THE AAS AND SCHOOLS - IS SCHOOL IN OR OUT?

The purposes of the Adventure Activity Standards are hard to establish and difficult to pin down.  This article will consider one straightforward question of the Adventure Activity Standards:  do the AAS apply to schools?

School is in

The Outdoor Recreation Centre's website (Aug 04) states that:

"The key issues that the adventure activities project aims to satisfy can be discussed and are outlined below.
1.
      Parks Victoria and NRE are aware of the variation in procedures currently being followed. This creates unnecessary difficulties when monitoring the environmental effect of activities being conducted. One very good example of variation in acceptable standards is the Department of Educations Outdoor Adventure Activity Guidelines. These serve as policy and guidelines for schools undertaking certain outdoor activities. They are not designed to be an agreed requirement of a commercial operator nor a community group on a bushwalking trip so the questions arise, what standards do we adhere to? The problem of choosing what standard should be used creates obvious issues in regulation of numbers, conduct and other matters relating to the long-term sustainability of the environment. The AAS will be a benchmark for group size and other environmental issues."

(There are points 2 and 3, not reproduced here)

Is it a problem that the Department of Education and Training has its own guidelines or not?  The third sentence uses DET's guidelines as the "very good example
"   of the "variation in acceptable standards".  Schools having their own guidelines is a problem, apparently, otherwise why mention it?

Note the final sentence of the extract; "The AAS will be a benchmark for group size and other environmental issues."  Given the use of schools' guidelines as the sole example of the "unnecessary difficulties" then it follows that the AAS are intended to apply to schools.

This is confirmed by other references to schools on the ORC's web site, regarding the AAS: "They are also being linked with the Victorian Department of Education's ongoing process of updating guidelines for schools participating in adventure activities."

And, in relation to the AAS Working Parties: "Each working party must therefore include representation of commercial (Company Manager or Director), non-commercial (Community Group Manager or Executive) and educational groups (School Council, VOEA member, Head Teacher) as these groups are known to associate different value (sic) to some aspects of this section."


Thus it is apparent that the AAS are intended to apply to schools.  Otherwise, why have a School Council (member?) or Head Teacher (Principal?) on the working party.

School is out

So it was with some surprise that we read, on the ORC's website, in the
July 2003 AAS Update:

"Teachers have been keen to confirm where AAS fit in relation to existing DE&T guidelines for outdoor recreation activities. AAS do not state the requirements for looking after school children. This is an additional duty of care which is best described by the DE&T guidelines."  (italics added)

The same information was repeated in the August 2003 AAS Update.

So, there it is, from the ORC: the AAS do not apply to schools.

Two bob each way

At about the same time, all Victorian Government School Principals and School Councils received "Circular 267/2003 Adventure activities camps and excursions".  Such circulars are an instruction to schools from the Department of Education and Training.

The Circular included the following:
"Adventure Activity Standards are agreed minimum activity standards set by the outdoor recreation and adventure tourism industry. … These Standards are minimum standards for adventure operators and they do not necessarily refect the greater duty of care owed to students. Principals, teachers and school council members need to comply with these standards when planning or endorsing a school adventure activity camp or excursion, and consider the greater duty of care that may be required for students."


The Circular then goes on to remind schools of DET's own Adventure Activity guidelines, that schools are required to use over and above the AAS.

The Department of Education and Training is listed, as member of the AAS Steering Committee, so presumably DET is very well informed in relation to the AAS.  Note DET's statement that the AAS are minimum standards for Adventure Operators, not schools.  From the above quote it also seems that DET is trying to have it both ways, much as the ORC tries to have it both ways in relation to schools.

We are certainly a long way from that first aim of the AAS quoted earlier.  From a teacher, Principal, School Councillor or parent's perspective, it is thoroughly confusing as to whether the AAS are relevant or not.

Now back to the ORCs pronouncements on the "is school in or out" question.  Despite the July and August AAS 2003 Updates' unequivocal statements that the AAS do not apply to teachers and schools, since then the ORC's AAS related pronouncements have continued to regularly make specific references to schools, school groups and teachers, continuing to claim or imply that the AAS are guidelines for schools.

In just one example, we read in the recently released Surfing Sessions AAS: "
AAS hold equal relevance to … development type programs (school groups).  However DET has its own surfing guidelines, and Government schools have been instructed to follow them rather than the AAS.

In an email to a concerned member of a VicWalk club dated 23 February 2004, the project managers (the ORC) wrote,
"The requirement of industry standards is absolute.  …   This requirement has come from community groups, teachers,  ….., despite only a few months earlier stating that the AAS do not apply to teachers."

Schools are different.

Of course schools will have unique guidelines and requirements for adventure activities.  Schools have particular requirements in all manner of aspects of their operation that are different to normal community standards, because of the special nature of schools, and the "in loco-parentis" duty of care of teachers.  The ORC's attempts to rope in the education sector are part of its attempt to conjure up an artificial "industry" to which the AAS apply.  But, as we have seen, the Department of Education and Training is wisely not playing ball.

But perhaps the ORC/AAS references are intended for a commercial provider supplying a service to a school to conduct an adventure activity?  Not so.  In fact, that would make no difference.  Where a commercial provider, rather than a teacher, conducts an adventure activity in a Government school, then the commercial provider is required to follow DET Guidelines.  The ORC has omitted to mention this in the various pronouncements related to the AAS and schools.

Conclusion

It was a simple question about the Adventure Activity Standards; do they apply to schools?  What we found is a series of contradictory and confusing statements, from the Outdoor Recreation Centre.

The schools question is one of many questions that can be asked about the AAS.  The purposes of the Adventure Activity Standards are hard to establish and difficult to pin down.  They seem to change with the audience, change over time, and change depending on the question being asked and who is asking it.

UPDATE FEBRUARY 2005

The ORC conducted a forum on the AAS on 19 February 2005. Commercial providers of adventure activities made up a significant proportion of the forum participants. Full details are provided elsewhere on this website.

One agenda item listed was the relationship between the AAS and the DE&T Adventure Activity Guidelines for schools. To introduce this item a senior policy officer of the Department of Education and Training, and the executive officer of the Victorian Outdoor Education Association addressed the forum. Their remarks included the following:

•  Government schools would continue to be required to follow the Adventure Activity Guidelines provided by the Department of Education and Training.
•  The AAS are not written as guidelines for schools, although they can serve as reference material.
•  The AAS do not provide advice on who is responsible for approving Adventure Activities in schools
•  The AAS do not provide emergency management advice specific to schools
•  The AAS do not state how adventure activities in schools fit in the curriculum and in consideration of the curriculum guidelines within which schools are required to operate.
•  The DET Adventure Activity Guidelines will be reviewed and updated over the next two years. The Victorian Outdoor Education Association has been commissioned to carry out this task

Despite the unequivocal position of the Department of Education and Training outlined above, forum participants then received paper under the ORC and State of Victoria logos. The first sentence read:

"The Adventure Activity Standards are agreed documents that describe the reasonable measures that should be involved when adventurous activities are conducted for any group by any organisation."

The AAS do no such thing, of course. How could they possibly do so? As Adventure Victoria has said for some time, this "one size fits all" attempt by the AAS is ill considered and wrong.

Nevertheless, some commercial providers at the forum continued to press for the AAS to prevail for schools. Apparently it is inconvenient to their operations that schools have their own guidelines.

The ORC's forum paper concluded with this statement:
"There is no clear explanation that a commercial operator, camp or other organisation conducting activities should refer to interpret the DET guidelines or if it should be the responsibility of the school/teacher to ensure that additional measures are in place."
Forum participants were then expected to discuss that statement.

Why is the ORC even putting up such a proposition? Even asking it demonstrates the ORCs incapacity in this area.

The premise of the statement is plain wrong. There is no circumstance when it would cease to be the responsibility of the school, the principal, the teachers and the commercial provider to follow DET guidelines. A school would never engage a commercial operator who had not undertaken to follow DET guidelines.

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