Europe's most worried parents

26th July 1996 at 01:00
Most teachers believe school trips are a valuable part of children's growing up and are unlikely to want them to be abandoned as a result of the murder of Caroline Dickinson.

It is believed to be the first murder on a school trip, although deaths do happen. Changes in the law were inspired by the deaths of four teenagers on an activity holiday at Lyme Bay, and 12 youngsters in a school minibus on the M40.

The fear is that worried parents - and British parents already appear to be among the most worried in Europe - may make it almost impossible for schools to run trips although it is generally agreed by organisations, including the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, that Caroline's school had followed all the rules. "You cannot legislate against a madman," said Bob Carstairs of the Secondary Heads Association.

Many parents were quoted last week saying they would now be too frightened to let their children go away with their classmates. This tallies with research done by the Policy Studies Institute, which matched five towns in England and Germany and looked at children's freedoms in 1971 and 1991. Whereas in 1971 80 per cent of English seven- and eight-year-olds were allowed to go to school alone or with other children, 20 years later that figure had dropped to under 10 per cent. In Germany, meanwhile, 60 per cent of the age group still went to school unaccompanied by adults, and 90 per cent returned the same way.

Meyer Hillman, one of the authors, said the perception of some risks in this country was greatly exaggerated. The risk of a child dying through cycling to school was far smaller than the risk of dying in middle age of heart disease as a result of not taking regular exercise by cycling to school.

If increasing parental fears further curtailed children's freedom to have adventures, said Mr Hillman, then he feared serious psychological effects in adulthood, as well as the problem that young adults would not know how to deal with difficulties as they arose.

Statistics are almost impossible to find, but it seems that it may almost be safer for children to be on trips than in school.

In the year 1993-94, seven pupils and five staff were killed in accidents at school, with more than 11,000 significant injuries requiring either an overnight hospital stay or three days off sick.

Chris Lowe, head of Prince William School in Oundle and author of the School Travel Organiser's Handbook, writes in the introduction to the new edition: "School visits are not only a traditional part of British education, they are stimulating to both those who lead and those who are led."

School Travel Organiser's Handbook 1997 (Hobsons Publishing PLC), Pounds 7.95, is available from September 25.

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