Children’s lives are being put at risk on school trips because a move by ministers to cut red tape has left teachers without proper guidance, union members said yesterday.
Teachers have complained in recent years about excessive paperwork adding an extra burden to their classroom duties. But yesterday they decried as reckless the reduction of a 150-page document on “useful” health and safety guidance to just eight pages, with teachers expected to rely on their common sense.
Tim Cox, a member of the NASUWT executive, told the union’s annual teaching conference in Birmingham: “We are all aware of some of the stories of teachers ending up in prison having taken school trips. I have been involved in many pieces of casework involving incidents and accidents on school trips.
“Skiing trips, swimming trips, geography field trips ... even theatre trips, if not properly planned, can go wrong, sometimes with tragic results.
“Teachers don’t take trips because they do not want to suffer the consequences when something does go wrong. They don’t want to be sued. They don’t want to end up in prison.
“Removing the paperwork does not remove the risk. The DfE is ripping the heart out of carefully considered guidance designed to protect pupils and all those working in schools.”
He told the conference: “Nick Gibb, the Schools Minister, said in 2011: ‘We are making sure we don’t over-regulate school trips and that we make it much easier and safer for teachers to take children on school trips without fear of prosecution’.”
Mr Cox asked: “How is it safer? How have they reduced the fear and risk of prosecution?
“The Government’s whole approach appears to be predicated towards a belief that health and safety legislation is burdensome and should be simplified.”
Government guidelines recommend that schools use a single consent form when a pupil starts school, rather than seeking separate permission every time a child goes on a trip.
The motion said: “Conference deplores the misleading claims made by some government ministers that teachers have nothing to fear if a pupil dies or is injured as a result of participating in educational activity sanctioned by the school and where the teacher has exercised common sense. Conference believes that the lives of children and adults are being put at risk as a result of reckless and simplistic pronouncements by government on the need for a ‘common-sense’ approach to health and safety in schools.”
Teachers also complained that the review of health and safety at work by Lord Young of Graffham branded schools “low-risk”. The conference heard that teachers faced health problems from asbestos, stress and overheated classrooms.
A survey by the union found that three quarters of teachers experienced classroom temperatures higher than 24C last summer, and a third had taught in temperatures of over 30C. One teacher reported a classroom temperature of more than 40C.
One respondent said: “My classroom acts like a greenhouse. As soon as students walk in they start to complain.”
Another said: “We had to let students go outside to sit down and have a glass of water because they felt faint. This meant they were unsupervised and if they had fainted this would obviously be a failure in our duty to care.”
From today's times:
A chara, Fintan OToole is on safe ground upbraiding Labours austerity enforcement policies as enslaving public interest to private benefit (through the nationalisation of private banking debt). His piece (Opinion, April 24th) might have had more bite had he not chosen to ignore the other private interests protected by Labour.
Large swathes of the public sector are oblivious to the fact that the Irish economy is in recession, with little or no change in the pay, terms and conditions and generous allowances by which Fianna Fáil kept them in check. The Irish public sector simply isnt feeling the recession. The reason this is allowed to continue, is because Labour is unable to challenge the union interests. For all their talk of social solidarity, the unions are looking after the narrow self- interest of their members. If it is immoral to pay back private banking debts, it is also immoral to continue to claim pay and conditions that the country currently cant afford, at the expense of the poor. Is mise,