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Despite tragedy, the trips go on

This week's jailing of a teacher for manslaughter has not put most staff off school outings. Helen Ward reports

School trips will go on, teachers say, despite the jailing of a geography teacher following the death of a child on a visit to the Lake District.

Paul Ellis, 42, of Cleveleys, near Blackpool, was sentenced to 12 months in prison this week after pleading guilty to the manslaughter of Max Palmer.

He had admitted a health and safety offence at an earlier hearing.

While one union has advised members not to take trips, other heads and teachers vowed to carry on. Iain Blaikie, head of Alcester grammar school, Warwickshire, said: "I can't imagine running a school without trips - it would change the nature of education."

And John Epstein, head of sixth-form at Tiffin school, Kingston-upon-Thames, said: "We will continue to take geography field trips because it is a vital part of what we're doing. We have risk-assessment procedures and I think with experience, common sense and such procedures then hopefully there isn't going to be a problem."

Steve Howe, director of sales and marketing for the Outward Bound Trust, said licensed centres could take the burden of responsibility away from teachers. "Our greatest fear with this sentencing, is that outdoor education will fall off the agenda. There are licensed providers who can give pupils the safest possible education."

Max, from Fleetwood, drowned in a beck used for "pool plunging" during an adventure weekend for pupils from Fleetwood high school in May 2002. The 10-year-old was not a pupil at the school and had been with his mother, Patricia, an educational support assistant at Fleetwood. He had been the second pupil to jump into the pool and immediately got into difficulties.

Max drowned despite attempts by Ellis, a father of three, and his mother to save him.

Detective Chief Inspector Bill Whitehead, of Cumbria police, said he had some sympathy with Ellis. "We were not dealing with a career criminal but a teacher who had made a severe error, " he said.

New government guidance about safety on school trips was issued after Max's death.

Margaret Dudley, head at Fleetwood high, said: "We will never forget that a child died who should have been starting at this school as a student three weeks ago. Our thoughts are with Max's family at this very sad time."

Chris Keates, deputy general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "Teachers should not be taking visits. They are in a very difficult position. All educational visits, even a trip to the park, contain an element of risk."

But David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "A teacher taking children for a non-hazardous pursuit needs to use common sense, follow the guidance and act as a reasonable parent would. Then I do not see why tragedies should occur."

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