Governors to investigate girl's drowning tragedy

16th May 2003 at 01:00
Governors at the Leeds comprehensive where a 13-year-old pupil drowned during a school trip are to conduct an internal investigation into the accident, after an inquest found shortcomings in pupils' supervision.

Gemma Carter drowned while on a trip to Le Touquet in June 1999 with Cockburn school. The school governing body will now examine the involvement of Mark Duckworth, the French teacher who was group leader for the five-day trip. Mr Duckworth will remain suspended until this inquiry is complete.

John Ellis, Cockburn's chair of governors, believes that his findings are likely to reflect those of the coroner's court, which on Tuesday returned a verdict of death by misadventure. The accident occurred on the second evening of the trip, when Mr Duckworth took a party of nine children to the beach. Gemma got into difficulties in shallow water, and her absence was not noticed until a head-count was conducted back at the hotel. A few hours later, she was found drowned.

The jury foreman said the children had been supervised in a "disorganised way" while on the beach. "We feel there was a shortcoming in the supervision of the pupils, specifically in the lack of formal head counts," he said.

"The group proceeded to the beach activities in a disorganised way and the teacher was unaware of the number of pupils under his control."

Sharon Carter, Gemma's mother, said: "I always wonder if more had been done, would Gemma still be here today?"

But Colin Richardson, the school's head at the time of the accident, and now director of a federation of Leeds schools including Cockburn, has defended the school's conduct.

"The trip was organised in a very thorough way," he said. "We have a strong policy about school trips, which follows local-authority guidelines."

This policy has already been reviewed, taking into account the circumstances of the accident. Paul Rogerson, chief executive of Leeds City Council, insisted that the council would continue to value outdoor education for young people. He said: "We will continue to offer guidance and support to schools to enable such visits to be managed safely and appropriately."

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