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Advice for school climbing instructor

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 Nomes 02 Jun 2022

Hi,

I'm a maths teacher in a specialist autism school and have recently passed my RCI. My headteacher is very keen for me to take our children out climbing and is happy for me to order kit. At first I will take the children indoors to make it all more manageable, but eventually the aim is to take them outdoors for an experience they wouldn't get otherwise. I'm quite an experienced climber so I'm not worried about that side of things, but nonetheless it's all very daunting.

I can't be the only climber whose headteacher has suddenly decided to add climbing to the curriculum, so I'm wondering if anyone has any advice for me please? Like, risk assessments, insurance, advice on managing other staff members, if there's any kit you found particularly helpful or a waste of money, how to decide what size climbing shoes to buy. Basically everything!

Thank you in advance!

Nomes

In reply to Nomes:

Have a chat with a technical advisor, a list of which can be found here; https://www.mountain-training.org/membership/ami/what-can-ami-members-do-for-me/technical-advice

3
In reply to Nomes:

Does the RCI course not cover things like risk assessment & insurance?

11
In reply to Nomes:

Stock up on RURPs, skyhooks and RPs

16
 wintertree 02 Jun 2022
In reply to Nomes:

Interesting question; I’ve supported quite a few students with autism in their studies, and I have climbed a lot, but I have never done both at once.  My thoughts; take them or leave them but how wonderful that you have this opportunity and the support of your head.

Can you find some objects to bridge the indoor climbing to the outdoor climbing? Eg some brightly coloured picnic blankets that the kids not currently climbing sit on? Establish them indoors over many trips then take them to the crag to give a familiar reference point.

My biggest concern when you go outdoors is of a pupil getting more than a meter off the ground and then getting stuck whilst having a major wobble; it’s likely you’re going to need several staff members who know the kids well and who are versed in the basics of top rope climbing to resolve that, potentially with a second top rope for a staff member to be with the pupil.  At this point you need a staff member to climb, two on the ground to belay and one or more on the ground to settle the other kids.  So, seems like the first priority is getting some of the other staff experienced at climbing, belaying and top roping.

I did wonder about belaying indirectly with a device that can be locked off and/or tied off as a way of helpful cope with a pupil having a bad wobble; that would need a site with ground anchors and some atypical experience.

I explicitly can not advise on the liability or insurance side and clearly you need professional advice on this.

2
 Paul at work 02 Jun 2022
In reply to Nomes:

Happy to chat at length about this, as a former teacher who use to use climbing within curriculum time. Where abouts are you based?

 John Ww 02 Jun 2022
In reply to Nomes:

You want my advice? Don't!  You are opening yourself up to a world of litigious shit if something goes wrong. Do yourself a favour and get the headteacher to do it if they're that interested! Either that or get yourself a nice comfy chopping block to rest your head on, it'll be less painful in the long run.

48
 morpcat 03 Jun 2022
In reply to Nomes:

https://www.ukclimbing.com/forums/ukc/should_schools_promote_indoor_climbing_and_outdoor_pursuits-747284 is a frustrating read, but in amongst the arguments you'll find a few helpful people with experience of facilitating climbing in an educational setting that you could contact.

 JIMBO 03 Jun 2022
In reply to Nomes:

The LEA should be able to give advice on risk assessment formats and may have climbing examples to use and adapt for your destinations and climbers.

 spenser 03 Jun 2022
In reply to captain paranoia:

My SPA covered it being a requirement, it didn't cover where to go to get it.

I don't remember having to write a formal risk assessment for climbing as part of my SPA either, perhaps the RCI curriculum includes these.

In reply to OP:

Check if your school's liability insurance covers this, if not get the headmaster to ensure that there is sufficient alternative cover in place, don't get involved if they won't provide cover.

The indoor wall environment can be a bit overwhelming from a sensory point of view (other groups, music, ropes being pulled down, conversation etc) at times so whatever provision you have to support kids who respond negatively to that needs to be in place (for me I just go home if I feel myself shutting down due to noise).

Possibly show them some of the kit and how to get harnessed up in a familiar environment, then take them to the wall to do some climbing and then take them outside?

Possibly set up a steep abseil first to help show them the gear is all safe and to identify anyone who is likely to refuse to move up or down a route due to fear (maybe get them to do some bouldering and then come back to ropes later if they enjoy it?). There is a big emphasis on not needing to do any kind of rescue in SPA, some of the kids are likely to be less expressive of how happy/ not happy they are with things as part of their autism so consider route choice and set up with a meltdown in mind. 

The stuff you know about cutting the learning up into little chunks to help the kids who probably also have ADHD/ dyspraxia will be applicable here too. 

The above is all about accounting for some of the difficulties which some of the kids may experience, you may find that one of them is just fascinated by all of the shiny metal things and wants to play with those too! Climbing was (is?) a special interest of mine and it was immensely rewarding for me, hopefully a few of your students find as much enjoyment in it as I have! 

In reply to Nomes:

I'm an ex-Head of a secondary school which had a specialist unit with some autistic kids. I now occasionally help out at a local climbing wall which has regular visits from a school with autistic teenagers. How old are your students and how severe is their autism? Are you envisaging doing this during the teaching day or after-school? The kids who come to the wall have very limited verbalisation and very repetitive behaviours, they wear ear defenders to reduce sensory overload and need 1:1 staffing. Your biggest challenge may be recruiting enough staff to support you. Personally, I think it's a great idea and I hope you can make it happen.

 RobAJones 03 Jun 2022
In reply to Nomes:

In your position I wouldn't be thinking too much about buying climbing kit at the moment. Your first sessions will be a very small group, inside? Personally, in your position, I'd want to see and talk to, some experienced practitioners running similar sessions. To me, the headteacher  should initially be wanting to facilitate  further training/experience for you, rather than buying equipment. 

 alan moore 03 Jun 2022
In reply to Nomes:

Keep it small. Take one or 2 pupils on your first trip. Try a bit of bouldering first.

If your school wants you to take big groups and manage other staff as well, suggest they pay for an instructor. One job at a Time!

In reply to spenser:

> I don't remember having to write a formal risk assessment for climbing as part of my SPA either

RA ought to be core to all activities, driving policy, training, equipment, preparation, tasks, actions and procedures. I suppose this could mean that it should be covered by any 'ticket' courses, or it could be assumed to be core knowledge, a prerequisite to such courses.

Many sets of guidance are based on an unstated risk assessment; I know the DofE expedition manual is, and it disappoints me that it too does not cover risk assessment, or make it the core of expedition planning and operation.

If the OP doesn't have experience of doing risk assessments, or managing groups in the outdoors, then the head should certainly be supporting that learning.

A risk assessment starts with a pessimist's 'what if' thinking; what is it that you are doing (all sub activities) and what can go wrong. It then addresses ways to stop those bad things happening, and what to do if they do happen. With special needs groups, even more pessimism than normal is required, because the participants may do things detrimental to their safety, like undoing safety equipment, or trying to escape their harness. As wintertree suggests, dealing with these situations may require multiple competent climbers; the 'rescuer' is likely to need to be someone well known to the participant, and trusted. Adequate staff will be required to safely manage participants on the ground while 'rescue' is underway.

I've always been something of a catastrophic thinker, able to 'see into the not very bright future', so risk assessment may come naturally to me...

Post edited at 12:15
1
In reply to Nomes:

Apologies for my unnecessarily grumpy post last night. I hope your head gives you the support you need.

As above, I think you need to start with a rather catastrophic thinking risk assessment, and derive preventive and mitigating measures from that, which will be policies, training, equipment, staffing & procedures.

 spenser 03 Jun 2022
In reply to captain paranoia:

I am competent at writing risk assessments from a work context, I simply stated that writing one wasn't part of the old SPA syllabus from what I remember.

In reply to spenser:

> I am competent at writing risk assessments from a work context

I was speaking generally, not personally. And musing on why RA might not be covered by such courses.

Post edited at 12:40
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 RobAJones 03 Jun 2022
In reply to captain paranoia:

>  And musing on why RA might not be covered by such courses.

Perhaps they are worried about being liable for certifying that someone has had training and is competent to write risk assessments?

In reply to RobAJones:

Possibly. But they're presumably certifying someone has had training and is competent in the primary activities, which actually pose the risk.

Not all training certifies competence or compliance. Just that training has been given. There may be some element of assessment, but it rarely covers the entire syllabus, or requires 100% success.

1
 Holdtickler 03 Jun 2022
In reply to Nomes:

As others have advised, first port of call is to make contact with your local LA advisor as they will be able to advise on Insurance, qualifications, training, staffing, risk assessments, licences etc.

The first advice I'd give is to be very individualistic and flexible in your approach to planning, group size and members, staffing and expected outcomes.

It's easy for us as climbers to define success criteria in terms of enjoyment, participation, progression, overcoming fears etc in the actual climbing but you will often find when working with people with ASD that they may have their own agenda. For instance, stretching the rope out on the field to see how long it is or ground based games with different coloured holds may well prove more engaging and fulfilling than what we had planned. As I'm sure you've already found working in special education, going with the flow is often a better idea than trying to push boulderers up hills.

At the other extreme you may have students with lots of enthusiasm, no sense of danger, and with significant communication barriers. I worked with one such student. He was very physically able and nothing would stop him running to the wall and climbing it if he could see it. With 2 instructors and 2 carers assigned just to him, indoor bouldering was ok with constant spotting. We wanted to give him a go on the roped wall but first we had to carefully mitigate the risks. Before he'd seen the roped wall (as he'd have soloed it in the blink of an eye), in a neighbouring room we got him into a harness, tied on and on belay. As we had no way to communicate to get him to lower, we tied a 2nd line to the back of his harness which allowed us to pull him away from the wall to lower him, which he actually really enjoyed. (note: with different individuals this method could be experienced as a traumatic betrayal of trust so it was a very individual choice which worked well in this instance).

With enough time, staffing, flexibility, and individual-based planning many things are possible.

 RobAJones 03 Jun 2022
In reply to captain paranoia:

> Possibly.

I'm not sure either. I was partly thinking from an evidence point of view, any exemplar material used by the provider or work produced by the candidate can be saved and used at a later date.

From the OP's perspective I would expect any RA to be checked by the headteacher and a county advisor. If it is deemed not to be fit for purpose at a later date, the buck should stop with them not the OP. So I can understand that the course/qualification should mean the OP can follow the RA, but doesn't need to be able to write one without help/advise. 

In reply to RobAJones:

Everyone, especially instructors, needs to be able to understand how a risk assessment is done, to some level, and particularly for any non-standard aspects of an activity (i.e. differences from the assumptions in the 'master' RA). That and dynamic risk assessment; 'seeing the future' as you do an activity.

Where expert advice might he useful is in identifying suitable preventive & mitigating measures.

I accept that I might be unusual, because my professional work includes performing RAs (in a very different context), and those RAs drive pretty much all subsequent activity. But I find it a useful approach for my DofE work.

2
 RobAJones 03 Jun 2022
In reply to captain paranoia:

Dislike isn't mine, I think you raise some interesting points.

I agree that being able to make bespoke additions to a generic risk assessment is a useful skill. One of our DoE routes involves a stream crossing that can be dangerous after heavy rain. In the OP's case however, for indoor walls in particular, the bespoke part of their risk assessment will be dependent on their students rather than the wall. So perhaps appropriate that help/advise is provided by the headteacher/County advisor rather than the course providers. I think it highlights an issue I've often wrestled with in education. I cannot argue with your point that looking at risk assessments as part of the course would be beneficial, but if that isn't going to make the course longer/more demanding, what do you take out. 

In reply to RobAJones:

> Dislike isn't mine, 

No worries; I'm only discussing amicably.

Risk assessments seem to be mandatory for many activities, but I've seen so many poorly done that I think someone, somewhere ought to be teaching how to do it properly, comprehensively, and how to use them as the basis of programme development. Many seem to consider the RA as something that is done, and then put in a folder somewhere; a pointless paper exercise. Plenty of people ask to be given a risk assessment, apparently as something to file away, rather than direct operations.

 Exile 04 Jun 2022
In reply to Nomes:

Hi Nomes. 

Is your school in the private or public sector? If in the public then there will be an LA visits co-ordinator and an in house EVC (Educational Visits Co-ordinator) who should be able to assist with RAs etc, or point you in the right direction.

Given you haven't mentioned these is your school in the private sector - part of one of the Cambian / Witherslack / Prior groups for example? If this is the case there should be a robust risk assessment procedure in place (the schools wouldn't get through the education and care Ofsted's without them) but you may have more difficulty finding an in house 'expert'. In this instance talk to your Head Teacher about how to put a robust procedure in place and maybe talk to the mountain leaders training board, or whoever oversees training and assessment these days.

 mrjonathanr 05 Jun 2022
In reply to Nomes:

Speaking as a teacher and RCI, I think your head's enthusiasm is admirable but the burden of expectation on you is high. I would look for support and advice. Graeme Hill runs courses for instructors working with disabled clients (I did one prior to bringing autistic children to our -mainstream-school wall) and would be a good person to speak to imo

https://www.thebmc.co.uk/climbing-for-all-workshops-instructing-disabled-people-in-rock-climbing and 

 mrjonathanr 05 Jun 2022
In reply to mrjonathanr:

As others have given good advice about risk assessments, I'll just add this. At the end of your trip, your RA should be annotated with your ongoing reflections on managing the group safely. Keep this; it will be valuable to you should you be asked to account for anything, post trip.

OP Nomes 14 Jun 2022

Hi everyone,

Thank you so much for your replies. There's a lot to keep me going here. Sorry for the slow response from me - term started and I got swamped with work. I will go through and give individual replies later hopefully.

Thanks again!!

Nomes

OP Nomes 14 Jun 2022
In reply to Paul at work:

Hi Paul,

Thanks for replying. I'm based in Chester. Would certainly value a chat at some time!

OP Nomes 14 Jun 2022
In reply to Andy Clarke:

Aw thank you Andy. The students are 5-16 years old and their needs vary wildly! It would be done during the teaching day so recruitment isn't really a problem as they would all come with their own staff, though of course not many of these are climbers!

OP Nomes 14 Jun 2022
In reply to RobAJones:

Ah yes I see your point. But as in many industries, the pot of money is currently available and if it isn't used then it won't be offered again!

OP Nomes 14 Jun 2022
In reply to Exile:

Haha well spotted. Yes, we're a private school, in the sense that the LA pays us to meet the needs of the children they don't have places for. But it's the first non-LA school I've worked for so it's all new and confusing to me!

 C Witter 15 Jun 2022
In reply to Nomes:

My thoughts would be:

- involve another instructor/other instructors, preferably with experience working with students with autism. There are charities working with disabled students who may be able to help. You could also seek out some CPD with these providers.

- have it start in a modest way, perhaps as a one-off treat, rather than as part of the curriculum

- ensure a very high staff to student ratio, e.g. one instructor to two young people

- initally, it may be helpful to be able to have discretion over which specific individual students you take/don't take

- I personally think indoor bouldering is more fun and involves less faff when it comes to young people: they don't spend the whole day queueing. Lots of games to play, too.

- the wall choice will be important. If you can find a wall that you can take over for your session (e.g. possibly one owned by scouts/another school) thay could be good... otherwise one with a large area that is slightly apart where you can work, e.g. Kendal wall has a whole floor thay is specialised for kids, where the wall is shorter with more friendly holds. This might help you with any sensory overload/meltdown issues. You could also talk to the wall about whether there is a quiet room students can have a bit of quiet time in.

- If you're struggling with insurance, talk directly to MTA and see if they can give you some advice.

1

Perhaps worth talking to someone like Climbing for All (Sheffield). To my knowledge they just do indoors at present but lots of experience of taking young people with disabilities climbing. I'm no expert but spare side climbers and belayers were something I wouldn't have thought of for instance. 

Post edited at 15:29
 halo 16 Jun 2022
In reply to Nomes:

Hello Nomes and congratulations on attaining your RCI. I have experience as an outdoor instructor working with school groups and adults alike, who either had learning difficulties and or were on the autism spectrum. What I can tell you is that firstly, we were insured through the BMC and through the centre I worked for itself. We would regularly assess the risk to those groups, and provide an equal learning experience to all. One of the locations we always worked at was Lions Rock outcrop near Llyn Padarn. So we got them doing team building exercises such as building a raft and such. We assessed their confidence through this task as well orienteering. Would then take them to the location for a controlled abseil and climbing session, getting the group to work together to do the task. 

What I can tell you is this that once it is done once, you will learn from each experience, and from different locations. Below is the link for liability insurance through the BMC, the BMC is very helpful to its members and can offer expert advice, for working and managing with groups.

https://www.thebmc.co.uk/members-liability-insurance


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