Last reviewed 27 April 2016

Outings and outdoor play are an important part of early years provision. Children should be given opportunities to explore new places and to experience the wider world beyond the classroom. However, says Martin Hodgson, it is vital that any outings are always properly planned, that risks are assessed and controlled, and that children have the right level of supervision to ensure their safety.

Statutory guidance

In England, the Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage, published in March 2014, applies.

Requirement 3.65 states that:

  • children must be kept safe while on outings

  • providers must assess the risks or hazards which may arise for the children, and must identify the steps to be taken to remove, minimise and manage those risks and hazards

  • the assessment must include consideration of adult-to-child ratios.

Requirement 3.66 states that vehicles in which children are being transported, and the driver of those vehicles, must be adequately insured.

Requirement 3.25 states that one person who has a current paediatric first aid certificate must accompany children on outings.

Requirement 3.58 states that outdoor activities should be planned on a daily basis where children do not have access to an outdoor play area.

In Scotland, the National Care Standards for Early Education and Childcare apply. Advice on outdoor learning can be found on the Education Scotland website. Going Out There — Scottish Framework for Safe Practice in Off-site Visits provides further guidance.

In Wales the National Minimum Standards for Regulated Child Care apply.

Policies

All early years providers should have a clear policy on outings. The policy should specify who is responsible for approving that an outing should go ahead, who is responsible for the risk assessment of outings, and who is responsible for safety arrangements.

Local authority maintained services should comply with the policies that operate in their area.

Policies should be fully inclusive and ensure that children are not prevented from going on outings because of medical needs or disability, etc.

Risk assessment

A suitable and sufficient risk assessment needs to be completed whenever an outing is planned that is not part of routine activities. Hazards should be identified and sensible measures put in place to reduce risks to a minimum. Risk assessments do not necessarily need to be in writing, but in most cases this is considered good practice.

A senior person from the service should be responsible for reviewing the risk assessment and approving that an outing should go ahead.

Parental permission

Permission from parents or guardians should be sought for all outings. Permission for routine outings can be granted on a standard generic form when a child first starts at a provision. However, it is good practice to ask specific parental permission for each non-routine outing, particularly if it is an all-day outing, eg to a farm.

Parents should be given full details of the proposed outing, including transport arrangements, cost, additional clothing that may be required, and the learning that children will gain from the experience.

Children who are not granted parental permission to attend an outing should be supported to ensure they do not feel excluded.

Supervision ratios

Early years providers must ensure that children are adequately supervised when on an outing and that their needs are met, including children with disabilities and special needs. Children outside of their normal environment may need additional supervision and support and therefore an increase in usual staff to child ratios is often advisable.

Children who do not normally attend a provider on the day of an outing can also be invited. However consideration must be given to ratios of staff and how the possible additional number of children will be managed.

The involvement of parents and volunteers in outings should be welcomed. However, their abilities should not be overestimated for supervision purposes and they should not be left in sole charge of children. Parents and volunteers should be adequately briefed in the safety arrangements for the trip and relevant safeguarding policies applied. Appropriate disclosure checks should be in place.

In Wales, Requirement 15.4 of the National Minimum Standards states that minimum staffing levels should be maintained during outings and, according to circumstances, it may be necessary to exceed them.

Safety arrangements

Each outing should have a group leader who should ensure that they have with them:

  • a first-aid kit

  • a fully charged mobile phone pre-set with emergency contact numbers

  • details of any medical conditions/allergies of any of the children

  • medication for any of the children (epi-pens, inhalers, etc.)

  • other items likely to be needed, such as nappies, nappy sacks, baby wipes and sun cream.

At least one member of staff on the outing should have a current paediatric first-aid qualification.

The outings leader should have a list of the children on the trip, including contact telephone numbers for parents.

Supervision arrangements should be informed by the risk assessment. They should be discussed and agreed at the start of the outing. Staff and volunteers should know their roles and know what to do in the event of a child going missing, having an accident or becoming ill. Children may be given wristbands with the contact details of the service.

Appropriate insurance cover should be in place.

Farm visits

Visits to open farms are popular in the spring and summer when the weather improves. Such outings are fun for children and can be powerful learning opportunities, allowing them to get close to animals and to nature in a safe setting.

However, there are hazards in such visits. The Health and Safety Executive warns of the dangers of outbreaks of disease and gastrointestinal illness associated with contact with farm animals if sensible precautions are not taken. This is particularly relevant to those farms that encourage “petting” or touching of animals.

Preventing or Controlling Ill Health from Animal Contact at Visitor Attractions (Agriculture Information Sheet (AIS) 23), published by the HSE, contains advice for both the owners of open farms and for visitors.

Farms have a duty under health and safety law to take reasonable steps to control risk from infection, including through bugs such as E. coli and Cryptosporidium. Such steps would include ensuring a general level of cleanliness and hygiene, such as not allowing animals to soil on walkways and paths, etc. Contact areas and non-contact areas should be separated and adequate handwashing facilities should be provided — soap, water and disposable towels. Animals should be kept away from eating, picnic or play areas.

Early years staff organising such a trip are advised to:

  • make prior arrangements for the visit with the management at the site

  • confirm that the control measures provided at the site match the recommendations in AIS23

  • agree the supervision of handwashing arrangements among accompanying adults

  • explain the need for handwashing with soap and water to the children, especially after any contact with animals and before touching food, demonstrating what they need to do

  • check that cuts, grazes etc on children’s hands are covered with waterproof dressings

  • never allow eating or picnics in areas where animals can be touched.

Children should be supervised at all times. Anti-bacterial gels or wipes can provide added protection if used in addition to effective hand washing. However, staff should never use anti-bacterial gels or wipes instead of washing hands with soap and water.

A code of practice for open farms can be downloaded from the Farming & Countryside Education website.

Transport

Appropriate and safe transport arrangements should be in place for any outing.

Children who are walking must be properly supervised by sufficient numbers of adults. Staff and children may be issued with hi-visibility vests or other clothing. Routes should be carefully planned.

Vehicles should be properly insured.

Review and evaluation

All outings should be fully reviewed after the event. Staff should review the safety arrangements and look for any learning points that could be applied to future events. Any accidents or incidents should be reported and investigated.

Training

Early years employers must ensure that staff are given the health and safety training they need for their job. This should be sufficient so they can keep themselves and children safe and manage risks effectively.

All staff involved in an excursion should be familiar with local safeguarding arrangements and requirements.