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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 September, 2004, 00:52 GMT 01:52 UK
Outdoor centres 'a safety net'

Inspectors say many teachers are not taking children on trips for fear of being sued if accidents happen. BBC News Online's Katherine Sellgren saw how outdoor centres can reduce the burden.

Matt, using surveying equipment
Children get to use equipment they do not usually experience

The winds on Hengistbury Head in Bournemouth may be particularly strong, but children from Queens Park Junior School in the town are safe enjoying a trip to examine the impact of human activity on the headland.

Their aim is to find out what can be done to protect it and what would be the consequences if it disappeared.

With the manager of the Hengistbury Head outdoor education and field studies centre, Tricia Zimmerman, leading the party, teacher Maggie Dooley is relieved of much of the burden of responsibility.

"If she said it was too windy to go up to the top, you'd be a fool to argue," said Mrs Dooley.

"With these centres, you're that much more secure. You have that safety net of someone who has that local knowledge."


For Mrs Zimmerman, this safety aspect is one of the major benefits of field centres with experienced staff.

"I know it's okay to be on the beach today, but on another day I wouldn't be happy; you get a feel about the conditions here," she said. "But a teacher may not appreciate the dangers."

Tricia Zimmerman
The feedback we get is that it makes the learning real
Tricia Zimmerman, outdoor centre manager

The children, of course, are oblivious to any potential dangers as they trek along the beach looking for the remains of buildings eroded by the pounding waves.

For 10-year-old Matt, though, the highlight of the day was using a grid to examine soil quality on the headland.

"I liked it where we had to use the grid thing and look at the grass and moisture and see how the soil is," he said.

Computer skills

"I didn't know much about moisture and how walking stiffens the ground. I enjoyed doing the measurements and going for walks," said Jessica, 10.

"I understood that where people walk it hardens the ground."

Classmate Naomi, also 10, had been looking forward to a day away from the routine of school, and was not disappointed.

Hengistbury Head in Bournemouth
Weather conditions play a big part in safety decisions

"I thought it was great. It was fun looking at the different sorts of rock," she said.

Back at school, these pupils will work in pairs to produce a field study.

"There's a big ICT input, because they'll put all this information into computers," said Mrs Dooley.

"They've been taking digital photos and we'll be using spreadsheets to enter the measurements and produce graphs."

But while the centre's activities are cross-curricular, the main aim of field days is to bring learning alive for pupils.

'More stimulating'

The Hengistbury centre opens its doors to learners from across the spectrum, from nursery school children to postgraduates, though the majority of its work is with primary school pupils.

"The feedback we get is that it makes the learning real and puts it into a meaningful context," said Mrs Zimmerman, who taught secondary school science before coming to the centre 17 years ago.

"It makes it amenable and more stimulating than being in a classroom."

This view is backed up by Peter New, a parent who is helping out on the trip as a volunteer.

Pupils drawing
Pupils create a report based on their findings

"It's very informative and good that they appreciate the effect they as individuals have on the land and the environment."

Such trips can also benefit less able pupils for whom traditional learning can be arduous.

"It's good for those children who don't particularly enjoy reading and writing to do something practical," said Mrs Dooley.

"I've been quite surprised at their answers. Some of the ones who don't answer in class are fired up to answer here.

"Children learn in different ways, for some it slots into place quicker this way."

Schools 'shying away from trips'
28 Sep 04  |  Education
Moves to protect school trip staff
14 Apr 04  |  Education
Teachers trained for trip hazards
23 Jul 03  |  Education

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