Let’s not avoid Risk & Adventure

“Young people are curious, and they learn quickly. We should not deny them the opportunity to learn by taking risks. Seeking to protect them from every conceivable hazard, rather than sensibly managing the genuine risks they face, ultimately leaves them in harm’s way, not to mention robbing them of memories that last a lifetime.”

Dame Judith Hackett 2012 (then Chair of HSE)

I have yet to come across a clearer piece of leadership on the subject of risk and the development of young people.  So is the way we are providing opportunities for children and young people to experience adventures, delivering the dynamic that Judith describes or are we confusing a narrow interpretation of adventure with reasonable risk taking to enable learning?


Adventure & learning

It’s worth considering what’s going on with those high profile extreme adventurers that seem to flirt with danger in remote areas, high mountains or particularly difficult physical journeys.  Is it that they get a kick from having near death experiences ? 

Although they may do, I suggest this is not the primary motivation.  I do think there is insight to be gained here that informs our thinking around the role of adventure in education.  The real attraction for the extreme adventurer is the refinement of their personal mastery and strengthening of their self awareness and self belief. 


The scope for children and young people to tap into the same personal development is clear and is the essence of Judith’s message.  We’re talking about the development of the skills required to manage yourself effectively when the setting and/or the task is challenging.  Also the creation of strong memories and increased understanding of yourself and your potential.

There is good research1. into the effectiveness of an adventure education approach, though I believe many are less clear about creating the appropriate adventurous conditions, facilitating learning and achieving these fantastic outcomes.

How to effectively benefit from adventure

I think there are 3 key areas to consider in incorporating risk and adventure in a young person’s learning and personal development :

  1. Get the balance right

Is there sufficient focus on that important combination of confidence and competence required if managing risk for self is to be an on-going positive element of young person’s personal development? 

Increasingly we see a focus on academic outcomes, with less emphasis on the development of an individual’s ability to take risks, to fail and build learning capacity and resilience through adventure.  Take a look at our suggestions for an alternative approach to quality outdoor learning

  1. Experiencing or consuming adventurous activities ?

Are students truly accessing and experiencing adventure?  Whilst there are benefits to be had from fun, short and challenging activities that can be delivered in 90 minutes, in these sessions there is often little scope for a student to take responsibility for themselves or others and access greater learning.  To avoid adventurous activity sessions being simply a fun and memorable time, there needs to be opportunities for students to try different approaches and influence the way they experience the activity.

  1. Building on the experience

To really learn and develop through adventure there needs to be a progression of experiences that allows insights and skills to be refined. To achieve this, I suggest the adventurous activity should include periods of reflection to understand what’s just been experienced and planning for further adventure to support on-going learning.  As a young person matures this should also mean more independence in the planning and experiencing of the adventure.


Developing a new approach

If you’re looking to introduce, increase or re-design the use of adventure and risk management learning in your school or youth group get in touch.  We’re passionate about raising the competence, self-belief and aspirations of young people.  We love nothing better than enabling a school or youth group to make better use of outdoor adventure based learning. If that involves coming to stay with us at our Hollowford Centre or working with us in an outdoor location close to your school, we love it even more !


Written by Andy Robinson.  CEO Lindley Educational Trust.


  1. Education Endowment Foundation Teacher Toolkit – Summary of evidence for Outdoor Adventure Learning