schools.
Ford, David. “School excursions: are they worth the risk?” Emil Ford Lawyers. 1 December, 2004.