SAFETY AND CARE
Discovery, adventure, exploring new places, creative arts, residential journeys. These are the life-enriching experiences we want for our visitors; and the benefits of those experiences to learning, life skills, and health are well documented and compelling. As with all activities, they come of course with a degree of risk. Managing that risk to realise the benefits, and caring for visitors, runs through everything that we do.
The centres aim to provide brilliant learning experiences in small, supportive settings where a strong sense of community can flourish; and where the residential and activity elements are equally important.
We use external standards to assess some of what we do, and to help us to continually aim to improve. These include:
The Learning Outside the Classroom (LOtC) Quality Badge, held by all four centres, is widely recognised as a standard of good practice and provision in out-of-school learning. Organisations holding this badge are usually approved by Local Authority advisers, and are not normally asked to provide copies of risk assessments.
The Association of Heads of Outdoor Education Centres (AHOEC) Gold Badge, held by the Frank Chapman Centre and Plas Gwynant, addresses similar standards to LOtC but more specifically from an outdoor education centre perspective, in line with the activities at those centres.
Plas Gwywant, because of the location and type of adventurous activities provided, is licenced by The Adventurous Activities Licencing Authority (AALA), part of the Health and Safety Executive, recognising a high standard of safety management.
Who is responsible?
All of our centres are owned and operated by Sandwell Council. As part of the Council’s Residential Education Service, Managers at the centres are responsible for:
working within the Council Health and Safety framework, ensuring that for example the management of premises, fire safety, security, hygiene, recruitment, and safeguarding are of a high standard.
ensuring that risk assessments for the site, people, and activities are comprehensive, up to date, and regularly reviewed and shared.
the recruitment, induction, training, observation, monitoring and performance of staff teams.
ensuring that nationally-recognised and external accreditation standards are met.
ensuring that first-aid and emergency procedures are in place.
ensuring that visiting group leaders and groups are involved, engaged and informed in active safety management.
ensuring that programmes and activities are suitable for the intended participants.
the maintenance of equipment to a high standard.
regularly reporting on Health and Safety to the SRES Manager, who has overall responsibility for the service.
How do we do it?
We have frameworks to ensure that we effectively manage Health and Safety at our centres:
We regularly and systematically inspect our sites to ensure that they are maintained to a high standard. Sandwell Council undertake regular inspections and maintenance of fire safety, water hygiene, emergency lighting, and electrical equipment. Where appropriate we use outside experts, for example tree surgeons, to advise on risk. All staff are encouraged to (and do!) report faults and improvements. Fire drills are undertaken with visitors at the start of their course. Site boundaries are well defined; all visitors are required to sign in and out. Centres are secured at night, and a member of centre staff sleeps at the centre on-call to provide immediate support if needed. As the centres are relatively small, there is often only one resident group on site, so schools can easily set their own standards of conduct, behaviour, and supervision.
Programmes are written with school or group leaders to best achieve specific outcomes, and take account of a range of factors including age, ability, and the time of year. All activities are risk assessed, and staff are skilled at active risk management as sessions progress. Centre staff work closely with school or group leaders to get to know participants and offer the right level of support. Two of our centres operate well-maintained minibuses, driven only by Sandwell Council approved drivers with recent medical checks. When groups go off-site, emergency procedures are in place to provide support if needed.
It's all about People
Everyone working in the centres is committed to creating a welcoming, caring, homely environment where visitors can flourish and learn through their residential and active experiences.
Frequent team meetings have H&S on the agenda; as well as written risk assessments, our experienced team are trained to actively manage risk.
We have a low staff turnover, with a high proportion of experienced staff. New appointees undergo thorough induction, training, and development; work within standard procedures; and all staff are observed and monitored by peers and managers. Training and development is ongoing.
Our work is mostly with children, and our teams – tutors, instructors, cooks, cleaners, everyone – as well as having the required technical skills, have soft skills to engage with, encourage, and support all participants. All staff have appropriate DBS clearance, are first-aid trained according to their role, and receive training including Safeguarding and Health and Safety. Some centres have trained Mental Health First Aiders; we aim to extend this to all our centres as soon as possible.
Visiting group leaders
Visiting group leaders are encouraged to be involved from the planning stage right through the course, and share information with centre staff to help to create appropriate programmes of activities. This includes taking account of any special needs, so that we can be as inclusive as possible and still operate within good safety parameters. Visiting group leaders are fully briefed on Health and Safety arrangements, residential routines and support at the start of the course; this includes their role in group supervision, and in the event of an emergency. They retain pastoral responsibility for those in their group, and generally experience all activities alongside children and young people. We consider this full engagement to be vital to achieving the best outcomes from the course.
All participants – especially children – are included and involved in safety management. A key part of our job is to encourage children and young (and sometimes not-so-young!) people to be adventurous: to try new things, broaden their horizons, explore – but to do so responsibly and with due care. Involving them in preparations for activities, discussions about risk and its management, and understanding of consequences, not only helps us to run our centres more safely – it’s key to their learning and education, and hopefully gives them more confidence and ability to be safer whilst living rich lives.
We hold Employers' Liability Insurance as required by LOtC Quality Badge, and Public Liability Insurance. You can download here.
Travel insurance is not included in our course fee. All groups are strongly encouraged to take out their own insurance.
Centre risk assessments do not cover transport to and from centres at the start and end of courses – these are the responsibility of visiting groups. Centre-specific safety overviews are available in the Group Leader Download pages.
Sandwell Residential Education Service is part of Sandwell Council's Children and Education Directorate. CLICK to view Sandwell Council's Support for Schools page.