Risk - an essential part of growing up

We need to take a cool look at the situation which led to the loss of two Leeds schoolgirls in the Yorkshire Dales

Share

The loss of two young Leeds schoolgirls in the Yorkshire Dales has led to many questions about the circumstances of their deaths. Some headlines have come close to blaming the teachers in charge of the group of 15 teenagers from Royds School, in Oulton. No doubt there will be calls for a review (ie, a tightening) of the guidelines on outdoor activities and the abolition of certain types of activities.

The loss of two young Leeds schoolgirls in the Yorkshire Dales has led to many questions about the circumstances of their deaths. Some headlines have come close to blaming the teachers in charge of the group of 15 teenagers from Royds School, in Oulton. No doubt there will be calls for a review (ie, a tightening) of the guidelines on outdoor activities and the abolition of certain types of activities.

Before any action is taken, we need to take a cool look at the situation. It is just seven years since the tragedy in Lyme Bay, off the Dorset coast, in which four sixth-formers died in a canoeing accident and many local education authorities produced guidance on safety in outdoor activities. Only two years ago the Government introduced guidelines for schools, with compulsory risk assessment and recommended levels of supervision.

A head's first responsibility is for the health and safety of pupils. Heads take very seriously their responsibility to ensure that activities are conducted in a way that safeguards the children.

These are not easy decisions. Some element of risk cannot be avoided and is often present in the lives of children when they are under the supervision of their parents or on their own, even more than when they are under the head's jurisdiction. The speaker on Radio 4's Today programme who said on Friday that all school outdoor activities should be devoid of risk was stating both the impossible and the undesirable.

The head of Royds has been sending 13-year-olds on outdoor weeks for 13 years. Some 2,500 young people have had the benefit of these weeks in the remote, beautiful Yorkshire Dales. Most will have enjoyed the experience and benefited from it.

Risk is part of all these activities, and exposure to properly assessed and limited risk is an important part of growing up. From the pupils' viewpoint, therefore, outdoor activities must continue, and the reaction to the Stainforth Beck tragedy must be measured.

There is another important reason to pause before jumping to judgement. The number of teachers willing to lead these expeditions is falling. One major teachers' union advises its members not to put their careers in jeopardy by participating in such activities. Parents are much more litigious nowadays, and it is hardly surprising that members of an overworked, under-appreciated profession decide not to offer their services for activities involving risk.

In a teaching career of 30 years, I took hundreds of children on walks in some of the most beautiful places in the north of England, and I have led parties of young people on visits to Russia and Japan. The understanding between teacher and pupil was richer because of the time spent together, encountering new challenges and jointly solving the consequent problems.

There is a fine line to be drawn between adequate protection and overprotection. Schools must always try to ensure that arrangements for outdoor activities have sufficient safeguards, but society should not expect schools to remove every conceivable risk. That would be to no one's benefit, particularly the children themselves.

 

John Dunford is general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association and was formerly head of Durham Johnston Comprehensive School.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Children of a bygone era  

Kids these days aren't what they used to be — they're a lot better. So why the fuss?

Archie Bland
A suited man eyes up the moral calibre of a burlesque troupe  

Be they burlesque dancers or arms dealers, a bank has no business judging the morality of its clients

John Walsh
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star