Select Committee on Education and Skills Second Report

1 Summary

During this inquiry, the Committee has become convinced of the value of education outside the classroom in its broadest sense. Outdoor learning supports academic achievement, for example through fieldwork projects, as well as the development of 'soft' skills and social skills, particularly in hard to reach children. It can take place on school trips, on visits in the local community or in the school grounds. Yet outdoor education is in decline. Provision by schools is extremely patchy. Although some schools offer an active and well-planned programme of outdoor education, which contributes significantly to teaching and learning, many are deterred by the false perception that a high degree of risk attaches to outdoor education as well as by cumbersome bureaucracy and issues of funding, time and resources. Neither the DfES or local authorities have done enough to publicise the benefits of education outside the classroom or to provide strategic leadership or direction in this area.

Risk is often cited as the main factor deterring schools from organising school trips. We have found no evidence to support the perception that school trips are inherently risky. Visits organised in accordance with health and safety guidance should not lead to avoidable accidents or unfounded legal claims against teachers. The DfES needs to work with teacher unions and schools to ensure that teachers do not feel vulnerable to vexatious litigation and that they are aware of the law as it now stands. We also strongly recommend that the NASUWT reviews its advice to members not to participate in school trips.

In contrast, the bureaucracy now associated with school trips is a major problem. Some schools and local authorities are demanding excessively lengthy risk assessments and we have found evidence of needless duplication in the system. The Government claims to be actively reducing public sector bureaucracy in general and specifically the burden on schools. We are therefore extremely surprised that it can allow the current situation to persist.

In order to realise its full potential, outdoor education must be carried out properly, with sessions being prepared by well-trained teachers and in accordance with good curriculum guidance as well as health and safety regulations. Teacher training is therefore a vital aspect of outdoor education. We are concerned that out-of-classroom activities should be led by well-qualified people who know how to get the most out of these experiences. We recommend that the DfES engage professional bodies to ensure that teachers have access to appropriate programmes of continuing professional development, which should include curriculum design. We also urge the department to review the place of outdoor education within Initial Teacher Training (ITT) programmes.

Educational Visits Co-ordinators (EVCs) have recently been introduced into schools. An EVC is a teacher who provides advice on the organisation of school trips and ensures that best practice guidance is followed. We welcome this step, which provides a champion for outdoor education within schools, and look forward to EVCs being present in all schools.

Specialised centres for outdoor education are provided by a number of bodies including private companies, voluntary or charitable organisations and LEAs. In recent years, LEA provision has generally declined and this trend looks set to continue as the Government increasingly devolves funding directly to schools. The DfES and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport need to develop a strategy for the long term viability of activity centres, addressing staff retention and links with schools and developing expertise.

School grounds are a vital resource, but our evidence suggests they are sometimes poorly designed. The DfES should ensure that its capital projects, for example, the Building Schools for the Future and Academy programmes, devote as much attention to the "outdoor classroom" as to the innovative design of buildings and indoor space.

Main recommendations

The Department should issue a 'Manifesto for Outdoor Learning', giving all students a right to outdoor learning. This Manifesto should attract a similar level of funding to the Music Manifesto (£30 million) in order to deliver real change. In particular, schools in deprived circumstances should be enabled to enhance their facilities, to offer professional development programmes to their teachers and to fund off site visits.

We further recommend that the DfES set up a structure to champion education outside the classroom at all levels. Within the Department, a dedicated team of officials should have responsibility for outdoor learning across curriculum areas. A high profile 'champion' for outdoor learning should be appointed to lead this team. In each LEA, an Outdoor Education Adviser should be in place, promoting and co-ordinating outdoor learning locally and liaising with the Department. Each school should have a well-trained Educational Visits Co-ordinator, whose role should be strengthened and expanded to act as the local champion for outdoor learning. A nationwide network of support, guidance and innovation would move outdoor education forwards from its current, patchy position to a more uniform provision of high quality opportunities throughout the country.

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