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A safe pair of hands

Every school is getting a visits co-ordinator. They will find the safety regime for outdoor trips is far from simple, writes Phil Revell.

The long-awaited pound;2.3 million training programme to tighten safety procedures on school trips gets under way this term.

Most education authorities will be holding courses for education visits co-ordinators, who will oversee planning of trips and training of trip leaders. In smaller schools the head or deputy will almost certainly fill this role, but in big secondary schools this could be a promoted post for a senior teacher.

Last January's government guidance calling for co-ordinators was, uniquely, published as a working draft to allow for the widest possible consultation. "The guidance is not a DfES imposition," said Steve Poynton, chair of the national panel of outdoor education advisers. "This is a great opportunity to share a view about why these trips are valuable and what we ought to get out of them."

However, teaching unions were initially hostile to the idea of a visits co-ordinator in every school and outdoor education providers are worried that the end result will be fewer trips. Teachers may not be willing to take on the EVC role.

The guidance applies only to England. The Welsh Assembly begins consultation on a similar system this month. The Scottish Executive is revising guidance in the light of English developments.

The need for EVCs will be underlined this month when Leeds City Council is prosecuted over the deaths of two girls from the Royds School who drowned on a river walk in the Yorkshire Dales.

This month also sees the three-yearly review of the Adventurous Activities Licensing Authority set up after the 1993 Lyme Bay canoeing tragedy, the authority inspects outdoor specialists throughout the UK. These providers, ranging from individual instructors to large companies, have always argued that the licensing system is expensive and unnecessary. "Our industry has an excellent safety record," said one of their representatives. "The accidents happen on self-managed school trips and on trips run by voluntary organisations."

Commercial providers want a system of registration and occasional inspection, but are unlikely to get their way. The DfES believes any new system must offer the same protection as existing licences.

What may change is the scope of the licence. Currently some activities, such as rock climbing , are regulated while others - quad biking, say - are not. Outdoor specialists want inspectors to focus on the quality of services rather than individual activities.

It is generally agreed that schools need a simple "kitemark" system that makes it easy to see if an actvity provider offers a safe experience. But the DfES has no money for such a scheme, and the AALA review is unlikely to produce major changes to the system.

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