Parent pressure forces school to abandon plans to take children on fox hunt

A HUNTINGDONSHIRE primary school is at the centre of another controversy just three months after taking youngsters on a trip to see a duck shoot.

Just three months after taking pupils to watch wildfowling – including a duck being shot – Ashbeach School, in Ramsey St Mary’s had planned to take Year 6 children, aged 10 and 11, to watch a hunt.

The trip was scheduled for February 7 at Ellington, and a letter had been sent to parents of Year 6 pupils, but it was cancelled following complaints.

Elaine Knighton, whose 10-year-old niece attends the school, said the letter failed to mention the word “fox”, just as the wildfowling trip letter failed to mention the words “duck shoot”.

She said it was only after her brother, Ray Poolman, researched the details of the trip – which mentioned horse, hounds and an eagle – that they realised what the school had in mind.

Mrs Knighton, 40, of Ramsey Heights, said the hunt would have involved two hounds trying to flush out a fox and, should one have been found, the eagle would have been used to kill the animal.

The method of hunting foxes is allowed within the 2004 Hunting Act and the school’s letter made it clear children would not follow the hunt, which was to start at Ellington, but would watch it leave and would sometimes be able to see it in the distance.

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However, the idea of taking children to a hunt upset some parents.

Mr Poolman, 49, of Ramsey Heights, said: “I asked headteacher Shirley Stapleton if she really wanted her school to be seen as pro-hunting, not to mention all the health and safety risks associated with it.

“I don’t think it is right. Children and staff sitting having their sandwiches and fizzy drinks while the hunt sets off.”

But not all Ashbeach School parents agreed.

One parent sent a letter to The Hunts Post which stated: “The school, which is fantastic, did arrange to take older children on another trip to a hunt. However, this has now had to be cancelled as the same parent who complained before has threatened that if the school took pupils on the trip he would turn up with anti-hunt demonstrators.

“This has resulted in a lot of upset children and some very angry parents who agreed with these trips.”

A Cambridgeshire County Council spokesman said: “There had been some previous discussions about going on outside activity trips, and it has been decided not to organise any such trips at this time.”

In November, a group of 10-year-old Ashbeach children were taken to Welney Marshes to watch members of the Ely & District Wildfowlers Association shooting ducks. The school said the trip was to show about children normal rural life.

William Burton, Eastern regional director for the Countryside Alliance, said: “It is a real shame that just because of one parent’s prejudices, children at Ashbeach School have been prevented from watching one of the British countryside’s oldest and finest traditions.

“As the school has said, children would not have been going out with the hunt but instead would have been able to take in the great atmosphere at a meet, and get up close with some of the beautiful horses and hounds that form the hunt.

“We would encourage more schools to do as Ashbeach intended and take children along to fine rural occasions like hunts and shoots, so that they can learn first-hand how the countryside really works, rather than the picture-book version some people would prefer they saw.

“Schools can always get in touch with their local hunt to arrange a kennel visit. These sort of experiences will do much to enrich any child’s education.”