We need more trip safety, fewer insults

26th November 2004 at 00:00
Ian Park, chair of the Outdoor Education Advisers' Panel, (TES, November 12) states with assurance that "education outside the classroom is a safe activity - statistics prove it". Would he be able to say this if he was one of those for whom the school trip had ended in tragedy?

True, the media has focused on the very few tragic incidents but I can point out that so have the victims. By victims, I refer not to teachers or local authorities that have been sued but to ordinary teachers, support staff, parents and siblings who have suffered shock, confusion, guilt, anger and total devastation as a result of the untimely deaths of their innocent children.

Speaking as one of these, I feel you ought to know that these feelings are exacerbated by educationists such as yourselves attempting to play down the significance of the statistics, which, let's face it, are unacceptable in a civilised society: 35 fatalities on school trips in 10 years at the last count, I believe. Are these 35 unimportant because you did not know them personally?

I am not actually suggesting for a moment that trips should be banned, however, Ian Park is wrong to imply that many accidents are caused by teachers defying common sense. The fact is that national guidelines on school trips are ambiguous and often not followed or enforced. This is one of the reasons accidents happen.

My particular accident concerned a pupil with severe special needs; the Department for Education and Skills has no specific advice for special needs pupils in its guidelines. Rules need to be more stringent to protect children, and schools need to ensure that the rules are enforced. Until they are, it should not surprise us that some unions are advising their members not to conduct trips.

Instead of forcing feelings of guilt on to teachers who have encountered tragedy in the workplace, try offering these positive suggestions:

* Elect safety reps in your schools

* Form a safety committee in your school with good staff representation

* Ensure you consult National Union of Teachers' guidelines before conducting trips; they are far tighter than DfES ones

* Lobby the Government to get the DfES to improve their guidelines, especially as regards special needs pupils.

Insulting unions is not going to help the situation; trying to bring about improvements to safety will.

Jenny Cooper Teacher and National Union of Teachers rep on Brent education healthand safety committee22 Forest Gate London NW9

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