Head's Blog - Life Before Risk Assessments

Posted on: 24/11/2017

As you all know, last June we welcomed a team of inspectors from ISI (The Independent Schools Inspectorate) who inspected us on the Regulatory Requirements for Independent Schools, much of which was under the ‘H & S’ umbrella; first aid, fire safety, risk assessments, recruitment,  premises and buildings. Not surprisingly we were found to be compliant in all areas and had no recommendations!   

On Tuesday I spent the day at CAP house in London, the headquarters for the Independent Schools Inspectorate, attending a day on ‘Health and Safety’. Along with others, I discussed all the regulatory requirements and updates to bring back to school. These help to ensure that all our policies, practices and procedures look after the safety of all pupils, staff and parents whilst at St. Helen’s College (1974 Health and Safety Act).

But at the course we took a trip down memory lane and reflected on the days before risk assessments and the numerous policies. Back in 1992 I recall a superb ski trip I led to France to Les Menuires with a group of students aged 8 -11 years old. Not one risk assessment was written, the pupils were waved off at the school gates in Wimbledon by their parents and were returned a week later, tired and fresh faced after five days of ski school.  As the group leader, not one risk assessment was required, no first aid was taken with us (the hotel provided that and the ski instructors took care of any needs, with one child carrying her inhaler throughout).  It was pre-mobile phones and social media thus no photos were sent back home; all I had to do was call the school to let them know we arrived in France safely.  

This was only one of the many school trips I have led over the years and, although we now have to fulfil our legal duties, H & S requirements should not be used as an excuse to stop children in taking part in exciting activities - well-managed risk is good for children. It engages their imagination, helps them learn and even teaches them to manage risks for themselves in the future. They won't understand about risk if they're wrapped in cotton wool.

As adults we are risk assessing as part of the course of our daily existence, we are observant, we look and listen. Sailors are some of the best risk assessors as they react to the seas and move their positions on the vessel to ensure a safe and smooth pathway through the waters. Risk itself won't damage children, but ill-managed and overprotective actions could! I was saddened  a few years ago to read on a risk assessment that stepping up into a minibus had been risk assessed! Really?! And the ice-creams at the interval on a school theatre trip had to be risk assessed...I was speechless and declined my ice-cream fearful of the risk of having ‘brain freeze’! (NB - this was not at SHC!)

I am delighted that we do not wrap our children up in cotton wool - our school environment is safe but the pupils are also taught to ‘risk assess’ for themselves.  I was delighted to see children playing conkers on 1924 day and pupils leap frogging on the grass!  What law was passed on the abolition of conkers?...

I urge you all to keep exposing your children to adventurous and exciting opportunities - of course with your very owned managed risk but let’s not over protect them - let us not be creating more victims of the much talked about ‘cotton wool’ or ‘ bubble-wrap’ generation!

Anyone for conkers?!

Mrs. Drummond