Teachers advised to boycott tripsBBC News Thursday, 26 July, 2001, 14:30 GMT 15:30 UK
Teachers are being advised not to take part in school trips because of the increasing risks of prosecution when things go wrong.
The rise of the "blame culture" means many teachers face losing their jobs if a pupil in their care is injured or killed, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers warns.
Parents are increasingly reluctant to accept the concept of a genuine accident and in this suing culture, teachers are taking a huge risk
Nigel de Gruchy, NASUWT
Recent tragedies, such as the death of 11-year-old Bunmi Shagaya on a school trip to France, have highlighted the risks involved.
Teachers at Bunmi's school - Hillmead Primary in Brixton, London - have been told they could face questioning as part of a manslaughter inquiry.
And on Wednesday the High Court in London ruled a school in Suffolk did not sufficiently protect one of its pupils from his own recklessness during a skiing trip.
Simon Chittock, a former pupil at Woodbridge School, is confined to a wheelchair since falling on his back while skiing off-piste in Austria in 1996.
Mr Chittock - who had had his parents' written consent to ski unsupervised - ignored his teacher's repeated warnings about skiing off-piste.
But, because the teacher did not confiscate the pupil's ski-pass, the school was 50% liable for his injuries, the court ruled.
Nigel de Gruchy, the general secretary of the NASUWT, said that in the current suing culture, teachers were increasingly vulnerable.
The union is advising its members to avoid taking pupils on trips, especially abroad.
"You're on a loser to nothing," Mr de Gruchy said.
"If everything goes well, people aren't lining up to say thank you, and then, when things go wrong, parents, the media and the whole nation comes down on their shoulders.
"Parents are increasingly reluctant to accept the concept of a genuine accident and in this suing culture, teachers are taking a huge risk by taking pupils abroad," he said.
Doug McAvoy, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said the union would be reviewing its guidelines to members on school trips in the light of the Simon Chittock case.
As a result of this ruling there's greater chance that a court will find some negligence on the part of a school or teacher
Doug McAvoy, NUT
"A precedent has been set by this ruling - even though the teacher gave instructions to pupils and all necessary steps were taken by the school, they were not enough," Mr McAvoy said.
"As a result of this ruling there's greater chance that a court will find some negligence on the part of a school or teacher."
The insurers had no problem with the steps the school had taken, he added.
But the NUT was not advising members to boycott school trips, which benefited young people and schools tremendously, Mr McAvoy stressed.
There are only two ways of getting rich nowadays - winning the lottery and suing someone else
Rhys Jaggar, former ski trip organiser
"These cases are examples of the worst that can happen - most trips go ahead without a hitch or an accident."
Alan Dobbin e-mailed BBC News Online to say that his primary school in Scotland ran a highly successful foreign visit to Holland and Belgium for 12 years with children aged 11 and 12 - but because of much-publicised tragic events had decided to stop doing so.
"The main reason being the threat of court action if something went tragically wrong.
"Also the 'risk assessment' carried out prior to going was becoming more and more restrictive regarding what you could and could not do with the children."
Parents and pupils were not happy with the decision it was backed by the education authority.
"I know a number of local schools are doing exactly the same and I would assume that schools across the country will be looking very closely at their plans for foreign visits. The children all suffer in the end."
'Someone else's fault'
Rhys Jaggar, who led and organised skiing parties for seven years for teenage and family groups, said it was a sad indictment of British society that accidents were always somebody else's fault.
"No matter what teachers do in matters of safety, the risks of accident can never be eliminated in their entirety," Mr Jaggar said.
"The biggest danger, in fact, is in educating parents to believe that life itself is inherently risk-free and, therefore, any accidents which do occur must be the fault of someone else's laxity, incompetence or stupidity," he said.
The situation could be summed up in a simple phrase, he added: "There are only two ways of getting rich nowadays - winning the lottery and suing someone else.