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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 November 2005, 14:44 GMT
School trips in the spotlight
Children on school trip
Schools have official guidelines to follow when organising trips
The death of a teenager while on a school trip comes shortly after the government said all pupils were entitled to safe, quality excursions.

Schools Minister Andrew Adonis said recently it was important for children to have a wide range of educational experiences.

A government Bill aims to reassure teachers they will be treated fairly if a pupil is injured on a trip.

But the long-standing advice from one teachers' union, the NASUWT, to its members is not to take part.

Although the circumstances of the latest death have not yet emerged, it is likely to rekindle the debate.

Concerns

The Department for Education and Skills publishes a 72-page "good practice" guide for educational trips, as well as various other publications relating to specific activities such as water sports.

No amount of planning can guarantee that a visit will be totally incident free
Government guidance
The guide was produced in response to concerns about a number of serious and fatal accidents in recent years, such as the Lyme Regis canoeing disaster in 1993 which took the lives of four teenagers.

The school must ensure there is adequate insurance to cover the trip; this may include personal accident cover and cover for specialised risk activities.

When youngsters under the age of 18 are unaccompanied by a parent, commercial companies need a licence to offer caving, climbing, trekking and watersports.

The licence shows they have been inspected and are considered to have appropriate health and safety measures in place.

Schools are advised to check an external activity provider is licensed before organising a trip.

Schools are also warned about the dangers of trips near the sea: "Teachers should be aware that many of the incidents affecting pupils have occurred in or by the sea."

Travelling safely

The "good practice" guidance reminds teachers that pupils must be properly supervised when travelling.

All minibuses and coaches carrying groups of three or more children aged between three and 15 years must be fitted with seatbelts.

It also stresses the importance of the ratio of adults to children.

For example, there must be at least one adult on a trip for 10 to 15 children in years 4 to 6 (ages eight to 11) and at least one adult for every 15 to 20 children from year 7 (the first year of secondary school).

For residential visits, the government advises there be one teacher for every 10 pupils.

Regular headcounts must be done throughout the excursion.

And, prior to the trip, parents should be given full details and must sign a consent form before their child can take part.

But, as the guidance stresses: "No amount of planning can guarantee that a visit will be totally incident free."

Even the strictest of guidelines cannot cover every eventuality, as seen in the case of Caroline Dickinson, 13, who was raped and suffocated in her bed during a school holiday in a hostel in Brittany.


Thousands of children go on school trips every year, and the vast majority take place without incident, providing a fulfilling experience for the youngsters involved.

Where do we draw the line between safety and adventure? Is it possible to give children a life-building experience, while guaranteeing their safety? How can schools or other organisations make you more or less confident about sending children on trips?

Your comments:

Unfortunately accidents do happen but in most cases children are more likely to be involved in an accident on there way to and from school which can be fatal. As long as all possible risks have been looked at and assessed and adequate staff have been allocated I think trips are beneficial. My own children went on several skiing trips which a small amount of parents were also allowed to attend. I found these trips to be excellent and safety was paramount and I felt much happier that they were all safer than had we gone as a family as there were ski instructors for groups and a teacher from the school and a parent for each 10 children and the instructors were all in radio contact with each other enabling emergency help to be called instantly if there had been a problem. That would not have been the case on a family holiday.
Lorraine Stead, Cambridge, United Kingdom

I suppose that the problem is that most of the activities that take place have an element of excitement or thrill to them. If you said to a group of 14-year-olds that they were going on a ramble, then it would be very unlikely that you'd get much interest. I spent the summer going on approx 10 trips and then a 3 day residential, where we had no problems, injuries or accidents. This included white water rafting, high wire walking, rock climbing, ledge jumps, mountain biking, canoeing etc. Unfortunately this young boy lost his life, but it would be a shame to stop trips because they help develop team bonding, confidence, self esteem, make friends and most of all, they give young people the chance to broaden their experiences and do things that they very often wouldn't get the chance to do!
Andrew Rees, Bury

I am a primary teacher and actively seek out opportunities to take my children out of school wherever possible. This leads to a great deal of preparation and paperwork before our trip and I and usually quietly anxious for most of it. I have to complete a Risk Assessment for even the smallest outing and have to think of all eventualities. This may be stressful and a lot of work but it is worth every second when my children enjoy a lovely day out. Most of it is in the preparation (and common sense) but it is impossible to make guarantees. It's such a shame that children could lose out when, statistically speaking, we do such a good job. My heart goes out to this boy's family
Kirsty, Sunderland

As a primary school teacher who has led annual residential trips for many years and a mother whose daughter was knocked down by a car, I know that life holds no guarantees. It does, however, offer incredibly important opportunities for development, growth and fulfilment of the whole child whilst they undertake adventurous activities. As parents, it is our duty to let them go.
Margaret Park, Bidford-on-Avon, UK

School trips are not compulsory, and parents get the choice whether to send their children on them. As a child at a secondary school, I know that when on a school trip, there is always a possibility of danger. You just have to realise that its there and be cautious. You can't blame teachers because they do everything they can to protect their pupils. If you don't want to take the small risk, then don't. And obviously, incidents will happen, but it's in the minority. There are thousands of safe, successful school trips every year, where pupils and teachers alike have great fun.
Emily, Plymouth, Devon

I think that while all due care should be taken to ensure safety on school trips, I think that it would be very easy to fall into a mentality of 'wrapping children in cotton wool' and not letting them experience life. Children need some adventure and outlets that are positive. If we over protect our children, they will never learn to function as adults to the same extent. Plus, I loved my school trips!
Helen, North Wales

My daughter (a bright 13-year-old) is going to Germany with the school in 2 weeks time. Both she and the school have my blessing and I hope she enjoys the trip. There is always a risk involved with something like this, but the experience gained will be invaluable to her and the others going. I would like to go with her, but she would not get the thrill of going 'on her own', even if with a number of others. We have to trust the teachers and rely of them and their attention to look after our kids, but the kids too have a responsibility to both the teachers and the other members of their party
Mike Greene, Greete, Nr Tenbury Wells, Shrops

When conducting Duke of Edinburgh gold award assessments adults must be present at selected rendezvous throughout the proposed planned route. The children also have mobile phones. This despite the fact that most of the children are old enough to be married. Sensible precautions should always be taken, including a thorough briefing of risks and requirements from the group in terms of behaviour, but it is bad for leaders and children to impose an environment in which nothing could possibly go wrong.
Adam Livett, Christchurch Dorset

At the end of the day, some things cannot be planned for, and accidents will happen - the problem is where do we draw the line at keeping a child safe? It is useless to keep a child from going on school excursions, some of my favourite and beneficial times at school were on the residentials. I say give teachers a break, and, although the deaths of these children are absolutely tragic, no one can hold the blame.
Graham Reid, Kettering, Northants

For parents to give consent they need to be given details of the sorts of activities to be undertaken so that they may consent to some activities and not others - in my experience parents are not asked for feedback after excursions. Also regardless of parental consent a child should have the choice to withdraw from certain activities even if he/she is fully kitted out (and not be made to feel like a 'coward' by peers or leaders). Near misses should be openly reported. Alternative arrangements should be put in place at school for those children whose parents do not consent.
Anne-Marie Willows, South Shields, Tyne & Wear




SEE ALSO
Pupils 'entitled to school trips'
04 Nov 05 |  Education
Safety training for school trips
27 Sep 04 |  Education
Outdoor centres 'a safety net'
28 Sep 04 |  Education

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