Teachers say bureaucracy and litigation threaten future of outings

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The Independent Online

Teachers warned yesterday that school trips could become a thing of the past in the wake of mounting regulations and bureaucracy.

Delegates at the Professional Association of Teachers' annual conference in Cardiff also said staff were becoming increasingly worried that they could face claims for litigation if anything went wrong.

Members were debating the future of school trips a day after the death of 17-year-old Amy Ransom on a trekking trip in Vietnam.

Philip Withers, a teacher from Fifth Avenue Primary School in Hull, told how a child had gone missing on his first school trip during a visit to France. She had wandered away from a playground.

"Our first thought may have been for our careers but we spent a long time looking for this child and did everything we could for her," Mr Withers said. She eventually came back unharmed. "We were glad to find the lass," he added.

"I think it is the threat of litigation that's going to threaten teachers taking children on trips abroad rather than regulation and bureaucracy."

Philip Parkin, from Old Clee Junior School in Grimsby, said he had been organising school trips for years and only dealt with one accident.

"It required going to Scarborough Hospital and I then drove 90 miles taking her home," he said. "I had no complaints – but the reason was that she was a teacher. She had twisted her knee and said it was an accident.

"Children can come back from these visits changed people and they do things on them they will remember for the rest of their lives. It would be very harmful if they were to stop."

The union narrowly voted against recording its official concern over the level of bureaucracy surrounding school trips. However, Jean Gemmel, its general secretary, said it would be reviewing its guidance to teachers. "No one should be required to take a trip," she said. "No one should be put under pressure to take a trip if they're reluctant to do so. They shouldn't take the trip unless they're satisfied they have reasonable expectations that everything has been covered."

She said yesterday's debate had shown "mixed feelings" over the future for school trips. "The value of out-of-school experiences to a great many pupils is absolutely enormous," she added. "We would not tell our members they should not go on school trips."

The Department for Education and Skills is to soon issue new guidance on school trips.

Jim O'Neill, a supply teacher from Leicester, told the conference of how current government guidelines – even for a trip to a farm – insisted that teachers make a preliminary trip to do a risk assessment, call at least one parents' meeting to give a detailed briefing, get written permission for each child to take part in each activity planned and get written medical details of every pupil's needs.

"I believe quite passionately that school trips are a vital part of education enabling pupils to develop as people themselves by being part of something different," he said. "Teamwork, sharing, caring, co-operating, yet within a framework of greater independence, perhaps just being away from the family, are all part of the rewards of the school trip."

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