Act now on safety

THE end of the summer term should be a happy time for families around the country, but this year it was marred as news of Largs Academy's horrendous coach crash near Dijon sent shivers down the spines of parents and teachers everywhere. "There but for the grace of God" must have been the reaction of many.

Police investigations have still to be carried out, and the driver, a father with his own teenage daughter, must live with the consequences of a momentary swerve that went so tragically wrong. But already there must be lessons for schools and authorities. Above all, there is the very idea of letting children undertake a gruelling 33-hour drive to Barcelona.

Coaches have improved radically, with new and better seat belts installed, but legislation is still required to make their use compulsory. Fifteen-year-old Katherine Fish could well be alive today had she worn hers. The hours of travel should be strictly limited, with overnight breaks a legal requirement or, at the very least, imposed by the education authority. Deals with English youth hostels should be investigated so that Scottish children can break their journey in safety and comfort.

The new ferry at Rosyth opens up fresh prospects and cheaper airline deals offer easier and safer alternatives, despite this week's Russian jet crash which killed a party of more than 50 children. Coaches could meet the children at their destination, providing transport for equipment and a base throughout the holiday; crucially, their drivers would be more familiar with local roads.

The Scottish Executive and education authorities must address the issue as a matter of urgency. No one would wish schools to limit their horizons. Cultural trips and visits abroad are an important part of children's education, which many would not experience without the hard work and altruistic commitment of the teachers prepared to take them. But safety must be paramount.

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