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September 28, 2004
The end of adventure

This is a story I hear a lot these days:

Children are missing out on life-changing adventure pursuits because teachers fear they will end up in court if things go wrong, says Ofsted.

Outdoor activities such as canoeing, rock climbing, archery and sailing are in decline as schools opt for less risky courses or drop adventure training altogether, says David Bell, the Chief Inspector of Schools.

Teachers have been prosecuted, and one was imprisoned for 12 months last year, over the drowning of a boy on school visits. Schools also fear compensation claims from parents if children get injured.

In a report to be published today the inspectors say outdoor education is a minority area in most secondary schools, despite some excellent examples of courses led by teachers with vision.

"The benefits of outdoor education are far too important to forfeit and by far outweigh the risks of an accident occurring," says Mr Bell.

"If teachers follow recognised safety procedures and guidance they have nothing to fear from the law."

And circles are square. No they are not, says the rest of the Telegraph piece. Circles are circular, squares are square, and the law is fast making childhood adventure that any adult can be held responsible for damn near illegal. Following "recognised safety procedures" isn't a guarantee of no grief, but is itself grievously burdensome.

Concluding paragraphs:

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "The fact is that accidents can happen. With so many parents turning to the courts at the first sign of a problem, schools are right to be extremely cautious in their approach to the organisation of outdoor activities.

"Regrettably this has created a situation in which many teachers have felt unable to take on the additional responsibility.

"This has led to a reduction in the number of visits which are a vitally important part of the educational experience, especially for children from families that could not otherwise afford them."


Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:48 AM
Category: This and that

This didn't take place in a school, but is relevant.

There was a famous case a few years ago where somebody - very famous in climbing circles as one of the top American mountaineers of his generation - was working as a mountain guide and, tragically, his client fell and was killed. Quite properly, there was an investigation. It turned out that the guide has fastened his client's harness properly at the start of the climb. Unknown to the guide, the client had then unfastened the harness at some point to have a pee and re-fastened it wrong.

The deceased guy's family first sued the guide. When it became apparent that he had done nothing wrong and (more importantly) his liability insurance company had good lawyers, the cretins (sorry, bereaved) then sued the manfuacturer of the harness for making a harness that it was possible to fasten wrongly. I don't know if they won the case or not, but the owner of the harness making company (also formerly a top climber) sold the business and gave up in disgust.

The problem is, as long as people have the mentality that *either* someone is to blame for our tragedy and must suffer for it, *or* tragedy is a chance to grab some cash from somebody, more and more people will become unwilling to put themselves in positions where they could conceivably be sued for anything. On the other hand there must be redress for cases of genuine negligence. It's difficult

Comment by: Alan Little on September 28, 2004 11:17 AM
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