Managing the risk and maximising the opportunities

Posted on 24th Sep 2018 in School News, Sensory impairment

Ann Bradbury, Head Teacher at St John’s Catholic School for the Deaf in Boston Spa, West Yorkshire, looks at positive risk management and its potential for building resilience, confidence and enhanced learning experiences...

In any learning environment, risk is at the top of everyone’s list: ‘Can we do that?’,‘Have we completed a risk assessment?’,‘We’ll never be able to do that, the risks are too great.’

Sometimes the thought and fear of what could possibly go wrong might hamper the chances of an event or trip happening at all or ultimately dictate which children may be able to take part.

In specialist school settings such as ours, the risks might naturally be perceived as being even greater, for example, where young people may have additional support or complex health needs. But should that mean they don’t get the opportunities offered to their peers in mainstream environments?

The reality is that trips away from school, opportunities to learn outside the classroom, community-based activities and other potentially ‘risky’ activities are a vital part of all young people’s education. The positive impact they have on a young person’s overall well-being, sense of achievement, resilience and confidence is clear to see.

As a school which offers both day places and residential support for young people who are deaf or who may have multi-sensory impairment as well as, in some cases, physical difficulties, St John’s Catholic School for the Deaf looks carefully at the risks associated with just these sorts of activities and supports our students to take part in as many of them as possible.

Many of the pupils at St John’s use a cochlear implant as many will need additional support. The school aims to make as many activities and opportunities to learn outside the classroom to be accessible for as many pupils as possible, both in the Primary and Secondary areas of the school.

Within the Primary Department, we are very aware that children’s experiences and relationships in their early years have a profound effect on their later academic, social and emotional development.

It is vitally important to provide a rich and appropriate curriculum to support children’s growth in all these areas and some of these curricular activities may have risk associated with them.

Our pupils participate in regular enrichment experiences such as horse riding, sporting events, drama and music, many of these outside of our school setting.

We are a partner school in the Wharfe Valley Learning Partnership which is an Educational Trust of nine high-achieving local schools that work together to enhance the quality of learning for all our pupils. This provides many opportunities for our pupils to work with their local peers. Students also visit local universities and take part in climbing, swimming and other adventurous activities.

Within our Secondary department, we again embrace positive risk management and both day and residential pupils take part in a huge range of activities outside and inside of school.

What we would never do is discount something out of hand the possibility of our young people taking part in what some might consider to be ‘risky’ activities just because they may have additional support or health needs or complexities.

We absolutely see, and have seen over many, many years the wonderful experiences young people at the school have enjoyed and which might be considered to carry risk and how that has positively impacted on their resilience and ability to move forward in life with less fear and more confidence.

A prime example of a potentially ‘high risk’ activity is the school’s yearly trip to Rome, a highlight of the annual calendar looked forward to by the children and staff alike. There are also regular skiing trips.

Travelling with any group of young people abroad obviously brings with it inherent risk but there may be additional risks for young people who are deaf or who have multi-sensory or other communication difficulties alongside, in some cases, physical disabilities, all of which adds an increased vulnerability.

We are of course aware that the young people at St John’s may be additionally vulnerable due to their difficulties and we obviously look very carefully at whether it is safe and appropriate for a young person to travel abroad. But wherever we can develop solutions and support frameworks to help that happen, we do.

For example, one young person who uses a wheelchair wanted to go to Rome and we were, through careful planning and liaison between their family, the young person themselves, the care and education teams, able to find ways to facilitate that. We want as many of our students to be able to experience as many different things as possible before they leave us and move on in the world.

The school’s approach to positive risk management was praised by Ofsted who said: ‘The school curriculum is enriched with a myriad of visitors and visits away from the classroom. These experiences bring learning to life for pupils. For example, skiing trips and trips to Rome and France widen pupils’ horizons and understanding of the world, which contribute to their spiritual, moral, social and cultural understanding.’

We absolutely agree, and this is why, although the risks may be perceived to be higher, we offer these opportunities. For us it is about setting the right framework around each pupil and each activity they want to do. Obviously, looking closely at the risks but looking also at the benefit to the young person.

For us, positive risk management is part of day to day life here at St John’s and while we obviously take risk very seriously, giving as wide a range of opportunities to our young people as possible is part of our role and, we believe, helps furnish them with a range of skills and experiences to stand them in the best possible stead for a successful future.

Read more about St John’s Catholic School for the Deaf...