Unions divided on safety rules for school trips

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The Independent Online

New guidance on school trips issued after the death of several pupils in the summer brought a mixed response from teachers' leaders yesterday.

The Government announced it was producing an easy-to-use handbook for teachers on how to supervise school visits and a code of good practice for education authorities to follow. One of the biggest teachers' unions, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said it would still recommend its members not to go on school visits, especially abroad.

Yesterday's announcement follows the death of 11-year-old Bunmi Shagaya, from Brixton, south London, who drowned on a school visit to France.

Ivan Lewis, the Minister for Young People and Learning, told a conference of youth workers in Cumbria: "We must always be willing to learn lessons when things go wrong and review existing policy. However, there is a danger that we act precipitately. I don't want to do that."

He said he would consult outdoor adventure experts, teachers' unions and the Health and Safety Executive on the preparation of the material.

The code of good practice is expected to include new measures introduced by Lambeth council after Bunmi Shagaya's death, which state that all schools planning to take children abroad or on trips considered to be potentially hazardous will have to obtain explicit clearance from a new health and safety adviser appointed by the borough.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the NASUWT, said the advice would be welcome but added: "Unfortunately, I very much doubt whether it is going to change things in our increasingly litigious society. We stand by our earlier advice to members – especially to those contemplating trips abroad – and that is 'don't do it'."

A spokeswoman for the National Union of Teachers described the government announcement as "very helpful.

"We would certainly not say to our members 'don't go on school trips'," she added. "They are frequently very educational and help teachers forge links with their pupils. To damage this would be damaging to their education."

There were several other tragic accidents during the summer.

Amelia Ward, the teenage daughter of a senior judge, died after being hit by a falling rock on a climbing trip in South Africa, and Amy Ransom, aged 17, from Wycombe High School, died after slipping and falling 1,500ft from a mountain path in Vietnam during an adventure holiday.

Jason Dalton, a 17-year-old student at Ystrad Mynach College, drowned in a swollen river during a college field trip through an 80ft gorge. He was one of a group of seven visiting Craig-y-Ddinas Forest Park in south Wales.

Because of the tragedies, the Professional Association of Teachers warned at its annual conference that school trips were in danger of being consigned to the history books because of the ever-increasing danger of litigation against teachers and the extra bureaucratic workload involved in organising them caused by increased safety requirements.

The Department for Education and Skills said it had been considering new guidance before the spate of tragedies in the summer.

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