Charges may put staff off field trips

20th October 2000 at 01:00
Two teachers, severely criticised after last week's river disaster, may face criminal charges, report Esther Leach, Robert Boyland and Amanda Kelly

A SCHOOL was this week struggling to come to terms with the loss of two pupils in a river-walking disaster that has once again raised questions about the safety of group trips.

The girls, from Royds high school in Oulton, Leeds, were with a party of 15 children and two teachers on a geography field trip in the Yorkshire Dales when they were swept away in a rain-swollen stream last Tuesday.

Police have yet to decide whether the male and female teachers will face criminal charges, but they have already suffered a week of severe criticism from parents, the public and press, who cannot understand why they led pupils into a water course described as "dangerously high".

The body of Rochelle Cauvet, 14, was found the following day, but, more than a week later as The TES went to press, the hunt for 13-year-old Hannah Black was still going on.

After days of intensive counselling, emotional support and guidance from psychologists and education welfare officers, classes at Royds were slowly returning to normal.

Educational psychologist Tom Kelly said he was surprised at how well the school of more than 1,000 pupils was holding together.

But he said the delay in finding the missing girl had made it difficult for the grieving process to move forward. "At the moment we are trying to keep a low profile, trying to keep things as normal as possible," he said.

The Rev John Packer, the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, was among those who visited the school to help youngsters cope with their loss.

The two teachers who were with the school party at the time of the accident are on sick leave and receiving counselling.

They may have to wait several weeks before they discover whether they will face criminal charges.

Chief Inspector Ron Johnson, of nort Yorkshire Police, said a thorough inquiry involving the Health and Safety Executive would be carried out before a decision on whether to launch a criminal investigation was made.

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, warned that the threat of prosecution may make staff reluctant to organise trips in future.

Eamonn O'Kane, deputy general secretary of the NASUWT, said: "Such trips are an integral part of school life and they bring enormous benefits to both staff and pupils.

"But it would be surprising if many teachers did not now decide that the risks outweigh the advantages.

"Ensuring health and safety has got to be balanced with the fact that sometimes things happen outside of teachers' control."

Following the Lyme Bay disaster in 1993, in which four children died when their canoe was swept out to sea, the Government tightened the rules governing school outings.

They make clear that schools must do as much planning and risk assessment as possible in advance, as well as reviewing the situation constantly on the trip itself.

But many safety experts have criticised the legislation for being too narrowly focused on activity centres, rather than expeditions organised by teachers and voluntary groups, which is where the majority of fatal accidents have occurred.

Peter Cornall, head of water and leisure safety at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, said initial teacher training should now include residential trip supervision.

"There is currently very little emphasis on dealing with outdoor residential activities within the teacher-training curriculum," he said.

"Even PE teachers do only around four hours a year on adventurous activities and other teachers do even less.

"We are not in the business of knocking teachers. We would just like to give them more support so they can better deal with these situations in future."

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