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EDITIONS
 Friday, 5 July, 2002, 23:17 GMT 00:17 UK
Peak season brings school trip fears
pupils out and about
Pupils can benefit richly from outdoor activities

The prosecution of council bosses in Leeds over the death of two young girls highlights the potential dangers to pupils of going on school trips.

Last week the Health and Safety Executive warned it was taking legal action after the pupils were swept to their deaths in a river accident while being supervised by school teachers.

I used to take regular trips abroad with pupils but in the light of what has happened in recent years I certainly wouldn't engage in any activity like that again

Ian Draper, NASUWT
Thousands of parents will this summer place their trust in school staff who take children on adventure trips.

In the last five years 19 pupils and two adults have died and it is estimated that another three pupils could die on such excursions in the coming month.

Apart from the Leeds incident, a teacher in Portsmouth has pleaded guilty to negligence following a pupil's death during a boating trip.

Another six teachers in London may face manslaughter charges following a drowning in France.

And a scoutmaster was found not guilty of manslaughter after a young scout fell 500ft from Mount Snowdon.

Boat capsized

Leslie Bee allowed her twin daughters Elizabeth and Victoria to go on a boating trip with a teacher from a private school they attended in Portsmouth.

The weather was appalling but the teacher took nine pupils out in a flat-bottomed boat. It capsized and nine-year-old Elizabeth was trapped underneath.

Said Mrs Bee: "There was a catalogue of errors.

Head counts

"The weather was the main one. There had been no risk assessment.

"And what horrified me was when the boat capsized and everyone was in the water there was no headcount.

"The teacher shouted to the pupils: 'Are you all here?'

"Obviously Elizabeth was unable to shout out. Her head was under the boat.

"It was only when they got ashore that he realised one was missing.

Lack of instruction

"When the police came to the door I put my fingers in my ears and slid down the wall and ended up crouched on the floor rocking while they were talking.

Teachers get no instruction whatsoever in their professional training for leading groups off the premises

Phil Ravell, outdoor pursuits expert
"I wasn't listening to them. I was trying to block it all out.

"They said she was brain dead. She had been under the water too long."

Outdoor pursuits expert Phil Ravell said: "When a child dies the appropriate prosecution would be manslaughter and manslaughter on the statute book is one crime where ignorance and stupidity is a pretty good defence.

"Teachers get no instruction whatsoever in their professional training for leading groups off the premises.

"You can be a superb teacher in the classroom but that says nothing about your ability to lead a group in the outdoors.

'Don't do it'

"It is tragic to think that a highly professional teacher can make a simple but fatal mistake by the seaside or on a mountain and find themselves facing criminal charges and jail."

The situation is so bad that the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers has urged all its members to refuse to take pupils on outdoor pursuits.

Spokesperson Ian Draper said: "I used to take regular trips abroad with pupils but in the light of what has happened in recent years I certainly wouldn't engage in any activity like that again.

"Regrettably we live in a litigious society. People want to take matters to court to get some form of redress."

Rule change for some

In 1996, following some appalling school tragedies, the government introduced legislation that demanded that outdoor pursuit centres should be licensed as proof of their competency.

In the UK some 950 adventure centres have been granted a licence. Ian Peter, head of the Plas Y Brenin Mountain Centre in North Wales, is not impressed.

"The stupid thing is that there has hardly been a death in a pursuit centre since the legislation.

"The danger areas are schools, scouting and voluntary organisations. But the government refuses to extend the legislation to cover those hazard areas.

'Nonsense'

"Instead the government relies upon us to teach the teachers the safety rules and then hope they are OK taking 30 pupils on a mountain."

But Education Minister Ivan Lewis said that, while teachers should be urged to take an outdoor qualification, it should not be a legal requirement.

"To enforce qualifications on a teacher would seem a complete nonsense," he said.

"Making a qualification a statutory requirement would not begin to tackle the problem of safety."

David Price reports on Pupils in Peril for Five Live Report, 12:05 BST on Sunday 7 July.

See also:

27 May 02 | Education
27 Jun 02 | Education
08 Mar 02 | England
30 Nov 01 | Education
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