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  • Sarah Johnson

A question of risk

Updated: 1 day ago

I will begin by focusing on the lens of risk that I mentioned in my earlier blog. Ulrich Beck points out that we live in a "risk society," where identifying and managing risks becomes increasingly challenging (Beck, 1992). This complexity is magnified for Head Teachers who are responsible for the safety of children on educational visits. The concerns become even more significant for trips that extend beyond a single day, such as residential trips. Additionally, some children have social and emotional mental health needs, which can manifest as difficulty regulating emotions, self-harming, or suicidal ideation.

How do we provide an inclusive approach that supports all children in participating in these activities, without simply deciding that it's too risky?

Often, when we think about risk, we might conclude, "We can't do this," without exploring strategies to help children engage in activities outside of the school environment. This tendency arises partly because we can better control risks within the school. Outside, we face additional challenges, such as the presence of the public and access to unforeseen hazards.

Reflecting on my past experiences working with children in psychiatric in-patient services, those sectioned under the Mental Health Act, children in speech and language units, and taking adolescents excluded from school on trips abroad, I've realised that managing these risks is complex. Importantly, I'm not the one assuming the risk in these scenarios, nor am I responsible for the activities conducted inside or outside of your school. However, these experiences have provided insights into how to address such challenges.

My suggestions:

1. Identify the risks that you are aware of

These might be centered on the child themselves, how they interact with others, and how they interact with the environment around them.

Risk Assessment

Conduct a thorough risk assessment prior to the trip, identifying potential hazards and determining control measures. This includes medical needs, behavioral challenges, and environmental factors. Remember that risk assessments are dynamic and take in advice and ideas from others.

Personalised Risk Plans

Create individualised risk management plans for students with specific needs, detailing specific risks and tailored mitigation strategies. Think about those children with health needs, do they have an individual health care plan which details how they are to be included in off-site visits?

2. What strategies can you use to minimise those risks?

Are there things in your power to mitigate those risks? I would advocate capitalising on the work of McDonnell and G. Morewood around using the low arousal approach (McDonnell, 2021).

Staff Training

Ensure that all staff members are trained in managing the specific needs of the students attending the trip. This includes de-escalation techniques, first aid, and understanding individual care plans.

Buddy System

Implement a buddy system where students are paired with peers or staff members to ensure they are monitored and supported throughout the trip. We have also incorporated adults in the wider community that children have positive relationships with.

Safe Spaces

Identify or create safe spaces at the destination where students can retreat if they feel overwhelmed.

3. What resources are available within the wider community that may also be of support?

Community Partnerships

Engage with local community organisations that can provide additional support or resources during the trip. This could include local mental health services, charities, or educational organisations.

Volunteer Support

Involve trained volunteers who can provide additional supervision and support, especially for students with higher needs.

4. What alternatives are there for this child/children if they are unable to attend even with the mitigation of risks? That the risks outweigh the benefits even with mitigation.

Inclusive Planning

Develop alternative activities that align with the educational goals of the trip for students who are unable to attend. This ensures they still benefit from the experience in a different format.

Virtual Participation:

Use technology to include students who cannot physically attend. Live streams, video calls, or recorded sessions can help them participate virtually. Have a look at organisations such as No Isolation and their innovative use of the AV1 to support children in virtually attending.

5. What is the purpose of the educational visit/residential?

Are there alternatives that can be made available that would still allow the child to participate in the elements? For example, I have known a primary PRU working to hold a camping trip on the school grounds in order to try and mitigate risks and also support children who may find it too hard to travel further afield.

Purpose Alignment

Clearly define the educational objectives of the trip and ensure that all activities align with these goals. This helps in finding appropriate alternatives if necessary.

On-Site Alternatives

For students with particular high risk consider hosting similar activities on school grounds or in controlled environments where risks can be more easily managed. When I worked in psychiatric in-patient services we had the theme of 'bringing the outside in'. We worked with local providers such as Imperial War Museum, National portrait gallery and Tower of London to come to us when we couldn't come to them.

6. What can we learn from other sectors?

Special schools often deal with incredibly complex needs and may have developed effective strategies for similar situations.

Cross-Sector Collaboration

Talk to your peers in special schools, hospital schools and other alternative provisions along with other ,sectors to learn best practices and strategies for managing risks during trips.

Case Studies

Review case studies and reports from other schools or organisations that have successfully managed similar trips. This can provide insights and practical strategies.


1. Beck, U. (1992). *Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity*. SAGE Publications.

2.McDonnell, A. A., Waters, T., and Jones, D. (2002). Low arousal approaches in the management of challenging behaviours. In D. Allen (Ed) Ethical approaches to physical interventions: Responding to Challenging behaviours in people with Intellectual Disabilities. Plymouth: BILD, pp. 104 – 113.

3. McDonnell, A, A., McCreadie, M., Mills, R., Deveau, R., Anker, R., and Hayden, J. (2015). The role of physiological arousal in the management of challenging behaviours in individuals with autistic spectrum disorders. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 36, 311-322.

3. Morewood, G.D., McDonnell, A.A. & McDermott, R.A. (2021). ‘The LASER Approach.’ In New Trends and Promising Directions in Modern Education New Perspectives 2021, Ed. By M. Aydogmus. Meram: Palet Publications.

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