Nothing Ventured...Balancing risks andbenefits in the outdoorsBy Tim Gill
Published by the English Outdoor Council,an umbrella body of the principalrepresentative organisations in the field ofoutdoor education, in association with theOutdoor Education Advisers Panel, whichcomprises nominated representatives ofChief Officers of Local Authorities inEngland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The author and publishers would like to expresstheir grateful thanks to the Council for LearningOutside the Classroom and the OutdoorEducation Advisers Panel for supporting thepublication financially and to Paul Airey, MarcusBailie and Bill Taylor for acting as advisers to theauthor. The author would like to thank HilaryChittock and Jane Sheridan (Girlguiding UK),Simon Harding (Broomheath Plantation ForestSchool), Rowena Kenny (Forest Foundations),Charley May (Countryside Alliance), AnneNewcombe (Duke of Edinburgh Award) andKathleen Nichol (ENABLE Scotland) for their help.
Paul Airey, Diana Airey, Roberto Amoroso, BobBurson, Andy Carden, John Garrett, OwenHayward, Martin Hore, Andy Lavin, Karl Midlane,Ian Park, Dave Scourfield, Derek Stansfield, AndyStubbs, Bob Telfer, Mark Williams, RandallWilliams, Simon Willis, Adventure ActivityLicensing Service, Blue Peris Mountain Centre,Conway Centre, Nant Bwlch yr Haearn OutdoorEducation Centre, National Association ofHeadteachers, Low Bank Ground & HinningHouse team, Girlguiding UK, Association ofHeads of Outdoor Education Centres, OutdoorEducation Advisers Panel, Luke Lane PrimarySchool, New Greenhall School, Dee PointPrimary School, Trinity School, The Lakes Schooland Sports College, Thurston Outdoor EducationCentre, Ysgol Y Bont, Ynys Mn, West Cheshireand Chester Residential and Outdoor Service,Field Studies Council.
Copyright 2010 English Outdoor Council.Extracts from this document may be reproducedfor non-commercial or training purposes on thecondition that the source is acknowledged.
The next generation is tomorrows workforce. Helping young people to experience and handle risk is part of preparing them foradult life and the world of work. Young people can gain this experience from participating in challenging and exciting outdoorevents made possible by organisations prepared to adopt a common sense and proportionate approach that balancesbenefits and risk. I support this publication for the encouragement that it gives to everyone to adopt such an approach.
Judith Hackitt CBE, Chair, Health and Safety Executive
Developing confidence and risk judgement among young people is crucial if we are to structure a society that is not riskaverse. We need to accept that uncertainty is inherent in adventure, and this contains the possibility of adverse outcomes. Ayoung persons development should not be unduly stifled by the proper need to consider the worst consequence of risk butmust be balanced by its likelihood and indeed its benefits. Counter-intuitively, the key to challenging risk aversion among leadersand decision makers, is the application of balanced risk assessment. It is only by objective analysis that the benefits andopportunities of an activity can be weighed against their potential to go wrong. Indeed I feel that the terminology should bechanged to risk/benefit assessment. For the most part, as previous generations have learnt by experience, it is rare indeed thata well planned exercise leads to accident. It will instead be most likely to bring a sense of enterprise, fun and accomplishment,so vital for maturity, judgement and well-being, which must nearly always offset the residual and inevitable risk. Our mantra atRoSPA sums up this approach: We must try to make life as safe as necessary, not as safe as possible. This is why I amdelighted to support the work of the OEAP and Tim Gill with Nothing Ventured. We welcome the debate this will promote.
Tom Mullarkey OBE, Chief Executive, Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents
1IntroductionChildren and young people have a thirst for adventure andchallenge. This is evident from their earliest efforts to crawland walk, and can be seen throughout childhood. What ismore, the majority of children grow up to be competent,confident people who lead healthy, fulfilled lives.
Despite this, children and young peopleface growing adult anxiety over theirsafety, across many aspects of theireveryday lives. While we do not wantchildren to come to harm, our fears canlead us to underestimate their ownabilities and to overreact to extremelyrare tragedies.
This anxiety is a real barrier to thosewho wish to extend childrensopportunities for outdoor andadventurous activities and experiences.Fears about being blamed or sued, andpressure to carry out burdensomepaperwork, are leading many teachersand others working with children towater down the activities they provide,or even to forego visits and outdooractivities altogether.
A mindset that is solely focused onsafety does children and young peopleno favours. Far from keeping them safefrom harm, it can deny them the veryexperiences that help them to learn howto handle the challenges that life maythrow at them. There is an emergingconsensus that our society has becometoo focused on reducing or eliminatingrisk in childhood. And research suggeststhat overprotecting children can lead tolonger-term problems with mental healthand well-being.
Concern about the so-called cottonwool child has emerged from somesurprising quarters. In 2008 the Chair ofthe Health and Safety Executive (HSE),Judith Hackitt, gave a blunt warningabout the dangers, stating: If the nextgeneration enter the workplace havingbeen protected from all risk they will notbe so much risk averse as completelyrisk nave.
A 2009 Girlguiding UK research reportentitled Redefining Risk: Girls shoutout! found that over-anxious adults,exaggerated media coverage and theinconsistent application of rulessupposedly designed to keep girls safehave contributed to a climate of worryand misinformation. As a result, manygirls and young women are moreconcerned about statistically unlikelyscenarios than genuine risks to theirwell-being. The report argued thatgiven information and opportunities toexperience risk in a positiveenvironment, girls can develop theconfidence and skills to make the bestdecisions for themselves.
2Within education and childrens services,there is growing awareness of the valuefor children of learning experiences thattake place outside the classroom.
So when people say that children growup faster today than in previousgenerations, they are confusingappearance with reality. Children maylook like they are growing up faster they may be adopting adult styles andmannerisms, and engaging more withadult technology and culture. But whenit comes to everyday freedoms, thehorizons of childhood have for decadesbeen shrinking steadily. There are ofcourse exceptions; in a small minority ofcases children may have too muchfreedom, and their parents may exert toolittle control. Nonetheless the broadpicture of children spending ever moretime under the watchful eyes of adults is undeniable. The lives of some groups disabled children, for instance canbe especially restricted.
Hence the risk of harm cannot andshould not be eliminated entirely, if weare to give children the chance torespond to lifes challenges. What ismore, the fact that most children leadmore constrained lives at home meansthat extra efforts may need to be madeto give them a taste of freedom,responsibility and self-reliance.
Nothing Ventured... Balancing risks andbenefits in the outdoors aims toencourage readers to take a reasonableand proportionate approach to safety inoutdoor and adventurous settings, andto reassure them that managing risksshould not be a disincentive toorganising activities. It is not a how toguide. Rather, at a time when manywonder whether society has gone too farin trying to keep children safe from allpossible harm, Nothing Ventured... addsits voice to the call for a more balancedapproach: an approach that accepts thata degree of risk properly managed isnot only inevitable, but positivelydesirable.
One of the key benefits is theopportunity for children and youngpeople to learn about risks forthemselves, to experience a degree offreedom and to take more responsibilityfor their own safety and well-being asthey grow up. Many adults have vividchildhood memories of everydayfreedom, playing out of doors for hoursat a time in places that were excitingand adventurous, often well beyond theanxious gaze of parents or other adults.Children and young people growing uptoday do not have the sameopportunities for everyday adventure.Over the last twenty or thirty years ormore, their movements have becomemore restricted, their free time morecurtailed, and their behaviour moreclosely monitored by adults. Forexample, the home territory of theaverage eight year old child the areathat child is allowed to travel around ontheir own has shrunk by 90 per cent ina single generation. Today, manychildren of this age are not even allowedoutside their front doors alone.
The benefits of outdoor education arefar too important to forfeit, and by faroutweigh the risks of an accidentoccurring. If teachers follow recognizedsafety procedures and guidance theyhave nothing to fear from the law.
David Bell, Former Chief Inspector of Schools, 2004
3Some myths have emerged that act as areal barrier to a balanced approach torisk. These myths, summarised in thebox below, are explored in more detailthroughout this publication.
1 The number of school visits is in serious decline
2 Visits and outdoor activities are excessively dangerous
3 Teachers face a serious risk of prosecution
4 Litigation is rampant
5 The courts are systematically making bad j