Over the past few weeks, there have been harrowing stories in the news regarding the safety of school camps and tours. Rudi Viljoen, the founder of the Warriors Academy which specialises in school camps, elaborates on what schools should be looking out for when choosing a camp for their students to attend.

Running a school camp is a great responsibility and ensuring the safety of the students that take part in the camp should be at the heart of this. From a Warriors Academy perspective, this is the advice we would give to schools when choosing a camp or tour.

Look at the company’s track record and references

It is so important for schools to do their research on their chosen camps and to ask the hard questions. Look at how long the company has been in operation for. This will give you an idea on experience and track record. Examine the testimonials on their website and ask for references from other schools that have previously held their camps there. In most cases, these companies will have no issue in providing you with these references. 

Look at the company’s social media platforms. This will give you insight into the company, their activities, and what you can expect from the camp. At Warriors, we always encourage the head of department or principal of the school to come through for a visit. They can then take a look at the facilities, discuss the activities and meet the team who will be facilitating the camp.

Ask about staff training and student to staff ratio

Ask questions related to the staff members that will be facilitating the camp. Do they have the relevant qualifications and experience to run these activities? Have each of the staff members done first aid and CPR courses? Are staff actively involved in the activities, or do they just stand on the sidelines? Staff should have the experience and necessary training for the activities they are presenting. A generic Adventure Site Guide qualification has become the industry standard for all camp facilitators in South Africa. You need to ensure that the staff members that will be looking after the students at the camp are capable and prepared to handle both the activities and the students safely.

It is also essential to ask about the staff to student ratio. At Warriors, we generally work on one staff member to every eight students. This allows for more student engagement and support and makes it easier for the staff to identify any problems or issues that may arise within their student group.

Check on their Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)

Ask to see the company’s SOP’s and their risk assessments and ensure that the documentation received is up to date. Talk to the company about the condition of their safety equipment for the activities offered. For example, if there are water activities like river rafting, ask about helmets and life jackets. The company should have a safety officer responsible for managing the SOP’s and for dealing with any emergencies that may occur. Also ask about the effects of load shedding on communication and emergency services. At Warriors, we have a radio network that connects us with emergency services as well as the neighbourhood watch, in case we are unable to access telephones due to power outages or a loss in signal. 

You should also ask about the company’s take on sexual abuse/harassment, drug abuse, and bullying and what the protocol would be if any of these issues should arise. Schools need to keep all these documents on file and share them with the parents so that they know that due diligence has been done.

Build an ongoing relationship with the camps

It is essential to build an ongoing relationship with the camp provider and to work on a long-term strategy for the school. The ideal would be to have the camps per grade follow on from each other, so what is learnt on the grade 8 camp will be amplified on the grade 9 camp and so on. By being able to build on the program, you enhance continuity and structure for the camps, which only helps in facilitating the personal development and growth in the students attending. This also ensures that students and parents know what to expect in terms of the camp structure and safety. 

Choosing a school camp or tour is a big responsibility for all involved which is why it is so important to ask the right questions and ensure that the company you have chosen is doing all they can to ensure the safety of the students.

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