Disasters bring new guidance on taking risks

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The Independent Online

School trips are no longer the free and easy outings of a generation ago. An array of rules and regulations now governs their planning and organisation.

School trips are no longer the free and easy outings of a generation ago. An array of rules and regulations now governs their planning and organisation.

As expeditions have become more exciting and adventurous, involving anything from skiing to pot-holing, schools and parents have become increasingly concerned about the risks.

A million school outings take place each year and accidents are rare. But the tragedy at Lyme Bay in 1993, in which four sixth-formers on a trip to an outdoor pursuits centre died in a canoeing accident, proved a turning point in official attitudes to trips.

John Patten, then Secretary of State for Education, issued a four-point plan to promote safety. Random inspections of activity centres were introduced. But, while many local education authorities produced guidance for schools on how to run safe trips, not until two years ago were the first detailed national guidelines published by the Government.

Schools are required by law to make a risk assessment before taking pupils on outings. The Department for Education's guidelines emphasise planning is vital before any expedition.

Teachers have "a duty of care to make sure that the pupils are safe and healthy" and they also "have a common law duty to act as a reasonably prudent parent would".

Teachers who lead groups of pupils are warned to consider the weather, the season and timing before they embark on a trip and to monitor all these factors throughout its course.

Headteachers are ultimately responsible for the safety of their pupils but that usually means delegating responsibility to a competent and experienced member of staff. The group leader is usually responsible for assessing risks, work that should involve considering possible dangers and what should be done to avoid them. The recommended pupil-teacher ratios vary according to the type of activity.

So far, 57,000 copies of the guidelines have been sent to schools. As are most of the other official initiatives taken to improve safety on trips, they are the result of bitter experience. Seatbelts were made compulsory on coaches and mini-buses carrying schoolchildren after 12 children and a teacher died in a crash on the M40 in 1993.

Twenty years ago, parents were prepared to leave the organisation of trips to teachers. Now, even the least protective expect their questions to be answered before the party leaves the school gate.

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