Joan Sallis Answers your questions

3rd June 2005 at 01:00
As teachers, we have become very concerned about what we consider absurd fussiness about school trips and safety issues in which people seem to treat us as though we were totally irresponsible. Our governing body insists on information about the qualifications of resident staff at outdoor activity centres; about ratios of teachers to children; and about sleeping arrangements on residential trips which I consider rude and suspicious. I wouldn't mind so much if these were not mainly trips where we give our time voluntarily. It came to a head when a colleague was subjected to a disciplinary enquiry for going to the local pub one evening with two others on such a trip when there were ample staff to look after the pupils, and coming back a bit noisily. The governors were really heavy about it, and the outcome will be that we won't volunteer for extra activities at all.

I know that many teachers are very generous with their time and I have heard that, as you say, there is an increasing resistance to supervising school trips because of stricter requirements on safety. But personally I don't think we can be too careful when students are away from home and largely dependent for their safety on the staff who accompany them. Several things have contributed to greater caution. One is a few well-publicised incidents which have led schools and parents to be more fearful. Another is the current emphasis on risk assessments for activities ranging from share dealing to school trips. Perhaps a third is concern about the increasing popularity of the activity centres you refer to, where parents need to be assured of staff qualifications for dangerous pursuits. In my early days as a governor, I remember a source of concern being the possibility that not all staff in a centre had the specific qualifications for the wide range of activities offered. As for the behaviour of staff on trips, I think governors and parents are right to expect high standards when their young people are away from home. It is not just a matter of the example set, but concern lest at any time, to take a particular example, there might be insufficient staff in a position to drive in an emergency. I dare say we have become over-sensitised by a few sad happenings, but it is better to err on the side of caution. I hope and believe there will always be teachers keen to take part.

The TES welcomes your queries. Joan Sallis does her best to answer all letters, but please keep requests for private replies to a minimum, since we aim to provide helpful information for ALL readers and always protect the identity of schools and individuals. Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, fax 020 7782 3202, or see www.tes.co.ukgovernorsask_the_expert where answers will appear

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