Outdoor education guidance – the importance of the basics

Outdoor education guidance – the importance of the basics

: Adventure activities : Leadership roles : Management and supervision : Offsite visits : Outdoor learning : Policies : Residential visits : Risk management NewsBlog

How to make safety and success more likely

Good practice, in terms of what happens on any particular visit can be quite subjective, because it depends so much on the aims and the context.

“Good practice does not guarantee safety or success, but it does make them more likely.”

So begins the OEAP NG guidance document 4.3a Good practice basics, which is the perfect introduction to many of the most important principles of safe and meaningful learning outside the classroom. It’s particularly relevant for educational visit co-ordinators, heads and managers, visit leaders and assistant leaders and outdoor education advisers.

The Outdoor Education Advisers’ Panel (OEAP) produces National Guidance, which provides comprehensive support for the management of high-quality outdoor learning, educational visits and adventurous activities.

“Good practice is fundamentally about getting the right leaders doing the right activities with the right participants in the right places at the right times” says the document, which covers the following category example of good practice:-

  • Enabling Policies and Systems
  • Clear Aims
  • Competent and Effective Leadership
  • Thorough Planning
  • Proportionate Risk Management
  • Effective Supervision
  • Sound Selection and Use of Providers
  • Preparation for Emergencies
  • Monitoring
  • Review and Evaluation

“Risk management is not about eliminating risk altogether – it is about reducing it as low as reasonably practicable and deciding if this is acceptable so as to gain the benefits.”

Further useful reading

Recommended good practice basics next steps include:-

There are also links to many other supporting OEAP National Guidance documents.

An introduction to OEAP National Guidance »

Natural water bathing outdoor education National Guidance

Natural water bathing outdoor education National Guidance

: Management and supervision : Outdoor learning : Risk management NewsBlog

How a balanced approach will ensure that the risks are properly managed…

“Taking young people on a visit to the seaside or other open water in good weather, and then not allowing them to at least paddle or cool off in the water if it is safe to do so, is unreasonable and inappropriately risk-averse.”

So states the National Guidance document 7.1o Natural Water Bathing, which importantly adds that a balanced approach will ensure that the risks are properly managed so that young people are given these opportunities.

This particularly hot summer has already lead to a number of unfortunate incidents regarding young people getting into misfortune in rivers, lakes and the sea. Swimming and paddling in natural waters present real risks: around 400 people drown every year in the UK, with the overwhelming number of incidents being with peer-led unsupervised sessions.

The Outdoor Education Advisers’ Panel (OEAP) produces National Guidance, which provides comprehensive support for the management of high-quality outdoor learning, educational visits and adventurous activities.

“The most effective way to reduce the risk of young people drowning is to teach them to swim and to give them the skills to make sound judgements about playing in and around natural waters.”

Natural Water Bathing should always be a robustly structured activity. This may be by reference to a pre-planned risk assessment and corresponding operating procedure, or it may be by making a more spontaneous plan, either of which should be reinforced by careful observation and judgement at the time. As with any activity, the leader must be absolutely clear that participants are not exposed to any significant risks. The pleas of participants to be allowed to bathe (e.g., because it is hot weather) must never be allowed to over-ride the leader’s judgement of the situation.

As with other activities, planning should consider the SAGE variables – each of which is dealt with in detail in the guidance document:

  • Staff
  • Activity
  • Group
  • Environment.

Guidance for swimming pools and safety at water margins

7.1x Swimming pools »

This document provides guidance for using swimming pools during off-site visits. It does not supersede any policy or guidance about swimming pools that your employer may have.

7.2i Group Safety at Water Margins »

This document is about activities that take place near the water or just in it, such as: walking along a riverbank or seashore; cycling along a canal towpath; field studies near water, collecting samples from ponds and streams; beachcombing; paddling or walking in shallow water.

The download also contains direct links a variety of other supporting OEAP National Guidance documents.


Download OEAP National Guidance document 7.1o Natural Water Bathing »

An introduction to OEAP National Guidance »

An employer’s introduction to learning outside the classroom guidance

An employer’s introduction to learning outside the classroom guidance

: Educational visits : Leadership roles : Legal considerations : Management and supervision : Offsite visits : Outdoor learning : Overseas visits : Residential visits : Risk management Essential NewsBlog

Help for you, your role and responsibilities

An introduction for employers whose staff lead outdoor learning, off-site visits or learning outside the classroom activities.

The Outdoor Education Advisers’ Panel (OEAP) produces National Guidance, which provides comprehensive support for the management of high-quality outdoor learning, educational visits and adventurous activities.

One useful and efficient way for an employer to access relevant information is provided by the ability to search documents by role: National Guidance for employers is just one such category that can be found within OEAP National Guidance (NG).

The documents outlined below give essential guidance to you for your role and responsibilities – and will help you to implement appropriate systems.

Categories of Guidance for employers

Relevant Guidance for employers occurs in the following three categories of NG:

  • Category 1 – Basic essentials
  • Category 3 – Legal framework and employer systems
  • Category 4 – Good practice.

The document 3.1a Requirements and Recommendations for Employers is particularly helpful for people in senior or controlling positions in organisations that employ staff who provide outdoor learning and off-site visits. Roles that this is pertinent to include:-

  • Chief Executive
  • Chair
  • Company Secretary
  • Director
  • Councillor
  • Trustee
  • Governor
  • Proprietor
  • Owner.

“Employers are legally responsible for the activities that take place in their establishments. This includes a common law duty of care towards their employees and participants in the activities, and duties under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act (1974) (HSWA) and other legislation.”

In addition to their responsibilities as an employer, local authorities also have a duty under the Children Act (2004) to ensure that there are clear and effective arrangements to protect from harm all children and young people in their area.

This means that, even though they are not responsible under the HSWA for health and safety in establishments for which they are not the employer (such as independent schools and academies), they do have an overarching responsibility to ensure that all establishments have suitable and sufficient arrangements in place for managing health and safety and child protection, including during outdoor learning and off-site visits.

The OEAP NG guidance document 3.2a Underpinning Legal Framework and Duty of Care will also prove to be most helpful.

There are also links to many other supporting OEAP National Guidance documents.

An introduction to OEAP National Guidance »

Guidance: outdoor education group safety at the water’s edge

Guidance: outdoor education group safety at the water’s edge

: Educational visits : Management and supervision : Offsite visits : Outdoor learning : Risk management NewsBlog

Even “benign” activities can present serious hazards which require careful management…

Water margins provide wonderful opportunities for learning, play, enjoyment and challenge. They can nonetheless present significant hazards which require careful management – even during the most benign activities, according to the National Guidance document 7.2i Group Safety at Water Margins.

The Outdoor Education Advisers’ Panel (OEAP) produces National Guidance, which provides comprehensive support for the management of high-quality outdoor learning, educational visits and adventurous activities.

This particular guidance document is about activities that take place near the water or just in it, such as: walking along a riverbank or seashore; cycling along a canal towpath; field studies near water, collecting samples from ponds and streams; beachcombing; paddling or walking in shallow water.

It does not cover swimming, surfing or watersports activities such as the use of water-going craft.

Learning to swim – the ideal start

“The best way to help young people to be safe around water is to teach them to swim, and for them to learn (through guided and supervised first-hand experience) to identify water hazards and safe practices near them.”

Whatever your reason for going, having a clear purpose and plan will help your group to get the most from the activity – and will help to maintain safety.

It is good practice to make a pre-visit to the site before you go there with a group. Having a competent person with you on a pre-visit may help you to identify hazards and assist you if you get into difficulty.

The guidance also covers the following topics:-

  • Risk management at the water margins
    • Water quality
    • Tides and currents
    • Quicksand
    • Jellyfish and other sea creatures
    • The surroundings
    • Weather
  • Preparation
  • Plan B
  • Leader competence
  • Group management and supervision.

The download also contains direct links a variety of other supporting OEAP National Guidance documents.


Download OEAP National Guidance document Ratios and Effective Supervision »

An introduction to OEAP National Guidance »

Outdoor education guidance for parents and carers

Outdoor education guidance for parents and carers

: Educational visits : Legal considerations : Management and supervision : Offsite visits : Outdoor learning : Parents and carers : Residential visits Essential NewsBlog

Helping your child to participate in learning outside the classroom

The ideal stating point for finding out how you can safely contribute

The Outdoor Education Advisers’ Panel (OEAP) produces National Guidance, which provides comprehensive support for the management of high-quality outdoor learning, educational visits and adventurous activities.

One useful and efficient way to access relevant information is enabled by the ability to search documents by role: National Guidance for parents (parents, legal guardians and others who have parental responsibility for a participant) is one such category that can be found within OEAP National Guidance (NG).

NG also helps with parents who may have more than one role within the supervision arrangements for the visit: care must be taken to ensure that the role of parent does not conflict with this other role.

Categories of Guidance for parents

Relevant Guidance for parents occurs in the following three categories of NG:

  • Category 1 – Basic essentials
  • Category 3 – Legal framework and employer systems
  • Category 4 – Good practice.

Not surprisingly, it is generally recommended that the ideal starting point is Basic essentials. Document 1a Glossary and Definitions deals with an overview of terms and definitions that will prove to be a useful reference. It states, for example, that an “Adventure Activity” is

“An Activity which is exciting and challenging and which involves significant inherent risk of harm, without which the activity would lose much of its value, or which takes place in a remote or hazardous location.”

Another significant NG document is the Legal framework and employer systems download 3.4n Guidance for Parents, which includes information on

  • Consent
  • What you can expect
  • Looked-after children
  • Helping with a Visit*.

*This category provides useful information for those parents wishing to take an active part in an activity:-

“Sometimes schools, colleges, youth groups and other establishments ask parents to give practical help during a visit. If you are considering helping with a visit, please see OEAP National Guidance document 3.4m Helper”.

There are also links to many other supporting OEAP National Guidance documents.

An introduction to OEAP National Guidance »

Adventure activity supervision – an appropriate qualifications guide

Adventure activity supervision – an appropriate qualifications guide

: Educational visits : Leadership roles : Management and supervision : Offsite visits : Overseas visits : Risk management NewsBlog

The leading or advising competence verification process

Recently updated, the OEAP National Guidance document 6h FAQ: Adventure Activity Qualifications now includes links to a range of National Governing Body guidance.

The Outdoor Education Advisers’ Panel (OEAP) produces National Guidance, which provides comprehensive support for the management of high-quality outdoor learning, educational visits and adventurous activities.

The changes make this particular document an ideal point of reference for anyone in the early stages of planning for activities including cycling, mountain training and canoeing.

In short, it deals with the qualifications that are appropriate for leading or advising on adventure activity.

The importance of the verification process

Anyone leading an adventure activity should have their competence confirmed by a robust verification process, such as:

  • holding a leadership/coaching award at an appropriate level;
  • being ‘signed off’ by a suitably qualified technical adviser appointed by the employer, based upon relevant qualifications, training and/or experience.

Awarding bodies referred to in the guidance include:-

  • British Cycling
  • The British Caving Association
  • British Canoeing
  • The Countryside Leader Award
  • Sports Leaders
  • Mountain Training.

The download also contains direct links a variety of other supporting OEAP National Guidance documents.

An introduction to OEAP National Guidance »

Why “Ratios and Effective Supervision” is one of the most popular outdoor education guidance documents

Why “Ratios and Effective Supervision” is one of the most popular outdoor education guidance documents

: Educational visits : Leadership roles : Legal considerations : Offsite visits : Outdoor learning : Overseas visits : Policies : Residential visits : Risk management Essential NewsBlog

It’s been downloaded over 48,000 times…

Planning, preparation and vigilance of competent leaders is key

“Establishments must ensure that the staffing of visits enables leaders to supervise young people effectively” says the National Guidance document Ratios and Effective Supervision.

The Outdoor Education Advisers’ Panel (OEAP) produces National Guidance, which provides comprehensive support for the management of high-quality outdoor learning, educational visits and adventurous activities.

This significant document covers decisions that will need to be made with regards to the staffing and supervision of learning outside the classroom related activities. Consideration should be given to:-

  • The nature and duration of the visit and the planned activities
  • The location and environment in which the activity is to take place
  • The nature of the group, including the number of young people and their age, level of development, sex, ability and needs (behavioural, medical, emotional and educational)
  • Staff competence
  • The consequence of a member of staff being indisposed, particularly where they
    will be the sole leader with a group for any significant time.

“Staffing ratios are a risk management issue and should be determined through the process of risk assessment. It is not possible to set down definitive staff/participant ratios for a particular age group or activity.”

“Staffing, especially for visits to remote locations or overseas, should take into account how the group will be supervised effectively given the possibility of a leader becoming indisposed or having to leave the group, for example to accompany a sick child to hospital”, advises the document.

The download also contains direct links a variety of other supporting OEAP National Guidance documents.

An introduction to OEAP National Guidance »

Your outdoor education guidance documents – are they up-to-date?

Your outdoor education guidance documents – are they up-to-date?

: Educational visits : Leadership roles : Management and supervision : Offsite visits : Outdoor learning : Overseas visits : Residential visits : Risk management NewsBlog

OEAP National Guidance is updated frequently – here’s an index of changes

The Outdoor Education Advisers’ Panel (OEAP) is the professional association for outdoor education advisers and educational visits advisers.

The OEAP is also the body that has also produced National Guidance – which is the go-to collection of outdoor education and learning outside the classroom expertise. And the good news is that it’s available to all – free of charge.

How to check if your versions are current

Many teachers, heads, educational visits coordinators, local authority officers, employers and others download relevant documentation for use from time to time. But of course, things change. Regulations are amended.

The PDF document Table of Amendments, produced in May, lists dates and changes of National Guidance documents.

To make things really easy, each document name is linked directly to the relevant download on the OEAP website, making it a really useful reference.

OEAP NG Table of Amendments »


An introduction to OEAP National Guidance »

Weather and group safety – planning an outdoor activity

Weather and group safety – planning an outdoor activity

: Educational visits : Leadership roles : Offsite visits : Outdoor learning : Overseas visits : Risk management NewsBlog

Planning, preparation and vigilance of competent leaders is key

“Experiencing different kinds of weather at all seasons of the year can be exhilarating and provides opportunities to learn about and appreciate the cycles and forces of nature” states the National Guidance document 7.2j Weather and Group Safety

The Outdoor Education Advisers’ Panel (OEAP) has recently updated its guidance, which provides crucial information for organisers and providers of outdoor activities where by “being prepared to cope with the weather, young people can obtain the health and other benefits of getting outdoors more often.”

“Even if a visit does not involve outdoor activities, you should be aware of any potential impact of the weather on travel plans.”

The weather forecast of course is the first port of call as the event draws near. These, including specialist ones for mountain and marine environments, are readily available and generally very accurate.

Study the forecast in detail

It is important to study a forecast carefully and to interpret it for your planned visit says the guidance.

“For example, a quick glance at a weather app may show a picture depicting sunny periods for the day. A closer look may show that there is actually a significant chance of a shower at times.”

Weather and Group Safety covers a number of key topics including:-

  • Weather Forecasts
  • Cancellation and Insurance
  • Weather Hazards
    • Sun
    • Heat
    • Rain
    • Cold and Wet*
    • Wind
    • Fog
    • Lightning.

The “Cold and Wet” section for example states

*”Water activities and activities in caves, mountains, moorland, and other exposed areas can put participants particularly at risk of hypothermia. Leaders of these activities should be specifically trained in the prevention, recognition and treatment of hypothermia.”

The download also contains direct links a variety of other supporting OEAP National Guidance documents.


Download OEAP National Guidance document 4.2b Residentials »

An introduction to OEAP National Guidance »

Which type of outdoor education guidance do you require?

Which type of outdoor education guidance do you require?

: Educational visits : Leadership roles : Management and supervision : Offsite visits : Outdoor learning : Overseas visits : Residential visits : Risk management NewsBlog

Finding the right information for you, your role and your responsibilities

The Outdoor Education Advisers’ Panel‘s (OEAP) National Guidance comprises of a set of documents providing information and guidance for the management of high-quality outdoor learning, educational visits and adventurous activities.

You can browse for relevant information with a text search, by one of eight topics, or, if you are new to National Guidance, it may be helpful for you to search by your role.

Identify your role

Visit Leader »
Are you leading outdoor learning, off-site visits, and/or learning outside the classroom?

Assistant Leader »
Are you an assistant leader for outdoor learning, off-site visits, and/or learning outside the classroom?

Parents » 
Documents for Parents to read. Browse documents that provide guidance about your role in supporting your child to participate in a visit. If you also have a role in helping with a visit, for example as an Assistant Leader, please read the documents for that role too.

Educational Visits Coordinator (EVC) »

Head / Manager » 
Are you responsible for staff who lead outdoor learning, off site visits or learning outside the classroom?

Governors, Trustees and Directors » 
Are you a Board member, such as a school governor, charity trustee or company director?

Employer » 
Are you an Employer? Do your staff lead outdoor learning, off-site visits or learning outside the classroom?

Outdoor Education Adviser » 
Are you responsible for providing advice, guidance, support or approval for outdoor learning, off site visits or learning outside the classroom?

Local Authority Officer » 
Browse documents that set out the particular responsibilities of a Local Authority, as well as its responsibilities as an Employer. These documents are aimed at Directors of Children’s Services (and equivalent roles), Heads of Service, and local authority staff who have involvement with children and young people, such as through social services, youth services, education services etc.

An introduction to OEAP National Guidance »