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School trips minus the risk

When pupils at Maiden Erlegh school in Berkshire go on a trip, there is no need for permission slips and packed lunches.

All they need to do is walk to a classroom and wait while the teacher sets up the equipment.

The school is one of a growing number which is using video-conferencing to link up with museums, reducing the need for school trips and thus the fear of accidents and litigation.

Paul Rowley, a history teacher who is in charge of digital media, said:

"Now educational trips are becoming difficult, it's a good way to try to bring in experts and use material other than textbooks. It is easier than organising 100 pupils on the move. Many of the students say it's their best lesson."

Mike Griffith, manager of the government-funded project called "Video-conferencing in the Classroom", said he helped schools set up 1,000 links with museums and experts abroad this year.

He said: "If it's difficult for legal reasons to take the children out of school, this is an alternative."

The technology allows isolated schools or seriously ill pupils who are educated in hospital to get some of the benefits of museum trips, he said.

There are at least 11 museums and educational centres offering video-conferences for schools, from the National Portrait Gallery to Newcastle United FC.

Pupils visiting a museum through video-conferencing might have the chance to see historical artefacts, hear experts speak and quiz them on their subject.

Jo Hunt, head of education at the Cabinet War Rooms, said: "It isn't easy stuffing children into coaches. I do think this is a lesser experience than visiting a museum in person, but on the other hand, if you don't live somewhere where there is lots of World War Two stuff, it's better than reading a book or looking at a website."

Video-conferencing is so popular that it now makes up a quarter of the National Gallery's teaching programme, staff said.

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, which advises its members not to take school trips because of the risk of being sued if there is an accident, welcomed the development.

Chris Keates, NASUWT acting general secretary, said: "It's an innovative way to ensure pupils access a wide range of curriculum support material.

This is a sensible way for teachers to minimise the risks. Tragedies have occurred on what people regard as safe trips, to the local park, museum or library."

Teacher magazine 30

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