Teachers urged not to abandon school outings

An outdoor adventure organisation today urged teachers across Northern Ireland to continue taking their pupils on school trips.

Last week Northern Ireland's largest teaching union, the NASUWT, reiterated its advice to members not to take pupils on schools trips following the tragic death of an English schoolboy on a caving expedition run by another organisation.

The Northern Ireland Outward Bound Association (NIOBA) aims to inspire participants to fulfil their potential through challenging outdoor activities and over the last three years alone more than 400 young people from the province have completed character building challenges through the association, including building rafts or abseiling for the first time in their lives.

David Burke, NIOBA co-ordinator, said: "Teachers do worry about being responsible for children on trips but in the case of the Outward Bound Trust all they have to do is get the pupils to and from the residential centre. We take care of the rest.

"Schools can apply for a bursary which covers at least two thirds of the cost and means that a week-long course would only cost between 50 and 100 per pupil. This includes accommodation, food, all equipment even boots, risk assessment, health and safety insurance and even pastoral care.

"In my view, the benefits of taking part in an outward bound course far outweigh any potential risks. It has an unequalled safety record - something we are very proud of - and as a result sets the benchmark by which safety in outdoor adventure is judged. Our record on safety is second to none.

"Our courses can increase young people's self-esteem, confidence by encouraging them to do things they have never done before.

"In the case of cross-community trips, the young people go away as two separate groups and return as one group.

"The courses allow the young people to achieve greater mutual understanding towards each other and also increase their respect for different traditions and cultural diversity.

"The benefits from all outward bound courses is the reduction of prejudice, sectarianism, arrogance and self centeredness in young people; the taxing challenges and structured course criteria gives today's youth a new chance to better themselves and enhance their career opportunities."

Last week pupils from three Antrim schools - Parkhall High, St Malachy's High and Antrim Grammar - took part in a cross-community one day outward bound course at the Boys' Brigade activity centre in Millisle. Help and funding support was provided by Antrim Borough Council and the Enkalon Foundation.

The event was organised as part of the association's Youth Mentor Scheme, which will result in some of the young people being selected to act as mentors to bring new, young talent into the voluntary organisation.

Meanwhile, Avril Hall-Callaghan, from the Ulster Teachers' Union, said that teachers must be assured of a support network from their employing authorities if they are to feel confident about organising schools trips.

She said: "It is a huge responsibility to take other people's children away, particularly where the activities on offer carry a level of risk, but teachers continue to do so because they appreciate the value that such trips hold in terms of the holistic education of their pupils.

"Tragedies such as the recent one in England will no doubt cause some teachers to question the wisdom of putting themselves into such a vulnerable position so the employing authorities must step in and reassure teachers that they will offer full support in the event that things go wrong.

"As someone who has worked in the outdoor education field I know that outdoor activities are made as safe as possible by ensuring that all the recognised safety measures are put in place. Nevertheless, as in all aspects of our daily lives, unavoidable accidents do happen."

Kathryn Torney
22 November 2005



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