How to make school excursions safe – and fun – for everyone

ParentPaperwork’s Business Development Manager, Sam Sapuppo – a 30-year school veteran in roles such as Deputy Head, Director of Boarding and Director of Community Relations – explains the workings of our Activity Care Module in a practical school context…

Excursions, activities and field trips are an important part of the academic and cultural life of every school. That’s undeniable.

However, every one of us who has been in the position of organising an excursion or an activity understands that it is a multifaceted, logistical, legal compliance and communications management juggling act. Excursions demand an enormous amount of time from our teaching and administration staff – and that is just the paperwork.

Not much fun (for something that really should be enjoyable).

When push comes to shove, many of us will admit we have primarily used ‘whatever we did last year’ or ‘what the person before us in the role did’ to organise a school activity. We are secretly aware there must be a SIMPLER, SMARTER, BETTER way of organising excursions and activities but time rarely allows us to think this through.

I’m pleased to report ParentPaperwork’s Activity Care Module is the SIMPLER, SMARTER, BETTER way I always dreamed of as a School Deputy Head.

The planning of school excursions and activities generally involves four pre-activity steps that are of equal importance in safeguarding the integrity of the activity, and ensuring all legal and school requirements are fulfilled. They are:

1. Book and justify the educational purpose of the activity, as well as negotiate an appropriate date (otherwise known as the Event Booking form);
2. Risk assessment and ‘the multi-page tome’ (Risk Assessment form);
3. Staffing and resource application and approvals (Staff and Resource Booking form); and
4. Permission letter to parents (Excursion and Activity Permission form).

As every good educationalist knows, reflection and review are integral components in the learning cycle so there are also post-activity steps that need to be accommodated. Accordingly, ParentPaperwork’s Activity Care Module enables schools to send reflection/survey forms to students, staff and parents (Excursion/Activity Reflection Survey form) on the completion of the activity.

Not only are these forms digitised through the ParentPaperwork suite but so is the process, which enables workflow and communication to be automated. We estimate 90% of the administration task surrounding an excursion or activity is removed by using our Activity Care Module. For example, a pre-filled digital form delivered on the personal device of the parent/student/staff has proven to be a real winner.

Building on the best practice for which ParentPaperwork has become known, we have designed this Activity Care Module with the following principle in mind: The student experience is of primary importance.

So how do we support this?

Working with hundreds of schools in our ParentPaperwork Community, we developed the Activity Care Module to be an essential tool from the start to finish of an activity and in the event of an emergency.

Here is what makes it SIMPLER, SMARTER, BETTER:

  • Automated pre-activity emails provide key care information (photographs, emergency contacts/medical/dietary notes, etc.) about students participating in an activity or excursion;
  • Student care information is available in both an easy offline and online format, highlighting and colour-coding students at high risk;
  • Notes can be added to all ParentPaperwork forms to inform and keep staff up-to-date as events unfold or alerting them to key considerations that need to be kept front of mind;
  • Easy viewing of a child’s existing care information by parents (data read from your student management system) via your parent portal (such as Schoolbox, SEQTA or custom integration to your portal);
  • Student attendance can be recorded for an activity or excursion via a new mobile-specific page;
  • Privacy, security and accountability is assured via access and audit controls, and logs;

With the Activity Care Module, ParentPaperwork completely closes the loop in terms of the forms administration of any activity. This effectively frees staff to concentrate on the excursion and/or activity itself, while reassuring parents that the school is in control of its activities, and their child is safe to experience and learn.

Yes, I can put my hand on my heart and say I wished I had the option of ParentPaperwork’s Activity Care Module when I was helping lead a school. At the very least, I get the satisfaction of offering it to you.

Read here for more information about the functionality of ParentPaperwork’s Activity Care Module. Or contact us at info@parentpaperwork.com

Loopy & downright loony school forms

Those of us with school-age children will appreciate how much of a hassle the seemingly endless stream of permission forms and slips can be during the school year. Excursions and field trips, free-dress days, swimming carnivals, sports meets and anything else that may be even the tiniest bit out of the ordinary will usually call on a guardian’s signature to give the OK.

Those on the other end of the stick – the teachers – will realise, although this can sometimes be an annoyance to already time-poor parents, the problems that can crop up from not properly informing them of school activities can cause major headaches and even legal trouble down the track.

When it comes down to it, most parents want to know what’s happening with their child during the hours they’re not around. Informed consent is important for any activity that might put your child in an unfamiliar situation or those which parents may want to know about.

And, although some permission forms have caused concern for parents, like one that asked for blanket permission to allow a school to publish photos of their child online, most are routine and innocuous, acting only to inform parents and get their seal of approval.

However, occasionally schools can miss the mark. A permission slip for parents of sixth graders in the US that asked consent for their child to eat a single Oreo biscuit stirred up an epic online battle that divided people into camps of the overprotective versus the free-range. Like all online debates, there were no winners, and we’re not sure how many kids were denied their chocolatey treat.

Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 1.09.49 pm

Even a form which is borne from good intentions can come across as loony. Here are some of our recent favourites:

As mad as some of these may seem, let’s spare a thought for the poor teachers who have been pushed so far they thought their crazy form was necessary. That’s right, if they’re wanting the OK to go ahead and screen a kids movie to kids, offer a cookie in class or let your child get in touch with nature, there’s a good chance they’re doing so because someone complained about it in the past!

We’ve even seen how poorly communicated information can threaten school excursions and why these kinds of activities are important, especially for students, so let’s not let a few loony forms ruin everyone’s fun.

ParentPaperwork takes the craziness out of administering permission slips. Click here for more information.

What Jack Black Teaches Us About Field Trips

In Jack Black’s 2003 comedy, School of Rock, the rotund funny man plays Dewey Finn, a washed-out rocker and perpetual loser who masquerades as a teacher to get himself out of financial trouble before (predictably) falling in love with the students and (his version) of the job.

As far-fetched as this movie premise might be – not to mention the numerous legalities ignored in the name of storytelling – there is a surprising truth at the heart of this tale.

Black’s unconventional teaching style and love of music sees him trying desperately to get his students out in the real world to experience concerts and music competitions, only to be thwarted at every turn with red tape by an over-cautious headmistress and over-worried parents. Although the film turns each group into extreme caricatures of their real-life equivalents (e.g. all of the parents drive Volvos), their concerns over the safety of the children, the liabilities of the school and the difficulties of organising an excursion or field trip really hits the nail on the head.

Our recent post, Poorly Communicated Student Information Threatens School Excursions, highlighted an upheaval in Israel where students went on strike over high school teachers banning school trips in an attempt to absolve staff of any criminal culpability for students who may get injured while on the excursion.

There is always going to be a risk in taking kids off campus but transparency by the school as to what the trip entails and any inherent dangers, along with informed consent by the parents, should be enough to allow the students an experience that cannot be matched in a classroom.

Field trips offer an educational experience that engages students like nothing else. Studies have shown the benefits that come with immersing students in hands-on learning, which includes greater retention of knowledge, as well as significant benefits beyond just education.

A recent study by professors at the University of Arkansas looked at the impact of school trips to the newly opened Crystal Bridges Museum of Modern Art.

“We found that students who attended a school tour at Crystal Bridges demonstrated stronger critical thinking skills, displayed higher levels of tolerance, had more historical empathy and developed a taste for being a cultural consumer in the future,” said Jay Greene, one of the researchers.

“We also found that these benefits were much larger, in general, for students from rural areas or high-poverty schools, as well as minority students.”

The central storyline of School of Rock has the headmistress citing safety issues and notifying parents as the two main problems in planning the trips at short notice with a new teacher at the helm. There is never any question about the validity or educational benefit in going on field trips. Instead, the focus remains on liability, and on the troubles associated with poor communication with parents; problems that many teachers face in real life.

Of course, the film being fictional, Jack Black gets his way in the end (although through methods we wouldn’t necessarily recommend) and the children are able to grow, learn and have their parents witness their newfound maturity and talent.

Jack Black remains an unlikely teacher but someone to learn from nonetheless.

To see how ParentPaperwork can assist with making field trips easier to organise, click here.