Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Why We Cancelled Our School Residential

Written before the announcement that schools will close to children other than those of key workers. I have also just heard that the council made the call to close the residential centre this afternoon, too.

And what if a child begins to display symptoms of COVID-19 in the middle of the night? I asked myself as I added to my risk assessment for our very imminent residential visit. I’d already imagined a scenario in which we didn’t have enough staff or children on the morning we were due to leave to make the visit viable.

At first the night time scenario seemed like the worst thing that could happen. But then I began to consider what would happen if a child or member of staff began to show symptoms during the day.
A member of staff would have to contact me, wherever I was: down a cave, climbing a gully, trekking though the Dales. Mobile phone reception isn’t exactly forthcoming out in the wilds of North Yorkshire.

I’d have to contact the school – with the same complications as above - who would then need to contact parents. Then what would happen? Would we ask parents to come and collect? Or should I ask the member of staff who had brought a car to take them home? But what if it was more than one child? Should I actually be taking the school minibus so that I could return poorly children to school as quickly as possible?

And what if it was members of staff who came down with something? Would we be left with insufficient ratios to really safeguard the children on an outward bound adventure holiday? Would we call on other staff from school to join us? But what if school had begun to experience staff absences? I didn’t even consider what might have to happen if I – the one who had spent endless hours planning the visit – got ill. Did anyone else know enough about the ins and outs of the residential to be able to run it in my absence?

So many questions. No encouraging answers. In my mind I came to the conclusion that if a child or adult developed a dry cough or a high temperature, I’d have to get them home as quickly as possible, followed swiftly by the rest of the children. If one child had it, then how many others might have been infected during the stay?

The evening after completing a risk assessment which had led me to believe that actually, this residential was quite a risk – one I was not happy to shoulder the burden of, the government upped the ante with their advice. The words ‘non-essential’ were used several times. Although I totally believe in the importance of such an experience for children living in the city, I was pretty sure it fell into the ‘non-essential’ category.

Sir, is the residential still on? I was asked by eager children the following morning. They were aware of the fragility of the chance of it going ahead. I had to give disappointingly non-committal answers – I didn’t want to cause undue upset. I was asked the same question by parents on the gate – some of whom wanted to know when they should start packing, others expressed their own concerns.
But I had found myself at a standstill. I thought I should cancel the trip, but that would risk a financial loss to the school. Should I wait for the venue to cancel, or should I go ahead? I spoke to the deputy of another school who were going to the same venue as us during the same week – he was in the same position.

I came clean with the manager of the venue: we were worried about the risks but didn’t want to lose the money – he was honest with me: they too were waiting for further guidance on school closure as to whether they were going to cancel forthcoming visits. I broached the subject of a postponement and requested potential dates for next academic year for the same cohort of children.

The happy ending to this story is that our trust’s early start date in August meant that we could find an early September slot that no other school would be able to take. All being well, the children will get to experience the great outdoors together for three days, albeit in six months’ time. We are all disappointed that although schools remain open, we won’t get our residential this year but safety comes first. A decision which puts the health and wellbeing of children and staff first is the best decision.

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