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Wednesday, 29 May, 2002, 10:12 GMT 11:12 UK
School trips: How can safety be ensured?
A 10-year-old boy has died after being swept away in a river on a trip to the Lake District.

Max Palmer was with a group of schoolchildren from Fleetwood in Lancashire when the accident happened.

He was not a pupil at the school but was with his mother, an employee at the school, on a day out.

The boy was said to have been overpowered by the force of the river and was swept downstream.

His mother Patricia Palmer - an educational support assistant with the school - tried to save him.

She was taken to hospital with hypothermia after being pulled from the water unconscious.

What do you think can be done to improve the safety of school trips? Are you confident in your child's safety when on a school trip?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


Your reaction

I have taken school concert tours abroad for 5 years, and every member of staff is acutely aware of the responsibilities involved. We spend 12 months trying to predict even the most unlikely scenarios, so that our qualified staff can deal with such events should they arise. It is unfortunate that accidents happen, however I feel that some parents and the media are too quick to blame the teachers. In some cases, yes, there clearly is negligence. However, sometimes it is more a case of rash behaviour on the part of the child, or simply "being in the wrong place at the wrong time".

Children on our trips away return with a greater sense of independence and improved social abilities; in short, "life skills". Teachers, by the nature of school trips, cannot guarantee constant one to one supervision, and parents requiring this should not ask a teacher to take responsibility for their child. However, school trips do offer the chance for children to blossom, in ways they may not in their day to day lives. Please don't make it impossible for us to keep doing this.
Melanie, UK


To society, the risk of children not going on them is far worse a prospect

Emyr, UK
Despite occasional rare tragic incidents - school trips are an essential former of character and responsibility. I went on many trips with the school - dangerous climbing in my native Wales, and expeditions to places such as Iceland. These experiences formed my opinion, my respect for the environment, my hunger for learning and my health and future direction - they are fundamentally important. To society, the risk of children not going on them is far worse a prospect. Teachers should be supplied with adequate information and guidance, but protected from US style litigation culture which is developing here.
Emyr, UK

I have, over the past 20 years, taken many hundreds of pupils on trips from school ranging from concert visits and foreign trips to Duke of Edinburgh gold expeditions. In the present climate, as a teacher, I would no longer put myself or my career at risk. Unfortunately, it is the children who lose out and, despite the comments of Ross UK, children do learn a great deal on such trips - valuable interpersonal skills- which cannot be easily taught in a conventional classroom. As with many things in our present society, we have lost our sense of perspective on this.
Derek Blyth, U.K.


Experience of the outdoors is a vital part of any education

C Cotton, England
Great sympathies to the family of Max Palmer, but please do not let his death give to those averse to every risk that could possibly be taken an excuse to make the educational experience any more boring than it is for many children. Experience of the outdoors is a vital part of any education - thinking here of education that teaches life-skills rather than just syllabuses - and do not deny children this on the grounds of frequent, though rare, accidents such of this. Certainly care and attention should be taken in the planning of such trips, and those leading them should be capable of doing so, but do not let us place such a crushing burden of responsibility on teachers et al that they no longer wish to risk their own careers by conducting them. Only the students suffer.
C Cotton, England

There is already an Adventure Activities Licensing Authority. All that is needed is that schools come under their remit if they undertake outdoor activity holidays and are licensed accordingly
Bob Price, Wales

Don't all of you remember school trips as a kid? I remember clearly and I pity the poor teachers. All of us excited, way too hyper, trying to run in all directions, and certainly not thinking with clear heads. I grew up in ex-pat British schools, and I remember the day my teacher took the class to Dusseldorf, and we went wild with excitement. Needless to say, the "structure" of class excursions changed after that, but they weren't cancelled. Don't forget, teachers are human too, and their abilities to control excited kids can only go so far. This little boy's drowning was completely a tragic unfortunate accident.
KB, USA

This is clearly a tragic accident and thoughts will be with everyone concerned. However, these emotions should not cloud the true value of these activities. I've been through Scouts, including having been an activities instructor. The experience is valuable; if I had more space I could expand. The vast, vast majority of leaders treat safety with paramount importance; despite this accidents will sadly happen. More children's lives could be saved through greater "belting up" in cars - it is the media that propagates the rash views expressed here. Complacency is the biggest danger in any activity - it is the instructor's qualification and charge to act accordingly.
David H, Glasgow, UK

The majority of students actually hate this type of "adventure" trips and perhaps the teachers ought to consider whether risking children's lives for something nobody wants to do is worth it? It costs so much money and the end result is miserable kids and injures/deaths! What is the point I ask?
Alistair, England

Very soon, teachers will be completely unwilling to organise trips because of the media circus involved whenever there are any accidents. No one can eliminate risk from these activities. Risk is a part of everyday life. In fact the risk is what gives the challenge to young people to extend their boundaries as part of growing up. The trick is to manage that risk and provide as far as possible, an environment where, the young people can learn to manage their own risks better through challenge and achievement whilst minimising the risk or the consequences. Would we consider closing all of the surrounding roads to a school at the start and the end of the school day to avoid the risk of a traffic accident? - I think not!
Tony, UK

All NZ schools have to have an up to date outdoor policy, which covers all trips made away from the school. The school I taught at had a policy of every staff member having and keeping a current First Aid Certificate Even so there are times when disasters will occur. Children are by their very nature, unpredictable beings.
Jean Went, New Zealand


I refuse to let my 12-year-old go on any school trips

Maggie O'Connell, UK
I refuse to let my 12-year-old go on any school trips because I really don't think that anyone can keep an eye on everyone all the time. If anything happened to my child while I was looking after him, I would only have myself to blame and would have to live with that forever. But when someone else is responsible, there would be too many unanswered questions, too much guilt and I would spend my whole life seeking justice. It would end up killing me too!
Maggie O'Connell, UK

With the continued urbanisation of the general population, it is really not surprising that such accidents are happening so often. The minders, as well as the children of these trips are often in situations they have never been before, or they overestimate their own abilities. It is an unfortunate side effect of today's cushy living conditions.
Tor, UK

Is it not possible to string safety nets downstream of locations regularly used for these activities, even if structural alterations had to be put in place?
Anonymous, England

How many more children will be injured or killed before guidelines are put in place?
Jackie, Bucks


Personal liability for teachers would improve safety

Elaine, Oxford
Personal liability for teachers who allow the death of children in their care through negligence would improve safety standards. Activity holidays are not a risk in themselves, the Outward Bound Trust has run courses for 60 years without a single fatality. It is the failure of teachers taking trips that needs to be addressed.
Elaine, Oxford

I wouldn't drive a school minibus or run trips if I was a teacher. However good the intention and positive the perceived benefits might be, I'm just not convinced that the risks would be worth it in today's litigious climate.
Robert Crosby, Nottingham, UK

What do these school trips actually teach children? My kids' school has an adventure holiday each year at a cost of over 200 per child. Maybe the schools should focus on teaching rather than playing.
Ross, UK

Kids have enough trouble these days being motivated at school as it is. If we took these little outings away from the kids, who knows how it may devastate them? Little Max was very unlucky, but we must remember kids are unlucky in sports and travelling to school yet we would never consider banning these. Our thoughts and prayers must be with the family of this poor little boy rather than starting another witch hunt on school trips.
Paul Dewhirst, Dewsbury, UK


Children on school trips are more unpredictable

Helen, UK
Are so many school trips necessary when danger is involved? When children are on school trips they are more excited, more out for a laugh, more unpredictable and susceptible to peer pressure than if they were going as a family with their parents. It would be far better if families could prioritise taking their children out on educational activites and adventures, leaving the schools to concentrate on educating them in the priority areas they need.
Helen, UK

I wonder how many of the human achievements of the past centuries would have happened if the people involved had had this obsession with perfect safety? There is no absolute guarantee of safety in any walk of life, no matter now apparently safe it may be. Unfortunately this is the risk we run merely by being alive.
David Hazel, UK

The main question is, should these children have been in the river? It was stupid for the supervisors to allow them to do so, especially in a river with a strong current. There IS someone to blame here.
Dave Langshaw, England


Start prosecuting and charging for the rescues

Elaine, UK
I was informed on my training as a health and safety officer that there is no such thing as an accident. Lack of preparation and understanding of the situation and the child's capabilities leads to disaster. Start prosecuting and charging for the rescues. If youth leaders and teachers thought they would face a massive bill for use of the service they might think twice. Also make them register with the rescue people stating what emergency equipment they are carrying.
Elaine, UK

Accidents do happen, but risk can be reduced with a professional risk assessment. It is not enough to rely on the common sense of those in charge. Do they have the necessary leadership skills, empathy with a child's abilities, and assertiveness to take control of a group? The skill lies in knowing when you have reached the limits of your group and to turn back.
Dave, UK


I was not vetted by my head

Kate, England
It is easy to see why this happened. I used to take school trips out with the proper qualifications and much experience in outdoor activities but was not vetted by my head. I was the one informing my superiors of the regulations surrounding taking out parties. Unless heads take the responsibility to vet staff then these accidents will continue. The Guide and Scout movements don't let parties go within 10 metres of water unless they are supervised by an adult holding a lifesaving award. If there had been one such adult in this case they would have not let the children near to such dangerous rushing water and if a disobedient child had then got into difficulties they would have known what to do.
Kate, England

When I think what I did in my childhood, playing in a mountain stream seems low risk! This case is very sad but I hope the press don't turn this tragedy into a witch hunt and wreck someone's career with cause - that has happened in the past.
Max Blinkhorn, Edinburgh, U.K.

How many children die each year in family holiday accidents? Certainly more than on school trips! I generally have little sympathy for the whingeing teachers but in this case I think they should be left alone: your children are safer on a school trip than they are at home!
Bernard, UK


Parents alone are accountable for their children's safety

Darren Reynolds, UK
Parents alone are accountable for their children's safety. In making the decision whether to allow our children to join a school trip, I expect to see plans including a summary of the risk control measures. If I were to accept the plan, the responsibility would then be mine. If the trip were to go wrong, it would not be not the teacher's fault unless they had disregarded the plans. Even then, it would remain my fault for making an inaccurate assessment of the teachers' judgement and competence.
Darren Reynolds, UK

Who are these people who want everything to be predictably and completely safe all of the time? Are these the parents who prefer to leave their kids to surf the porn sites on the internet in case they might meet a paedophile if allowed to play outside? Has anyone ever stopped to wonder if the reason so many young people try drugs is not boredom or rebellion but to put a healthy bit of risk back into their lives?
STC, England

During my six years as a secondary school teacher I was involved in supervising many school trips to Dartmoor and other places. Most teachers are acutely aware that supervision of children away from school is a huge responsibility. It only takes one mistake to cause complete disaster. The problem is that the line between success and disaster is a fine one and often down to the judgement of the individual teachers. How then do you measure who has the right skills to supervise a trip and who hasn't?
Nigel, England

Why does this question always arise? Deaths and injuries on school trips don't happen once a week or even once a year; they are extremely rare. If school trips are stopped we may as well stop children from walking out of the hospital where they are born to protect them. If a child is run over by a car we don't ask the question "Should children be allowed outside?" so why ask this question and create a problem which does not exist?
Andrew C, England, UK


I can't see that it's worth the risk for teachers

Robert Crosby, Nottingham, UK
We all need to reconsider whether school trips are always quite as vital in education as many seem to think. I can't see that it's worth the risk for teachers to either drive minibuses or run school trips. Even the most effective control measures and foresight will never prevent the unexpected, so why subject themselves to potentially catastrophic risks?
Robert Crosby, Nottingham, UK

Safety could be improved by not allowing younger children to accompany them.
Guy Chapman, UK

The benefits of going on school trips massively outweigh the dangers. As I child, I greatly enjoyed every trip I went on and as a parent, I have enthusiastically sent my children on every trip that they want to go on.
Patrick Stevens, UK

Look more into staffing levels. It's hard enough to keep an eye on three children on a shopping trip, let alone 20 or 30 on an outward bound school trip.
Michael, UK


We cannot wrap everyone up in cotton wool

Ian Thomas, England
Any activity that you may take part in on an adventure holiday will always have an element of danger, that is the attraction. My daughter will be going on such a holiday in the next couple of weeks and I am quite happy to send her. We cannot wrap everyone up in cotton wool just in case they might hurt themselves.
Ian Thomas, England

Staying away from hill streams after four weeks' heavy rain would be a good start. I agree that no-one should be wrapped in cotton wool but put someone in an unfamiliar environment and they don't recognise the simplest dangers. It only takes four inches of fast flowing water to overpower an adult so the risk to a 10-year-old boy should have been apparent.
Kathy Sadler, UK

When properly supervised, school trips are no more or less dangerous than anything else. Children are more at risk of being knocked down by a car on their way to school.
David Heffron, Glasgow

Safety on all these trips is only as good as the people in charge of them. It would seem that all these so-called accidents happen because of the inexperience of the people in charge and in some cases the sheer lack of common sense in taking children into situations quite beyond their capabilities.
Jean, UK

What is Jean talking about? School trips end in disaster, because some kid does something they know their teacher wouldn't let them do, were they to ask him first.
Ian, UK

 VOTE RESULTS
Are school trips safe?

Yes
 80.89% 

No
 19.11% 

654 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

See also:

08 Mar 02 | UK Education
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