Monday 21 February 2011

Private Cars for EOTC Transport

Private cars have been used for transporting students to EOTC activities for years. It’s cheap, and provides parent help at a generous ratio: one parent per carload of children. But is it still a success at your school?

There are fewer people available during the day to offer themselves and their cars for trips. There are issues around safety of children in cars, specifically around airbags, and the use of seatbelts and booster seats.

The LTSA website tells us that “If the child is aged five to seven years you must use an approved child restraint if there's one available and if it's appropriate for the child's age and size. Otherwise they must use a safety belt if one is available. If there are no child restraints or safety belts available, they must travel in the back seat.

Children aged 8 to 14 years must use a safety belt if one is available. Otherwise, they must travel in a back seat.

Note: A child under 15 years old may sit beside the driver only if the child is restrained by a child restraint or safety belt (whichever is appropriate for their age and size). However, they are always safer in a back seat than in the front.”

Many parents who took part in the review expressed concerns about children travelling in cars with airbags. It’s well known that infants should never be in rear facing restraints in the front seat, but what about children? My research (on the internet) reinforces that the safest place for a child to be in a car, is appropriately restrained in the back seat. Both front and side airbags pose a danger to children in the front – there have been cases of serious injuries and deaths – but in most cases these children were not securely and appropriately restrained. A child in an appropriately sized child restraint would not be close to the airbag when it deployed and would be at least partly protected and supported by their restraint.

The important thing here is “appropriate child restraint”. Seat belts are great, but to be effective they must be fitted on the child and worn correctly. See for great photos and information about the correct fit of seatbelts. It takes time and effort – do we do it for each child that we take anywhere in our car? Do parent helpers do it on each school trip?

Modern cars tend to have both diagonal and lap belts for the middle seats, but many cars still have lap belts only in the middle seat. Children don’t fit in lap belts, and can suffer terrible injuries in the event of a crash. See for detailed information, and for diagrams of the submarining sequence.

Whether in lap belts only, or in diagonal and lap belts, children are simply not big enough to fit properly in adult seatbelts and need to use booster seats. Most (?) children of primary school age would not pass the five step test to determine whether they are big enough for an adult seatbelt ( Some adults wouldn’t either! Car seats vary (so you might pass the test in your car but not a bigger one) but generally, you need to be taller than 148 cm, and weigh more than 54 kg to fit an adult seatbelt.

So, as far as the law goes, children must be in seat belts or appropriate child restraints (if the car has them) or be in the back seat. How much further than that should schools go in setting their guidelines for private car transport?

The SchoolDocs Private Car Volunteer form mentions seatbelts along with other safety matters, but not booster seats or lapbelts. As with all of our EOTC forms, we provide it as a template and urge schools to consider their particular circumstances, views, community’s input, access to alternative methods of transport, etc, when setting their requirements for private car volunteers. If you supply one, we can upload a school specific form to your site.

Please share your views on this, and your experiences with private car transport at school. It’s tricky – the balance between being able to take the children out for EOTC activities at all, and keeping them as safe as possible.

Comment now…

On April 6 2011, Sarah Wiki-Bennett said: "Most new European cars have the capacity to turn off airbags on passengers side - how does this fit in?"

Megan replied: "I guess you would regard it then as a car without front airbags. Up to schools really to decide what requirements they will list on their parent volunteer car form - such a lot of issues to discuss."

EOTC Supervision Ratios

Many reviewers asked for supervision ratios for EOTC activities but, as with risk management levels, we cannot give a definitive statement. It is imperative that the ratios, and risk management levels, are determined by the school for each activity.

In the Supervision topic, I’ve linked to the excellent article by Cathye Haddock on the TKI website: Ratios - More Than Just Numbers (

Cathye outlines a number of considerations to take into account when setting ratios and provides examples and case studies to demonstrate them. An important consideration is the assumption that one adult equals one competent supervisor. Depending on a number of factors this may not be the case.

I’m not going to summarise it any further because I think you should read it yourself.

Please share your thoughts with your fellow bloggers after reading the article, and tell us about your experiences in this area.

Risk Levels in EOTC

Some reviewers asked us to be more definite about which activities fit which risk level. Some reviewers pointed out that some activities might only be level 1 at some schools, but could have significant risks at others. We agree completely. Read on...

We have written the entire section as a guide for schools to use in organising their EOTC activities. All of the forms are presented as templates. Every activity must be considered in the light of the organiser’s research and local knowledge. As pointed out by more than one reviewer, a walk down the street could be, literally, a walk in the park in the leafy suburbs, but may involve many dangers in a busy inner city environment, or in a rural environment where there may be a highway in front of the school, farm equipment, chemical sheds, large machinery and animals, etc. The level could also be different depending on who is going on the walk and their abilities and/or issues, or the weather, or many other factors.

We believe SchoolDocs gives schools good tools to use in planning EOTC activities, but we can’t do it for you. It is ultimately each school board’s responsibility to approve EOTC activities.

It’s a sensible idea to re-use forms that the school has used for similar activities in the past, but we stress that the risks must be assessed anew each time. Things change…

We were pleased to see a lot of engagement from parents in the EOTC review. We recommend that you look at your implementation feedback and address it, and perhaps let the community know when the changed topics are rolled out.

Review Summary: EOTC

EOTC was reviewed in term 4, 2010, by parents, board, and staff. We were pleased to see great engagement from reviewers, lots of positive feedback that the policies are comprehensive and form templates and guidelines useful. The review raised a number of issues, read on and comment...

We had just rewritten this section with lots of input and research. We believe it is a comprehensive guide for schools to use when planning their EOTC activities, and that it conforms to best practice guidelines. The forms are designed as templates for schools to fill out as appropriate to their individual circumstances.

We were pleased to see great engagement from reviewers, lots of positive feedback that the policies are comprehensive and form templates and guidelines useful. Teachers commented that the process is easy to follow and a great resource in planning EOTC activities. Parents commented that it seemed very comprehensive and promoted confidence in the school’s EOTC programme. One comment from a parent summed it up well for us: “particularly reassuring as a parent. Very few of us find it easy to send our children on such activities and the reassurance of updated policies is important”.

Most of the implementation feedback was very positive with respondents feeling that the school made a good job of carrying out well planned EOTC activities. We urge boards and principals to look at their specific implementation feedback, and action as appropriate.

Three main issues emerged which we address in separate blogs and encourage you to comment on:
  1. The use of private cars for EOTC transport 
  2. Supervision ratios for EOTC activities 
  3. Risk management

On March 29 2011, Brian Gower said: "Thanks for all your work in getting this done. This is such an important area to get right in order to have good processes and information in place."

Monday 7 February 2011

Review Summary: Sun Protection

This policy was reviewed in term 4 2010 by parents, staff, and board and resulted in a large number of reviews.

We are happy to note that our policy stood up well to thorough scrutiny and we have made only a couple of changes to it. These changes are more to clarify or expand points in the policy rather than change any content. We thank Jane Armstrong, SunSmart Schools Programme Coordinator, from the Cancer Society of New Zealand for her review and recommendations.

Many people commented that the policy should be active all year round and not for only part of the day. The fact is that when we talk about sun protection we’re really talking about the ultra violet radiation from the sun (UVR) and the UVR levels in New Zealand are high during the middle of the day from October to March. Although there are very hot days outside of those times and days, they do not normally have levels of UVR that we need protection against. There are cloudy, cool, and showery days during the daylight saving months too – and the UVR levels remain high then. People stay outside longer in cooler weather but unless they are taking the sun protection steps outlined in our policy, they are being exposed to high levels of UVR.

The levels of UVR vary during the day but are highest between 11 am and 4 pm so these are the times we have used as “default” in the policy. If a school wishes to have different times on their policy, they can let us know and we will change it for their school.

While it is important to be aware of the harmful effects of UVR exposure, it’s just as important to know and enjoy the benefits of sunshine. All year round we need exposure to the sun and need to develop sunsmart habits that allow us to gain the benefits of sunlight and protect ourselves from harmful UVR exposure. Some benefits of being in the sun:

The sun not only provides the all important vitamin D but also promotes healing, improves the body’s immune system, enhances mood, and lifts athletic performance. “Outlawing” all sun exposure for terms 1 and 4 is unnecessary and possibly sends the wrong message.

There were comments that the guidelines are biased towards fair skinned people and that for darker skinned people our guidelines are overly cautious. We don’t think so, especially as we’re not talking about keeping totally out of the sun. It’s true that fair skins burn more easily, but dark skins also suffer from sun damage and premature aging. Overexposure to high levels of UVR still damages the immune system, and the eyes. Also, while it’s true that darker skinned people develop fewer skin cancers than fair skinned people, they do still develop some and are often diagnosed later when the disease is more advanced. For these reasons we feel that learning and following sun protection strategies is important for every person in New Zealand.

Eye protection was also a concern for some people. The damage that UVR does to eyes is well documented. The benefits of sunglasses for children is less clear (it’s thought that children need some exposure to UVR to develop protection against eye problems) and the logistics issues no doubt nightmarish for schools to contemplate. Sunhats (with at least a 6 cm brim) provide significant protection to the eyes. Individual schools may wish to provide and/or promote sunglasses for their students and we leave that decision to them.

There was a lot of feedback about schools’ implementation of the policy and we urge boards and principals to discuss their specific implementation feedback and report back to their communities about issues raised.

It’s important for parents who have taken the effort to review policies to feel that they have been counted and their voices heard. We were pleased to see so much engagement from school communities for this review.