School trips must continue says council

By Danielle Nuttall and Ted JeorySCHOOL trips must not be axed from the educational calendar because of concerns over accidents and litigation, a senior councillor has warned.

By Danielle Nuttall and Ted Jeory

SCHOOL trips must not be axed from the educational calendar because of concerns over accidents and litigation, a senior councillor has warned.

But a union said it was impossible to make such trips 100% safe and believed some teachers may think twice before embarking on them.

Suffolk County Council's portfolio holder for children and young people, Tony Lewis, was speaking after a teacher was jailed for a year following the death of a 10-year-old boy on a school trip in the Lake District.

“It's a tragedy and the last thing we should do is have a knee-jerk reaction to anything like this,” he said.

“We have already had big issues about the health and safety of school trips and what we are trying to do is preserve that very important part of children's education.

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“There have been concerns from teachers in the past concerning things like accidents, so I can well see there will be increased concern here.

“We have to look at specific circumstances and see what needs to be done to make sure we minimise the risk of anything like this happening again.”

But unions warned the latest case could be another reason for teachers to think carefully before agreeing to go on school trips.

Martin Goold, Suffolk secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said: “It's very sad when something happens like this as it will inevitably mean some teachers will say they are not going to put themselves at risk.

“Society has to understand that we can never make anything 100% safe. We have to be wary of throwing blame.

“If you are too ready to blame, then the straight answer from teachers is that they are not going to take any risks and that will mean activities children will undertake will fade away. That will be a very sad day.”

A spokesman for Essex County Council said it was “well versed” in outdoor activities and confirmed its staff carried out risk assessments at school trip sites.

“We've run outdoor activity centres for many years for students from Essex and elsewhere of all ages,” he added.

“These centres have given us an excellent knowledge of school trips and fieldwork. We regularly update safety procedures and offer very safe and sound advice and support for schools.”

Jerry Glazier, Essex general secretary of the NUT, said he was satisfied the council was following the correct guidelines and urged teachers not to be afraid of volunteering to go on trips.

“Many, many teachers enjoy embarking on these trips - I've always been a thorough advocate of them,” he added.

“They are a valued part of the learning process for both teachers and pupils. I'm quite clear the guidelines issued by Essex help minimise the risk of a tragic accident.”

The debate about excursions came as geography teacher Paul Ellis was jailed yesterday for 12 months for the manslaughter of a 10-year-old boy who drowned while on a school trip.

Father-of-three Ellis showed no emotion when, passing sentence, the judge accused him of being “unbelievably foolhardy and negligent” in the care of Max Palmer.

The 42-year-old, from Cleveleys, near Blackpool, had taken a group from Fleetwood High School in May last year to a large beck used for an activity called “pool plunging” as part of an adventure weekend in the Lake District.

Max was not a pupil at the school, but had accompanied his mother, Patricia, an education support assistant from the school, who watched as her son threw himself off some rocks into the pool.

Mr Justice Morland was told Max had lain dying in his mother's arms after she had tried to pull him to safety from the water.