MPs angry over school trip fear

11th February 2005 at 00:00
Select committee calls on teaching union to withdraw advice to its members, reports Jon Slater

Teachers' fears over legal action if things go wrong on school trips are "out of all proportion" to the risks, MPs said this week.

The Commons education select committee called on the second largest teaching union to stop advising members not to take part in excursions.

In a hard-hitting report, the committee also urged ministers to reduce the bureaucracy involved in outings and called for a pound;30 million "manifesto for outdoor learning" to safeguard its future.

The report describes outdoor learning as extremely patchy and says not enough has been done to publicise the benefits.

There have been 57 fatal accidents on school trips since 1997, involving adults and children and including road traffic incidents.

In England in 2003, 7-10 million pupils went on visits but there was only one fatality.

MPs said the figures compared favourably with other activities such as travelling in a car.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents estimates that 115 young people aged between five and 19 die each year in accidents in the home.

But high-profile tragedies have made schools wary of taking pupils on trips. In September 2003 Paul Ellis, a geography teacher, admitted manslaughter and was jailed for 12 months after 10-year-old Max Palmer drowned during a trip to the Lake District.

Fear of litigation and accusations against teachers prompted the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers to advise its members not to take part in trips.

MPs described the union's attitude as needlessly obstructive and said the advice's logical consequence would be no excursions.

They said the Government should work with unions to meet concerns and ensure schools and local authorities supported teachers who were the victims of frivolous allegations. Such claims should not be settled out of court.

The committee called for a pound;30 million investment to give all students a right to outdoor learning.

The money should be targeted at schools in deprived areas and used to offer professional development opportunities to teachers and fund off-site visits.

Rita Gardner, director of the Royal Geographical Society, said: "There has been a profound decline in opportunities for fieldwork and outdoor education. We will look back at this report as the start of the reverse of that trend."

Chris Keates, NASUWT general secretary, said the union had responded to teachers' concerns. "I am disappointed that the select committee asserts that our concerns are a perception rather than a reality," she added.

But Steve Sinnott, National Union of Teachers general secretary, said:

"Those who argue for school trips to be abandoned clearly have an untenable position."

* Pupils at a special school have been on their first outside visit since a 15-year-old was killed on a trip more than two years ago.

Hay Lane school in north-west London visited Brent city learning centre last week after overhauling its safety procedures. Pupil Patrick Mullings was killed on a railway line.


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