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Michael Peters, of Lambeth education authority
"We are confident there was an adequate level of supervision"
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Wednesday, 4 July, 2001, 11:24 GMT 12:24 UK
Teachers' tight guidelines for trips
students on school visit
Guidelines cover trips and outdoor pursuits
The fate of the 11-year-old London schoolgirl Bunmi Shagaya, on a school trip to France, has highlighted once again the dangers facing pupils and supervising staff.

Whether abroad or in the UK, there are guidelines which schools are advised to follow when taking pupils on trips.

Bunmi was found to be missing when staff carried out a routine headcount of pupils on the trip.

This is one of the recommendations made by the Department for Education in its "best practice" guidelines to schools over trips and outings.

"Whatever the length and nature of the visit, regular head counting should take place, particularly before leaving any venue," the department says.

And all supervisors should carry a list of all the pupils and adults on the trip.

On Bunmi's trip, there were 41 children and six adults - including the headmaster.

This is well within the government's recommended ratio of one adult for every ten to 15 pupils in school years four to six (nine to 11 year olds).

For years one to three (six to eight year olds) the ratio should rise to one adult to every six pupils.

Consent form

Parents should be given full details about the trip and must sign a consent form before their child can to take part in the trip.

They should also give authorisation for emergency medical treatment.

The trip leader is advised to complete a risk assessment form - even if just for a visit to the local museum - and pass on a copy to the school governors, head teacher and local education authority.

Schools using private companies, such as an activity centre, for their trips should make sure the provider has a licence for the activities it offers.

Learn the language

When organising a trip abroad, schools are advised that it is "good practice" to carry out an exploratory visit to the location.

If this is not possible, the group leader is advised to collect as much information as possible about the area.

Pupils can derive a good deal of educational benefit from taking part in visits with their schools

Department for Education
One of the adults on the trip should be able to speak and read the language of the country in question, the Department for Education suggests.

If not, one must learn enough of the language to hold a basic conversation and to know how to express themselves in the event of an emergency, the department says.

Schools are also advised that pupils should have a basic knowledge of the local language.

And they should carry a note in the language in question, giving details of their party, in case they get lost.

Hazards of natural waters

The DfES guidelines have a section dealing specifically with the sea or other "natural waters".

They say swimming and paddling there "are potentially dangerous activities for a school group".

"They should only be allowed as formal and supervised activities, preferably in recognised bathing areas which have official surveillance i.e. qualified lifeguard cover.

"Nonetheless, pupils should always be in sight of their supervisors. One supervisor should always stay out of the water for better surveillance.

"The group leader, or another designated teacher in the group, should hold a relevant life saving award, especially where lifeguard cover may not be available."

The group leader should also be aware that many children who drown are strong swimmers, ascertain for themselves the level of the pupils' swimming ability, and be aware of the local conditions - such as currents and weeds.

Educational benefit

But despite the strict guidelines, brought in after a "number of tragic incidents involving school children" - such as the Lyme Regis canoeing disaster in 1993 which took the lives of four teenagers - the department is keen to stress the benefits of taking pupils away from the school environment.

"The potential hazards... should not discourage teachers," the Department for Education says.

"Pupils can derive a good deal of educational benefit from taking part in visits with their schools."

But even the strictest of guidelines cannot cover every eventuality, as seen in the tragic case of Caroline Dickinson, 13, who was raped and suffocated as she slept during a school holiday in a hostel in Brittany.

And with a weight of responsibility and a number of high profile cases concerning school trip safety, teachers may be more and more reluctant to take the risk.

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07 Feb 01 | UK
The child safety catch
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