Keep on going places

26th September 2003 at 01:00
It is an unhappy coincidence that Going Places, our twice-yearly celebration of out-of-school learning, appears in a week when a Lancashire teacher was jailed for the manslaughter of a 10-year-old boy who died after plunging into a river on a school trip (page 8). This, like too many other appalling tragedies that have occurred in recent years, underlines the potential risks of outdoor education and the need for schools and teachers to pay scrupulous attention to the procedures designed to avoid them.

Such events inevitably make teachers more nervous about stepping outside the classroom. But children cannot learn everything they need to find out about themselves and the world around them by staying indoors. The opportunities for development provided by education out-of-doors that is well conceived and run are too important for properly-supported teachers to be intimidated by the additional responsibility it entails.

It would be surprising, however, if teachers do not feel daunted when they hear of these terrible deaths and their aftermath. Many will share the feeling that "There but for the grace of God go I". It is not just the prison sentence meted out. Most will appreciate something of what it means for the teacher concerned who has admitted culpability. He will now have to live with the consequences of his poor judgment for the rest of his life.

Even more so, of course, will the boy's family who have suffered an unimaginable loss.

Every activity involves risk. Accidents can happen even if you stay in the classroom. Ordinary people take on the extraordinary responsibilities for children's development and welfare because they want to make a difference.

The job would not be as satisfying if teachers stopped making the professional judgments that minimise the risks in order to maximise the potential gains. And all children would suffer if they did.

This is thought to be the first ever jail sentence to arise from such an incident. Sadly it will heighten the sense that teachers have that they are being ever more punitively held to account for their actions and make them more inclined to avoid the outdoors altogether.

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