School camps and school excursions can be a rich and rewarding experience for all. For students, camps can bring the curriculum alive, and help establish lifelong skills through new activities, experiences and challenges.
For teachers, school camps and school excursions offer a welcome break from the daily routine of the classroom. It’s a chance to re-connect with students, inspire and be inspired.
Importantly, it’s also a chance to relax, revive and have a bit of fun.
But there is also a serious side to school camps and school excursions. Stringent occupational health, safety and welfare requirements apply to school camps, and teachers, parents and caregivers need to prepare for all manner of potential situations to cover themselves and their school.
So how do you get the best from your camp while ensuring the safety and wellbeing of students, parents and teachers alike?
The answer is good preparation - before, during and after your camp or excursion - and adhering to guidelines set down by education and health authorities in each state and territory.
By planning ahead and taking into account issues such where you are headed, the expected weather forecast, the size and skill level of your group (and those leading the group), and the individual requirements of special needs students, everyone can relax and get the most from their experience.
SUCCESSFUL SCHOOL CAMPS
The Do’s and Don’t
The following Do’s and Don’ts will set you on your way to a safe and successful camp:
• Ensure that your camp or excursion is well planned. This means knowing what time you’re arriving at camp, what route you’ll take to get there, meal arrangements, and a detailed itinerary for each day at camp.
• Ensure that there are sufficient teachers to maintain adequate control of your camp or excursion. Remember: while parents and caregivers will frequently volunteer to assist, teachers retain the ultimate responsibility for supervision. Ensure that all parents, caregivers and volunteers are properly briefed on all safety and behaviour measures prior to the excursion and that they complete all appropriate paperwork (including paperwork around Working with Children).
• Conduct a safety assessment of the area and site of your camp before you go in order to ensure that the camp is conducted safely and will satisfy occupational health, safety and welfare requirements. The assessment should take into account: the terrain and other local conditions; facilities available; communication systems; hygiene; anticipated weather conditions; likely problems or hazards, (e.g. old mine shafts and quarries, hazardous water, snakes, flash floods, mudslides, rock falls, cliff collapse etc); equipment required for the safety and comfort of all participants; access and safety for any participants who are disabled; and the appropriateness of activities and equipment required to achieve planned student learning outcomes.
• Give students a camp checklist that includes sun cream, hats and other protection measures they may require on camp.
• Remember that one of the key aims of participating in activities such as camps and excursions is to encourage students/children to develop responsible attitudes. Guided by their age and maturity, try to involve them in as many facets of planning as possible, ranging from food and clothing requirements to strategies for minimising environmental impact.
• Remember to have fun! If you plan your camp well and follow the rules everyone can relax and have fun.
• Ignore poor student behaviour on excursions and camps. Remember that students are representatives of your school and community. Prior to excursions, remind students of expected standards of behaviour and the application of the school’s discipline code.
• Neglect your contingency plan. Even the best-laid plans can go awry. Ensure you have strategies in place to cope with minor and major injury, illness or other crises. While plans will vary in detail according to the complexity of the crisis, the location and the mix of leadership team members and students/children, they MUST cover the following: response if a participant is lost, injured or becomes ill; means of communicating with the school contact person; first aid provisions; provision of health and personal care support to students with individual needs; nearest suitable transport; the distance and potential time the party will be from medical help and the best method of obtaining it; telephone numbers and locations of emergency services and the fastest way of contacting them; and emergency evacuation plans covering storm, flood, fire, accident etc.
• Forget that a signed consent form is a legal document. It must be accompanied by sufficient information to indicate that the parent or adult student is aware of the nature of the activity and gives consent for the student/child to participate.
• If it can be avoided, don’t plan camps or excursions in high bushfire danger areas during summer, particularly in the period December-March. If camps are conducted during this time, remember that certain procedures must be followed. For example, in advance of the camp: inform the nearest Country Fire Service (CFS) or Metropolitan Fire Service (MFS) station of the dates the group will be in the area; discuss the itinerary with local schools or authorities and become familiar with their bushfire contingency plans; identify nearby safe refuge locations, including those at the campsite; be aware of the needs of those participants for whom a fire can precipitate special first aid needs, e.g. smoke acting as an asthma trigger; inform parents of the procedures the school will adopt on a day of extreme fire danger or in the event of a fire. (This should be done when parental consent is sought for the proposed camp or excursion.)
• Forget that staff leading school excursions are required to report incidents occurring while on camp or excursion. In broad, such incidents are those which cause disruption to the excursion; create danger or risk that could significantly affect individuals participating in the excursion; impact on the effective operation of the excursion; attract negative media attention or a negative public profile for the school; or is an incident which WorkCover describes as a ‘serious incident’ which must be reported by law.
Preparing For School Camp
A guide for schools
All states and territories in Australia have guidelines and procedures covering school camps and excursions. Many of the tips in this article were sourced from these guides. For further information contact:
The Camps and Excursions Guidelines for Schools and Preschools is an excellent resource for schools. The Guidelines are available as a PDF document at the Department of Education and Children’s Services (DECS) website at