I spent a recent Saturday morning partly listening to Radio 4. The guests included a science teacher who, as part of an extra-curricular school physics club, discovered a secret Russian satellite launchpad in the 1960s; and an adventurer who decided to walk round the M25 – subsequently inspiring children and adults alike to take part in their own micro-adventures. Reflecting back on my own secondary school days I remembered as part of the outdoor activities club trying to escape from a sailing dinghy during the Great Storm of 1987, and a week on Exmoor studying A level geography.
These were both memorable, inspirational learning experiences, which led to a career as geography teacher and outdoor educator. However they were not chance occurrences; they involved the dedication, time and commitment of teachers, not only during these learning outside the classroom opportunities but in the planning and organising of a whole range of day, evening and residential visits for students.
Secondary schools across the country carry out a vast number of educational visits, from daily sports fixtures and local learning opportunities to residentials, exchange visits and multi-week expeditions across the world. Despite external pressures relating to core curriculum subjects, the tireless dedication of teachers to provide high quality outdoor education, offsite activities and adventurous experiences for young people means that these opportunities, which are sometimes life changing, continue to be an important part of school provision.
Supervision and support
It is common in schools for one person to be appointed to have oversight of all learning outside the classroom opportunities and to support teachers and staff in appropriate planning and management; this is the Educational Visits Coordinator (EVC). Taking on the role of EVC is a great way to help shape the direction of visits across the school, to contribute to the wider curriculum, support outcomes, raise achievement and lastly to help develop colleagues.
Many employer groups require an EVC to be appointed, and in secondary schools the head teacher is likely to delegate this responsibility to a member of staff. There are two parts to the role: first, the Health and Safety at Work Act and associated regulations require employers to have systems in place to manage risk, and appointing a competent EVC is an appropriate way of managing these aspects of educational visits. Secondly, it is important to ensure that a wide range of high quality outdoor education, offsite activities and adventurous activities are offered and delivered successfully.
Several years ago the DfE withdrew HASPEV, its comprehensive guidance on the safe management of educational visits. Current guidance is brief, but points to the Outdoor Education Advisers’ Panel, which produces and publishes ‘National guidance for the management of outdoor learning, off-site visits and learning outside the classroom’ (oeapng.info). This is a valuable, comprehensive and continually updated suite of documents covering all types of off-site visits and activities.
Training and experience
EVCs need to be specifically competent to carry out the role of support and challenge for teaching staff, and so need to have significant experience of practical off-site activity and visit leadership. In addition they must have status within the school that enables them to guide the working practices of their colleagues. It’s impossible to have leadership experience of every visit type offered, but a broad range of visits types and depth through experience is essential in order to be able to steer and advise colleagues. Monitoring is one way of expanding experience of different visit types.
EVCs should attend initial training, usually a one-day course; keep updated through revalidation as determined by their employer; and lastly be given sufficient time to fulfil the role. Training can be arranged through your local Outdoor Education Adviser (oeap.info) who will be able to offer initial EVC and revalidation training, as well as being a valuable source of advice and support more generally.
The role of an EVC is not purely administrative, its about supporting and challenging colleagues to ensure that all off-site visits organised by the school meet the requirements of the employer’s guidance, as well as those of school policy and procedures. EVCs should therefore be a focal point of off-site visit planning. They should keep appropriate records of all visits and ensure that there is sample monitoring of provision. The EVC will have a broad range of responsibilities, from ensuring there are appropriate visits procedures in place, being involved with or leading the approval of leaders, organising induction and training, ensuring administrative audit trails and finally, monitoring activities and reviewing systems.
Systems should be in place in order that visits are conducted safely, but they should not unduly hinder worthwhile experiences. Your local Outdoor Education Adviser (oeap.info) will be able to give you advice and guidance on proportional management of visits. It’s important to encourage visits for the extended learning opportunities they offer, the efforts of the teaching staff in running them, and the achievements of young people. Being an EVC is the key role in a school in promoting and managing learning outside the classroom opportunities – and as such, a genuinely exciting prospect for any educator to investigate.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Adrian Clarke is a Director of the Outdoor Education Advisers’ Panel and Learning Beyond the Classroom Adviser for North Yorkshire County Council.