Union braves risks to protect school trips

Warwick Mansell

Unlike other teacher unions, the Professional Association of Teachers has dismissed calls for staff to refuse to take part in trips, reports Warwick Mansell.

ENGLAND'S most moderate teacher union this week gave its backing to school trips - just days after a 17-year-old girl plunged to her death from a Vietnamese mountain.

A motion to the Professional Association of Teachers annual conference in Cardiff, calling for teachers to refuse to take part in school trips because of the bureaucracy, was narrowly lost.

Afterwards, Jean Gemmell, PAT general secretary, said: "I'm glad that there was not an outcry that trips must go. There's a great danger that might have happened in the light of a series of tragic accidents.

"PAT has always tried to take a balanced view of things, reflecting the value of school excursions to a great number of pupils."

Mrs Gemmell said the union would consider the debate in formulating advice to members, but she did not expect a major change in the union's position. Currently, the union does not advise members against taking trips. Conferences do not determine PAT policy.

The debate came just two days after Amy Ransom fell more than 500m after slipping off a path on Vietnam's highest peak, Fansipan. The Wycombe high school pupil died on Monday while on an expedition with seven schoolmates from the Buckinghamshire secondary. The trek was organised by the World Challenge Expedition.

Her death came less than a month after 11-year-old Bunmi Shagaya, of south London, drowned in a lake in northern France while on a school trip.

And last week, a High Court judge ruled that Woodbridge School was 50 per cent responsible for an accident in Austria five years ago in which Simon Chittock, then 17, was semi-paralysed after skiing off-piste.

The PAT conference in Cardiff heard that fears of litigation and the detail involved in planning meant trips had become a chore which outweighed any benefits.

Philip Withers, of Fifth Avenue primary school, Hull, said that he had travelled to France several years ago with a school in a different local authority, when a child had gone missing. He said teachers' first thoughts had been for their careers.

"Our first thoughts may have been for our careers, but we spent a lot of time looking for this child. We may have been a bit lucky." However, Philip Parkin, a retired head from Grimsby, said: "Children come back from these visits changed people. They do things that they will remember for the rest of their lives."

The National Union of Teachers is revising its policy on school trips, and the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers is advising its members not to go on them because of the expectation of 100 per cent safety that teachers could not guarantee.

* PAT delegates also approved a motion that the Government should follow the example of Wales and Northern Ireland and scrap school league tables. It called for a conventional catchment system for schools, claiming that parental choice favoured the middle classes.

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Warwick Mansell

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