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Act now or get ready to grieve

I have been an outdoor education professional for nearly 30 years and have been chairman of the major outdoor education associations. Would doctors allow first-aiders to take over their role, then find themselves priced out of the market? Of course not!

Yet in outdoor education, the industry is being manipulated and persuaded by the Advisory Council for Adventure Centres, (the English Tourist Board committee,) towards a voluntary system which will allow unqualified and inexperienced instructors to be in charge of children.

The established and traditional centres - mainly run by local authorities, Outward Bound and charities - are under considerable pressure and some, such as Howtown are closing, because they are too expensive. Why? Because they employ properly qualified staff, with full national governing body awards, who need to be paid decent salaries.

We are being continually undercut financially by other centres which employ unqualified, inexperienced, non-teachers, and pay them peanuts.

Please support a national compulsory accreditation system for every centre and provider of outdoor activities in Britain.

Such a system must be compulsory, otherwise the "cowboys" will ignore it. It must be based on national governing body coaching schemes and qualifications. These are good, long-standing, proven schemes which could be applied nationally tomorrow.

The system should be administered by the Health and Safety Executive the only body with the "teeth" to make it work.

Accreditation needs the support of the insurance industry. My communication with the Loss Prevention Council, the insurance industries' body, make me realise that they may easily have the biggest influence in the shortest time. No qualifications? No insurance.

My message to schools, teachers, governors, parents and to the established part of the outdoor industry, is: please don't accept the "pap" put forward by the Department for Education or the ACAC.

We should have had a mandatory scheme for outdoor safety after the children died in the Cairngorms in 1970. Please do not pass up this opportunity to achieve a compulsory national accreditation scheme now.

Otherwise, we may be looking back in a few more years, following another outdoor activities disaster, regretting we did not insist on a mandatory scheme in 1994.

STEVE D MITCHELL Headteacher Howtown outdoor education centre Penrith Cumbria.

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