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The Big 13 – Risk Management

What is risk? The possibility of losing? The possibility of failing? A situation where the outcome is uncertain? Contemplating any of these seemingly negative outcomes could put a person off taking action if success is not a given.

However learning to cope with and manage risk is imperative for anyone who wants to progress in life. Managing risk is the process of identifying different threats and possibilities involved in a project or event, and seeing how they can be mitigated, controlled or simply accepted.

Life is full of uncertainty and failure, and an inability to cope with these risks can lead to fear and inaction. But learning to manage risk develops the confidence to take informed decisions which can turn risks into opportunities.

Case Study – Maltby Crags Buggy Project.

Maltby Crags Infant School is developing a strong philosophy based around providing opportunities for children to take risks. Head Teacher Sheila Ralph believes that managing risk and coping with failure are essential skills to cope in a fast changing world. She wants to nurture resilience in her pupils so they have the confidence to pick themselves up and keep going after life’s set backs.

The school’s Enterprise Co-ordinator, Tina Otter, has been key in driving this agenda forward, and used her ‘buggy project’ to provide plenty of risk taking opportunities for her Year Two class. Children were set the challenge of designing, costing, making and finally racing a wooden buggy. She had done the project before, but this time added several elements to provide more opportunities to stretch the children. This time she put them in charge of choosing the materials. They talked about designs and materials – what might work and what might not – but ultimately the children chose what to put on a ‘wish list.’ This included new tools, so they had to write to the Head Teacher to ask for a ‘budget’ for the project, justifying their requests by saying the tools would be there for other pupils to use after their project was over. Tina ordered the components the children had requested, and the children agreed between themselves to try out different designs to see which one worked best. Tina said:

“They were definitely taking risks with the designs, like having larger wheels on the back axel. They knew there was a possibility they might not work so well, but they still wanted to try it. They had to look at the possible consequences of their actions and weigh up what they wanted to do, and then take the decision – and the risk –  by themselves.”

The prospect of the final ‘buggy race’ in the school hall added yet another element of risk taking to the whole project. Tina said:

“There was a lot of excitement about the race, this was the arena where everything they had worked for would either stand or fall. Even at this stage there was a lot of risk being calculated. The children quickly worked out that how hard they pushed the buggy was an important success factor, but push too hard and the wheels might come off! Some of the lads were quite disappointed with their buggy’s performance, but afterwards when we reflected they were glad they had taken risks with the design and in the race – they had learned from them.”

The project was such a success that it was used as the case study to secure the Warwick Award for the school. And when the representative from Warwick University visited to see their evidence it was children from Tina’s class who gave him the grand tour – without a teacher! Tina said: “When he spoke to the children he saw how much they had got out of it – he didn’t get word in edgeways.