Government to give new guidelines for teachers

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The Government is to publish a handbook later this year giving new guidance to schools on how to organise outdoor adventure activities and trips.

The Government is to publish a handbook later this year giving new guidance to schools on how to organise outdoor adventure activities and trips.

The guidance takes on board lessons learnt from previous school trip tragedies, such as the drowning of 11-year-old Bunmi Shagaya, from Brixton, south London, on a trip to France. After the tragedy, the local council, Lambeth, issued new guidance that all schools planning to take children abroad or on home trips considered potentially hazardous would have to obtain explicit clearance from a health and safety officer.

The handbook, which will be made available to all schools from July, is likely to include similar suggestions and at present, draft guidance is available to schools for comment on the Department for Education and Skills website. However tragedies like the case of 10-year-old Max Palmer are likely to add to debate over whether teachers should be involved in trips at all. Teachers' leaders are divided on whether to participate in class outings, an issue which will also be addressed by the Government. The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers advises its members not to go on outings, pointing out that in a litigious society a teacher is as likely as not to be sued if something goes wrong.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers, on the other hand, takes the view that trips are a valuable part of a school's culture and should be abandoned only with great reluctance. Gerald Imison, the association's deputy general secretary, said: "We are obviously very concerned about the recent death of a pupil on a school trip. Whenever a sad event such as this occurs, we must ensure any needed lessons are quickly learnt. However over a million school trips take place every year. The trips are an important part of a student's educational and personal development and, in many cases, form part of the subject curriculum. It is important to remember the vast majority of school trips are carried out safely and successfully."

Parents' leaders were also in favour of outings. "We believe it is important for our children to continue school trips," said Margaret Morrissey, spokeswoman for the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations. "We have encouraged parents to check and double-check centres, the equipment they use and the qualifications of staff." Ms Morrissey also drew attention to the importance of checking weather conditions. "No matter how safety-conscious children and adults are, if the environment is dangerous they have no chance," she said.

Officials from the DfES are in touch with Lancashire County Council ­ the authority for the school organising the trip on which Max accompanied his mother ­ to see if lessons can be learnt from the tragedy. However there have been exhaustive consultations with teachers' unions, local authorities and providers of outdoor activities in the wake of previous tragedies.