School Trip Health and Safety

It is good news to hear that the Health and Safety guidance for school activities has been cut from 110 pages down to eleven. Common sense seems to be their watch word and not before time.

It reminds me of a story from before most people knew of health and safety. Decades ago my mother chose to become a teacher now that she had seen her sixth child off to infants school. One day she decided to take her class to the Natural History museum in Kensington.

Unlike today, there was not a coach taking them door to door; she had to take them on an underground train – four stops on the Central line, change at Notting Hill Gate station onto the Circle line, then three stops to South Kensington station. The children had to be walked from the school the half mile to the station but at least the walk from South Kensington to the museum was by a direct tunnel.

There were forty children in her class. Some of these children had never been on the underground before. My mother took them all by herself – no other teachers and no parents. While they were walking they had to place their right hand on the shoulder of the child in from of them and hold on. On no account were they to let go.

At the station they had to place both their hands against the back wall to keep them away from the platform edge. Before the train came in they were given instructions to get onto the same coach as she got on. Half the class were to enter through one door and the remaining twenty children through the other. Once they were all on my mother followed.

At Notting Hill Gate she told them to get off the train and immediately walk across the platform and put both their hands against the wall. Then they would wait with their hands still against the wall for all the other passengers to leave before setting of to find the Circle line. The same process was used on the Circle line train.

Going around the museum was challenge but going to the loo required absolute military precision. Given their age they could not be allowed into the museum loos by themselves. They all traipsed round to the girls loo and all the boys had to put their hands against the wonderful museum stone walls. She went into the loo with the girls, made sure that they were all finished then joining up with the boys, they all went round to the boys loo and left the girls holding the walls.

Once the visit was over my mother faced the prospect of taking forty infants back to school. At Notting Hill Gate she had to negotiate all of them down the Central line escalator. The escalators were wooden in those days. You had to step off carefully if you did not want to get injured. All the children arrived back to school safely. My mother had aged visibly.

Would a teacher do that today? They would not be allowed to – even after the new common sense guidelines. I might very well be biased but my mum was one of those rare examples of a teacher that could enthuse and inspire her charges yet maintain discipline with the raising of an eyebrow. Forget the Natural History museum – those kids would have followed her to the ends of the earth.

It’s her birthday today.