Abbey Caves death: Review of Whangārei BHS outdoor education programme begins

The entrance to Abbey Caves, Whāngarei, where searchers looking for a missing student recovered a body, after a school trip to the cave network.

Karnin Petera died when Abbey Caves flooded during bad weather earlier this month.
Photo: RNZ / Tom Taylor

Education Outdoors New Zealand (EONZ) says it has begun working with Whangārei Boys’ High School to review its outdoor education curriculum.

Year 11 student Karnin Petera died while on an outdoor education trip to Abbey Caves two weeks ago.

Education Outdoors chief executive Fiona McDonald said staff started on the school’s internal review this week.

“The review will be co-constructed with the school, so we’re supporting them to meet the best possible outcome,” she said.

“It’s too early to say exactly what will be in that review.”

The final report will be used to help inform a wider review of the national Education Outside The Classroom (EOTC) guidelines.

They were last looked at by the Ministry of Education in 2018.

McDonald said over the past week, there had been a slight increase in queries from other schools about their outdoor education curriculums.

Now was a good time for schools to pause and check they were using best practice, she said.

Under current guidelines, teachers were not required to hold any qualifications for EOTC unless the activity was rafting.

“Qualifications make up just one part of the competency picture,” McDonald said.

“Competency [also] includes experience and local knowledge, the ability to work with others and communicate well.”

The vast majority of outdoor education events did not require additional training to what teachers already had, she said.

“If you think of taking students down to the local park or the biology trip to the sand dune, it’s all about student management skills and communication.”

But McDonald said most teachers working in senior outdoor education “would have a qualification”.

Schools were also able to use outside help.

“Where teachers don’t have those technical competencies to run activities, like rock climbing for example, schools will use external providers or contractors to support their staff so they have the required competency across the whole supervision team,” she said.

The main barriers preventing more teachers from getting qualifications were time and money.

“This is particularly the case for teachers completing qualifications on the job, on top of busy workloads and it really requires the support of their schools to release them,” she said.

“Schools are generally very supportive of their teachers gaining qualifications but funding and time are always challenging, particularly at the moment with the short supply of relief teachers.”

Funding was also an issue for those providing tertiary qualifications, McDonald added.

“They receive 37 percent lower funding than professions such as interior design, jewellery or professional cleaning,” she said.

“They’re all important but those professions will never have the responsibility of managing young people in a dynamic outdoor environment.

“We think the Tertiary Education Commission needs to recognise and adequately fund the training of our outdoor leaders – both teachers and instructors.”

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