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Friday, 6 July, 2001, 23:54 GMT 00:54 UK
Second thoughts about school outings
By education correspondent Mike Baker
How many anxious parents are right now worrying whether they should have agreed to their sons and daughters going on the school trip?
How many head teachers and school governors are wondering whether they should have approved this summer's school journeys?
I hope the answer to all the above is: "Not many."
School trips can be immensely valuable as well as good fun. But this week's tragic death of Bunmi Shagaya, on a school trip to France, will I suspect have triggered some serious thinking.
School trips are growing in popularity and appear to be increasingly ambitious. Cheaper and easier travel, thanks partly to the Channel Tunnel, mean more schools are venturing abroad.
Poignantly, this was the first foreign trip undertaken by Bunmi's school, Hill Mead Primary.
Local museum visits are still staple fare but even primary schools seem to be opting for residential trips these days and, where they can, combining educational activities with more physical pursuits, ranging from trekking to water sports.
In a couple of weeks my 15-year-old daughter is off on a school trip to Morocco for a fortnight trekking in the Atlas Mountains. It seemed an ambitious trip when we first had the form back from school and the issue of safety was one of our first thoughts (after we had recovered from the shock of the cost).
Both my daughters have been on residential school trips with both their primary and secondary schools.
Each time they have returned safely and with a markedly new aura of independence. They have been on night rambles, obstacle courses and kayaking trips.
The younger they are the more you worry. That is only natural.
Natural, yes. But let us hope they will change their minds.
And what of the teachers? Like all teachers, they must have put a tremendous amount of hard work into organising this trip.
Only someone who has never accompanied a school outing would regard it as a pure holiday for the teachers and other adult helpers. Enjoyable, yes. But relaxing, probably not.
Yet, without the enthusiasm of the teachers (and let us remember this goes way beyond their required duties of employment) trips like Hill Mead's would not happen. For a school in one of the least affluent parts of London, I suspect the school trip offered a unique opportunity to many of these children.
Looking after someone else's children is a terrifying responsibility. It is not one I would often volunteer for.
Flailing hockey sticks
I used to spend Sunday mornings training five to 11 year olds in field hockey. It was exhausting but fun.
Occasionally, though, I would have a horrible moment when a child had a fall, a collision or, on one occasion, was hit by a flailing stick.
Luckily, the worst that happened was a chipped tooth. Fortunately, the organisers had organised the parental consent forms, the first aid kit and the insurance. I just turned up to help out.
But just think for a moment: How many of us would be willing to accept the work involved, and the responsibilities, for the benefit of someone else's children?
So, of course, there must be a full inquiry into what happened during Hill Mead's outing to the swimming lake in France. No-one should now try to second guess its outcome.
But let us also remember these teachers and adult helpers were volunteers, taking risks for the benefit of others.
I hope other teachers will not be deterred by this week's events nor by the recent manslaughter conviction in a French court of an English secondary school teacher following a tragic drowning incident on a school trip two years ago.
But you could not blame them if they were put off organising next summer's trip.
Of course, we have been here before. Every year or so there is a tragedy on a school canoeing, swimming or skiing trip. Accidents also happen on less active school visits.
But accidents also happen when children are out with their own families. We don't tend to rush to judgement in such cases as quickly as we do when others are "in loco parentis".
The government's guidelines on school visit safety are sensible but also incredibly detailed. Just reading them could frighten you off organising a trip.
But, as the guidance itself says, teachers (and, I might add, parents) should not be deterred by the potential hazards from undertaking trips which usually have real educational benefits.
Mike Baker and the education team welcome your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org although cannot always answer individual e-mails.
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