Select Committee on Education and Skills Second Report

4 Barriers

Risk and bureaucracy

19. Many of the organisations and individuals who submitted evidence to our inquiry cited the fear of accidents and the possibility of litigation as one of the main reasons for the apparent decline in school trips. It is the view of this Committee that this fear is entirely out of proportion to the real risks. High-profile reporting of isolated incidents and some tabloid journalism misrepresents the incidence of serious accidents on school trips, which is actually very low indeed. There have been 57 fatal accidents on school visits since 1985 (this figure includes adults accompanying visits and road traffic accidents en route to or from off-site visits).[17] In England in 2003, there were between seven and ten million 'pupil visits' involving educational or recreational activity, but only one fatality.[18] Whilst every fatality is clearly tragic for those involved, these statistics compare extremely favourably with other routine activities such as driving or being driven in a car, or simply the likelihood of an accident at home or in school.

20. Over the past decade, the DfES has issued new guidance on health and safety on school trips in reaction to accidents that have occurred. A 1998 good practice guide, Health and Safety of Pupils on Educational Visits (HASPEV) has been supplemented with new material in 2002 aimed at specific audiences: Standards for LEAs in Overseeing Educational Visits, Standards for Adventure and A Handbook for Group Leaders as well as Group Safety at Water Margins (published in 2003 with the Central Council for Physical Recreation).[19] In addition, adults working with under-18s are now subject to Criminal Records Bureau checks.

21. Written submissions and correspondence associated with this inquiry have in general welcomed this new guidance, but some concerns have been expressed that there is still not enough clarity in guidance regarding visits involving children with special educational needs (SEN). Concerns relate specifically to uncertainty over the correct staffing ratios and the right of children with SEN to attend. The NUT publishes additional guidance for the organisation of school trips involving SEN pupils and some have suggested that the DfES should issue a similar document.[20]

22. We welcome the DfES health and safety guidance which clearly sets out what is expected of all those involved in organising school trips. There remain some concerns relating to guidance on trips involving children with special educational needs, where there could be more specific recommendations on levels of staffing and the right of children to attend. This area is likely to be affected by the enactment of the Disability Discrimination Bill and we recommend that the DfES review its guidance in this context.

23. Despite new DfES guidance on health and safety, the fear of accidents is still a significant barrier for some. The Committee took evidence from representatives of teacher unions, including Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, a union which now advises its members against participating in school trips. She told us that the risk of litigation, should an accident occur, was now too great:

"For things that we would all in a sensible world simply dismiss as being a genuine accident that has occurred schools are now getting solicitors' letters as a minimum and then finding they are subject to some sort of investigation, and so on, leading up to potential litigation as the end point on that".[21]

24. When pressed on this point, Ms Keates admitted that cases of teachers being taken to court were actually quite rare, but emphasised that the threat of legal or disciplinary action could still be extremely stressful.[22] In oral evidence, she advised us that the number of false allegations made against her members in connection with school visits has remained roughly stable since 1991, when her union began monitoring it.[23] It is important to distinguish between false allegations (claims of an incident which are untrue) and unfounded claims (where an incident has taken place, but there has not been negligence and there is no basis for litigation). It would also help greatly if teachers were given clear guidance about current law in this area. In subsequent communications, the NASUWT were unable to provide us with a statistical breakdown of cases according to these categories, or even between cases on visits and those in schools.[24]

25. The guidance issued by the NASUWT has not been adopted by any other teaching union and many of those who gave evidence to our inquiry spoke out against it. David Bell, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools and head of Ofsted, told the Committee that the union's position was unhelpful and contributed to the unjustified culture of fear surrounding school trips:

"I have the utmost respect for the new general secretary of the NASUWT but I disagree with her on this and I disagree with the advice that she has given her members. Our evidence suggested that the teachers—and it was the teachers and the outdoor instructors who were doing this—said that it [school trips] is still do-able […] I just worry a bit about that advice being given because are we not just fuelling precisely that risk averseness that [we have] been talking about?"[25]

26. The logical consequences of the NASUWT advice to its members not to participate in school trips would be the cessation of any out-of-school activity. Yet Ms Keates acknowledged that her members do continue to participate in school trips despite her advice, as they believe in the educational value of such experiences.[26] We do not believe that the NASUWT wishes to see the end of all school trips. We therefore recommend that the union seriously reviews its advice to members not to participate in school trips, which is not a helpful attitude.

27. We acknowledge that teachers can feel vulnerable to unjustified allegations or the threat of disproportionate legal action. Dr Fiona Hammans, Head of Banbury School, Oxfordshire and representative of the Secondary Heads Association, told us that her school successfully organises a wide-ranging programme of educational visits and outdoor activities, whilst recognising that an element of risk is involved:

"If I am honest, the fear is still there sometimes. Certainly when you are getting to the end of a month's expedition in Madagascar, for instance, and you get a phone call at 3.30 in the morning and they are saying, 'Actually things are okay; we had forgotten the time difference', there is always a moment of panic then, but it is about as a school we do believe we should be doing it. It is about something special and distinct that we can offer our students. There is a risk there, but our parents have opted into the fact that we will do everything we can and more to minimise that risk, but there is no learning without some risk."[27]

Dr. Hammans went on to describe the positive support her school provides to teachers:

"I think it needs the head teacher's backing, because that is the person who is likely to end up in court. So if we are talking about that fear, if the head is going to say quite clearly, 'These are valuable educational activities which we will run at minimum risk for the very best interests educationally of our students', then you are going to take your staff with you. You inevitably will have the backing of your governors anyway for that. If the LEA supports it, plus there are national initiatives and agendas to support it as well, then it is a winning situation, but I think it has to start with the school, much as the evidence from the DfES officials earlier on saying that it is for the school to determine its priorities locally, but, if it can link in with other national priorities, including Ofsted, then that is a stronger argument."[28]

28. It is clear to us that the fear of accidents and subsequent litigation (whether justified or not) is discouraging some schools from organising school trips. This situation can only be resolved through co-operation and collaboration between teaching unions, schools, LEAs and the DfES. When we asked Stephen Twigg MP, then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the DfES and Minister with responsibility for this area, what he was doing to promote this kind of co-operation and to persuade the NASUWT to change its cautious stance, he told us, "We want to persuade them and we think we can persuade them. We are in discussions with them right now on this issue".[29] We look forward to seeing the department's attempts at persuasion bear fruit.

29. Teachers should be able to expect support from their employers in the case of genuine accidents or unfounded claims. To help achieve this, a consistent approach to vexatious litigation must be developed. Frivolous and unfounded claims should be discouraged. We recommend that the DfES makes it clear to schools and LEAs that it is unacceptable to settle frivolous and unfounded claims out of court simply to get rid of the problem. By working with teacher unions, including the NASUWT, the DfES should be able to address their concerns and persuade the unions to move forward from what is in our view, a needlessly obstructive attitude.

30. The fear of accidents in itself is not the only barrier to the expansion of outdoor education. The Committee has also received evidence to show that the risk assessment bureaucracy associated with out-of-classroom education has increased considerably in recent years. Mr Andy Simpson of the RSPB told us that one teacher organising a visit to a reserve was required to fill in 16 different risk assessment forms (for parents, governors, school authorities, LEA, etc.) in order for the visit to go ahead:

"RSPB is a professional organisation. We take risk assessment very seriously. We automatically send out risk assessments on our sites and for our activities when schools book with us. Sadly the teacher that I am referring to came back to me and said, 'We would like to have used your risk assessment, but it is not in the format that my local authority wants, so I have to dismantle the whole thing and rebuild it'. Can you blame her for not going?"[30]

31. Representatives of the Outward Bound Trust supported this view. Mr William Ripley told the Committee of the large amount of duplication in the system:

"We have a licensing system and yet a school will apply to come and do a course with us and so there is a process that they go through whereby they will send us their Local Authority forms, 'Will you fill these forms in'. The first question is: 'Do you have an adventures activities licence?' to which the answer is yes. Instead of saying: 'Go to the bottom of the form, because we have had an external agency do all that work', it then says, 'answer all the questions that you have already answered for the licensing authority'. That is the kind of reaction and process that we are in amongst. […] it is relatively easy for [teachers] when they ask an organisation like us to do that service, but when you are looking at trying to do that in the school as well it just compounds the issue. It just compounds the difficulty."[31]

32. Many witnesses made reference to the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority (AALA), which has inspected adventure activity centres for compliance with health and safety regulations since 1996 (its remit does not cover foreign operators, voluntary organisations or schools themselves). Set up in the wake of the Lyme Bay tragedy, AALA is a cross-departmental and cross-border public authority, sponsored by the DfES and operating under the written guidance of the Health and Safety Commission. No child has died at a licensed centre since the AALA was formed. Given that AALA-licensed centres have undertaken significant risk assessment processes in order to gain their licence, it seems absurd to us that this should have to be repeated at the demand of local authorities.

33. The burden of bureaucracy is greatest where local authorities require schools to complete lengthy risk assessment forms and where there is duplication between a number of bodies requiring risk assessments. Dr Fiona Hammans described this situation:

"There needs to be something which is definitive. So if you are looking at the bureaucracy that everybody has to fill in there is the DfES guidelines which need to be met, there is then the local authority set of guidelines which, as has been indicated earlier on, will change and will change somewhat, then you have got again schools' interpretations, plus whichever group you may be going with, whichever partner you will be working with, so you have got a huge amount of bureaucracy".[32]

34. A number of our witnesses called for the DfES to provide generic risk assessments appropriate to each activity in order to reduce the amount of bureaucracy associated with risk assessments. In supplementary written evidence, the DfES said that this is already provided: "DfES guidance contains model assessment forms for risk assessment, which take up just two sides of A4. It is up to LEAs and schools whether they use our forms. Activity providers can, if they wish, encourage schools to use standard forms."[33]

35. Clearly, it is important for school trips to be the subject of a full risk assessment and to be carried out in accordance with Health and Safety Executive guidelines, but in some areas the number of forms that have to be filled in for the simplest activities is unreasonable. 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. We recommend that the DfES takes action to streamline the risk assessment system surrounding school trips, promoting its standard forms more vigorously and deprecating bad practice. We further recommend that AALA licensed centres be subject to a much streamlined risk assessment process, and that the DfES consider expanding the AALA licensing scheme to include other sectors, such as foreign and voluntary operators.

36. Some schools and activity centres have also described difficulties in securing insurance for visits, either because of unaffordable premiums or, in some cases, because no company has been willing to offer cover.[34] On occasion, this seems to have been caused by local authorities 'over-insuring' or requiring a level of insurance cover that is not appropriate to the level of risk involved.[35] Nevertheless, the insurance industry has submitted evidence to the effect that the cost of liability insurance generally has gone up in recent years, due to legal changes like 'no-win no-fee' arrangements and legal judgements increasing the scope of liability. The insurance industry also notes that cover is generally provided to LEAs for all activities under one premium: "in pricing the cover offered to Local Authorities and schools, insurers do not differentiate between in-school activities and those outside the classroom."[36] Overall, claims for accidents on school trips represent a very small proportion of local authority insurance claims (claims from the education sector as a whole total only 3%).[37] The price of premiums therefore seems to bear very little relationship to the level of risk involved in outdoor education.[38]

37. When we asked DfES officials about this issue, Mr Stephen Crowne, Director of the School Resources Group at the DfES, agreed that it was a symptom of more general problems securing affordable insurance cover for public bodies:

"I think there is an issue there. It is frankly part of a wider issue to do with school insurance where we have a current position which is of concern, that it is difficult and expensive to get insurance cover for a wide range of school activities and so we are working across government and also commissioning some studies on possible options for the future. […] We have a study in progress now which we hope by the end of this year will illuminate some of the options that might be available. […] There are market development options using private sector employers, but there are also options around developing local authorities' capacity to insure for themselves."[39]

The Minister confirmed that his Department was holding talks with insurers on this issue. Although he admitted that these were "at quite an early stage" he expressed his confidence in the process: "I think we have good evidence to present to them in terms of the levels of risk on the basis of the statistics that the Committee will be aware of in terms of the very, very small numbers of accidents that do happen."[40]

38. Our evidence on the extent to which insurance is a problem for schools is largely anecdotal. We therefore look forward to learning the results of the current DfES consultation on this subject. Given the small scale of the risks involved, we can see no reason why a market-led solution to school insurance should not exist. We recommend that the DfES thoroughly investigate the extent to which difficulties securing insurance cover are a barrier to education outside the classroom and develops options to resolve any problems.

Teacher Training

39. Our evidence has underlined the importance of teacher training to the provision of high quality education outside the classroom. Andy Simpson of the RSPB told the Committee that this was the top priority for the sector:

"Nearly every workshop that we have convened and brought together practitioners irrespective of where they have come from […at] the top was teacher training and support for teachers, both continuing professional development of the teachers but also initial teacher training because I think we all recognise that whatever bureaucracy emerges or whatever curriculum changes emerges, what funding emerges, we have had to take the teaching profession with us."[41]

40. When we spoke to teacher unions about this issue, they agreed. Kathryn James of the NAHT said:

"I would strongly support the notion of teachers receiving training and all staff receiving training in terms of actually running, planning and moving forward with any outdoor education activity. I think that is absolutely essential. We mention in our evidence the OCR training course, which is actually very valuable, and I think the more people that undertake this the better, or something similar."[42]

41. Despite this general support, many teachers are not specifically trained in teaching outside the classroom. Written evidence submitted by the English Outdoor Council stressed the inadequacy of Initial Teacher Training (ITT):

"While in-service training has been very effective in recent years, we are not convinced that initial teacher training does a good enough job in terms of giving trainee teachers the confidence they need to take their pupils out of the classroom. Standards for Qualified Teacher Status require trainees to be able to plan out-of-school experiences but, in the context that so much needs to crammed into so little time, we are not convinced that this is in practice being delivered consistently and effectively".[43]

42. When we asked the Minister about this issue, he agreed to reconsider the status of outdoor learning within ITT, saying "the concern you have expressed is one that the organisations have raised recently with the Secretary of State, and I understand the meetings are due with Ralph Tabberer at the TTA [Teacher Training Agency] to look at this".[44] We welcome this review.

43. Initial Teacher Training programmes must incorporate a diverse range of subjects and operate under significant time constraints. Nevertheless, the Committee is concerned to hear that the amount of time devoted to education outside the classroom has become so limited. Training may be confined to purely theoretical explanations with practical experience only offered on a voluntary basis.[45] Trainee teachers cannot be expected to prioritise outdoor learning or take up opportunities for continuing professional development in this area later in their career unless its value is explored in ITT. We recommend that the DfES work with the Teacher Training Agency to ensure that Initial Teacher Training courses demonstrate the potential benefits of education outside the classroom and point teachers towards ways to develop their skills in this area as their career progresses.

44. The Committee has heard of many excellent in-service training courses on education outside the classroom (including the qualification offered by OCR) that are available to teachers as part of their Continuing Professional Development (CPD). The range and diversity of these courses, from mountaineering to risk assessment, have led the DfES to state that "there is no evidence of lack of opportunities" for teachers to develop their skills.[46] Despite this assertion, DfES officials admitted that the department holds no data on the volume of CPD in outdoor learning and keeps no records showing how many teachers hold qualifications obtained as a result of courses carried out at school or LEA level.[47] Any attempt to raise the quantity and quality of outdoor education depends crucially on the skills and motivation of the teachers involved. We therefore recommend that the DfES give an explicit commitment to support Continuing Professional Development in this area. Any Departmental Manifesto for Outdoor Learning that may emerge should include an entitlement to training for teachers. Networks such as Teachers TV can also be of significant benefit in spreading good practice and should be engaged in this project.

45. The Committee has also taken evidence on the teaching of fieldwork in science subjects. Witnesses have maintained that younger science teachers are not always well prepared to lead fieldwork activities, as many have themselves suffered from the decline of outdoor education as students.[48] Dr Rita Gardner, Director of the Royal Geographical Society said that this deficit is not necessarily remedied in ITT:

"Many of those that we have consulted suggest that there are issues in the professional training of teachers with limited capacity in very tight PGCE programmes to include training in fieldwork inquiry and skills, and even if a geographer has come through a graduate programme where they are taught fieldwork and taken in the field, that is very different from then taking a group of kids out in the field and teaching them inquiry learning and skills."[49]

46. Dr. Steve Tilling of the Field Studies Council said that fieldwork skills used to be passed on in schools as part of an informal 'mentoring' process, but voiced concerns that the skills could be lost entirely as older teachers leave the profession:

"there has been an increasing dependence on, if you like, in school training, mentoring within schools, and even within the schools an age and cohort, if you like, perhaps of teachers who had these skills are dropping out the other end […] So if a new teacher comes into a school and is looking for that sort of support within the school, then the chances are it is no longer there so unless it is delivered through the college then it will not be delivered, and the stance that we have at our fingertips suggests it is also disappearing from college provision."[50]

47. Both Dr Tilling and Dr Gardner suggested that training in fieldwork skills could be provided to new teachers by engaging subject or professional bodies (such as the Association for Science Education, the British Ecological Society or the Royal Geographical Society/Institute of British Geographers). They reported that courses have been run by organisations such as these, with high levels of take-up and good evaluations, but that access has been limited due to a lack of funding.[51] We recommend that the DfES engage teachers' professional bodies and subject associations in the provision of fieldwork training for science and geography teachers, ensuring that appropriate programmes of professional development are on offer to all those teachers who might benefit.


48. Outdoor learning works best where it is well integrated into school structures, in relation to both curriculum and logistics (for example, the organisation of timetables and supply cover where necessary). In this context, we welcome the establishment of Educational Visit Co-ordinators (EVCs) in schools. The EVC role was introduced by the DfES in 2002. Its principle functions are to liaise with the LEA's Outdoor Education Adviser and to ensure that school staff taking pupils on any kind of educational visit are competent to do so and trained as necessary in pupil safety outdoors. All LEAs in England participate in the programme and some now have an EVC in every school in their area.[52]

49. Our evidence suggests that EVCs are working well in schools,[53] but we would re-iterate our comments on training. In order to be effective, educational visits co-ordinators must have access to high quality programmes of Continuing Professional Development. We also consider that the EVC role should be developed further into that of a champion for outdoor learning within a school. This should include not only the promotion of off-site visits but also the benefits of using the school grounds as a resource.

50. Education outside the classroom does not have to mean education outside the school—school grounds are a vital resource. This is particularly true of primary schools, where opportunities for outdoor play can have a significant positive effect on a child's personal and educational development. The Committee was therefore concerned to hear that many school grounds do not provide suitable environments for this development to occur. Learning Through Landscapes, the national school grounds charity, told us that grounds are often inadequate, even in new schools:

"The new capital spend under Building Schools for The Future and the Academies programme does not guarantee that LEAs and their schools can or will address this chronic school grounds problem […] some of the new schools, and particularly some of the new Academies, are coming on stream with school grounds that are still substantially below the standard that would be expected of a modern educational establishment.[…]There appears to be a significant presumption in favour of high tech indoor learning provision which leaves little scope for investment in the outdoors. […] PPP consortia often appear to have a poor understanding of the teaching and learning potential of school grounds and there is a tendency for them to design expensive aesthetic landscapes of little educational value."[54]

51. We were particularly anxious to hear that the new capital building projects initiated by the DfES (including Building Schools for the Future and City Academies) do not necessarily exploit the school's outdoor space to its full potential. When we put this concern to the Minister, he responded:

"We clearly want to get new schools, be they academies or other new schools, to have the very, very best facilities and I have certainly visited schools where that is the case so clearly the picture is a mixed one […] I would have to study the evidence that they have given to the Committee in more detail to then see whether there is a basis for what they are saying and whether something can be done about it in terms of the guidance we give for the development of new schools. Certainly for academies which are directly our responsibility as a Department I think it is critically important that they do include those opportunities, particularly as these are schools focused in areas of great need and generally areas of educational under-performance and under-achievement."[55]

52. The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) has given the Committee persuasive evidence to suggest that students' experience of the built environment has significant and unexploited potential for learning:

"The built environment is a resource that is perennially available to all, and one with which everyone has a relationship. It has an immense physical and intellectual range that can provide rich, shared learning experiences. Since the built environment is outside of the windows of classrooms and surrounding streets its learning applications are simple to access and need to be promoted more widely."[56]

Visits to buildings and public spaces can benefit students, but the most immediate built environment available to schools is their own grounds.

53. It appears that some new schools are being built without due regard to the educational potential of school grounds. This is a result of the lack of leadership and strategic planning from the DfES with regard to outdoor learning. We urge the Department to take action to ensure that new capital projects incorporate good design of outdoor spaces into their plans.

54. The Government is currently encouraging schools to become 'extended schools', providing 'wraparound' services such as breakfast clubs and after school activities and hosting other youth services on their site. There is a potential to increase outdoor education as part of this programme. Schools could enhance students' experience of the outdoors by offering additional activities and linking up with community groups outside their core hours. The DfES should ensure that schools are aware of these possibilities so that this opportunity is not missed.

55. Finally, children spend more time at home than in school and any strategy intended to increase children's access to a variety of environmental settings needs to engage parents and carers. In this context the Government's extended schools initiative has a vital role to play. By reaching out to parent and community groups, schools can link up with wider community activities and make the most of children's learning opportunities both in and out of the classroom.


56. Much of our evidence cited cost as a significant barrier to the organisation of educational visits, yet we do not believe that cost alone is responsible for the decline of education outside the classroom, or that simply throwing money at the problem would provide a solution. This conclusion is supported by evidence from the DfES London Challenge programme. As part of this initiative, the Field Studies Council offered full funding to schools to support an off-site educational visit.[57] One third of schools did not take up this offer despite it being effectively free of charge. It seems therefore that an increase in funding alone would not be enough to persuade schools to change their behaviour, but it is clear to us that certain difficulties do exist in this area, which we discuss below.

57. The cost of arranging good quality supply cover for teachers who are absent on a school trip is one area that has been highlighted in evidence. Some have suggested that the recent National Agreement on Workforce Reform may have led to an increase in costs.[58] The Agreement limits the amount of time teachers can be asked to cover for absent colleagues and may therefore mean that supply cover needs to be secured more often. When we asked the Minister about this issue, he gave his view that the Workforce Agreement was having a "mixed" effect, but declined to quantify the scale of the problem:

"I think the reality is that it is probably a mixed picture on workforce reform. There is the protection that is given in terms of the maximum contact time, so that could have a negative effect, but, on the other hand, part of the reason that workforce reform can happen is that there are all these other adults working in schools or with schools that were not there ten years ago, and that clearly does give opportunities both in terms of people to cover when trips are happening but also for those people to help with the organisation of the trips. I think workplace reform, in all honesty, will have a mixed impact, in some places positive, in some places it could have the negative effect you have described."[59]

We urge the DfES to monitor any unintended consequences of the Workforce Agreement to determine whether it has led to an increase in the cost of arranging supply cover during school trips.

58. A more significant cost is that of arranging transport to and from off-site visits. This cost has also increased in recent years due to the requirement for minibus drivers to hold a PCV licence if they gained their licence after 1997. This means that young teachers coming into the profession are unable to drive school minibuses and drivers must be hired at extra expense.[60] Parliament is currently legislating on school transport, an area we considered during our previous inquiry into the draft School Transport Bill. As we recommended in that report, we would expect the DfES to strongly encourage local authorities trialling alternative arrangements for school transport under the new legislative framework to include transport for school trips in their pilot schemes.[61] This should lead to a reduction in costs.

59. Educational visits that cannot be funded by a school's budget are generally subsidised by 'voluntary' parental contributions. Parents or carers cannot be required to contribute and their children must not be excluded from a trip if they cannot or do not wish to contribute.[62] Nevertheless, schools often make it clear at the outset that a visit might become unviable if a number of parents who were unable to contribute financially insisted that their children take part. This can result in poorer families struggling to find the money for school trips, or their children missing out. On a larger scale, schools in affluent areas are likely to be able to call upon a much larger reserve of parental contributions, allowing them to organise more adventurous residential visits away from schools, whereas those in deprived areas are confined to their locality.[63] Although there is much to be gained from outdoor learning activities conducted within the school grounds or in the local area, those children who might arguably be said to have the most to gain from experiencing an environment away from their home area are actually less likely to be given the opportunity to do so through their school.

60. It is this potential disparity that has led campaigners to call for ring-fenced funding to be provided for outdoor learning. We tend to agree with this proposal. As we noted earlier in this report, the DfES has mooted the possibility of a 'Manifesto for Outdoor Learning'. Departmental officials suggested that this would be similar in format to the Music Manifesto.[64] We therefore noted with interest the recent announcement by David Miliband, the then Minister of State for School Standards, of a £30 million three-year funding package associated with the Music Manifesto. Given the strong evidence for the benefits of education outside the classroom, we recommend that a Manifesto for Outdoor Learning should be issued by the DfES, giving all students a right to outdoor learning. This Manifesto should attract a similar level of funding to the Music Manifesto 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.

Centres and operators

61. Historically, LEAs have been major providers of facilities for school trips through their networks of activity centres. In recent years, many of these centres have closed and the balance of provision has shifted towards private and voluntary operators.[65] This is not a universal trend: the Committee has heard of some local authorities that have expanded their provision. This has often been achieved through a process of financial and organisational restructuring, as in the example of Hampshire county council:

"During the 1980s and 1990s Hampshire bucked the trend of LEAs that sold off or privatised their outdoor centres in the face of budget pressures and protected its centres from changes to educational funding arrangements by moving its centres into a department outside of education. Thus protected from pressures created by the increasing devolution of funding directly to schools, the county was able to grow and develop its outdoor learning opportunities. Additionally, a dedicated staff of experienced professional instructors and teachers have developed at each centre, able to fully support teachers working in the outdoors. A centrally based Outdoor Activities Officer is also employed to ensure consistency of service, operation and risk management across the centres."[66]

62. In the course of this inquiry, private operators have contacted us, advocating an expansion in private provision. They have stated that private operators remove the burden of risk and of bureaucracy from schools. For example, in their evidence, World Challenge Expeditions Ltd challenge the traditional relationship between schools and LEAs, stating that school trips are "widely inaccessible due to restrictive practice and public sector bureaucracy rather than issues of funding":

"DfES guidance on school trips can allow a teacher or Head to believe that they are personally liable for any incident, and fails to recognize that much provision, and much of the liability, can be outsourced—as with school transport […] Further difficulties arise over the allocation of funding, where the tendering process for numerous central government initiatives obscures any reasonable chance of a level playing field. Funds are distributed by Connexions partnerships heavily weighted towards local relationships, with no obligation to assess the quality of provision, innovation or particularly the ability of the provider to recruit children. As a result vast sums of money go unspent, except on a limited range of local opportunity - and at much higher cost to the taxpayer because the public sector adds in administration fees, whereas the private sector bid with a fixed inclusive price. The result, apart from being chaotic, also heavily penalizes innovation or private-sector involvement."[67]

63. In oral evidence, Andy Simpson of the RSPB described the way in which voluntary providers had been affected by the decline of central LEA provision:

"Whilst we want to do more we are very cognisant of the fact that the money has to be raised from somewhere. If one was being critical of Government over the years, one would say that since local management of schools and the demise of many of the local authority field study centres which offered subsidised visits to children—which is how I started—Government has had pretty much of a free ride. It is the NGO sector and other providers that have stepped in to fill that vacuum. We want to do more. We would appreciate some help."[68]

64. The provision of activity centres and other facilities is closely linked to the way in which outdoor education, and education more generally, is funded. Some LEAs have cut central services, including school activity centres, in order to comply with Government pressure to delegate more and more funding directly to schools. The recent Five Year Strategy for Children and Learners published by the DfES suggests that this pressure will continue and even increase as control over budgets shifts to schools rather than LEAs. In this document, the Government proposes that local authorities will take on a more 'strategic' planning and collaboration role rather than providing services centrally.[69] In its Five Year Strategy, the Government proposes that all secondary schools should become independent specialist schools and that LEAs should lose control over school budgets. We recommend that the DfES give serious consideration to how it will structure funding for central outdoor activity services under this new system, or help schools access private and voluntary provision, so that students still have access to high quality outdoor education.

65. The DfES has funded some initiatives intended to assist schools in organising trips, which we discuss later in this report. These include the Growing Schools project, which is designed to support teachers using the 'outdoor classroom' as a curriculum resource, GetREAL, which offers residential visits to teenagers over the summer holidays modelled on the US camp experience, and project funding for museums, galleries and activity centres to facilitate school visits. Here too, funding issues have been highlighted as a barrier to expansion. Witnesses have complained that these initiatives are generally only supported by short term project-based funding. Activity centres participating in these initiatives found it difficult to plan for the future and:

"were only able to employ additional staff on a temporary or casual basis, which meant that skills and expertise were lost when the projects ended. They were not able to develop such strong relationships with schools as a longer-term programme of investment would offer".[70]

It is essential that the DfES and Department for Culture, Media and Sport develop a strategy for the long-term viability of activity centres, helping them to retain staff, build strong links with schools and develop expertise.

17   Ev 137 Back

18   'Pupil visits' is a measure of the number of visits multiplied by the number of pupils participating. Ev 144. Back

19   Ev 44, para 111. Back

20   Ev 66, para 33, Ev 70 and unpublished correspondence. Back

21   Q 206 Back

22   Q 153 Back

23   Q 139 Back

24   Ev 89 Back

25   Q 225 Back

26   Q 147 Back

27   Q 196 Back

28   Q 193 Back

29   Q 231 Back

30   Q 31 and Ev 31. Back

31   Q 28 Back

32   Q 179 Back

33   Ev 59 Back

34   Ev 164, para 17: Qq 63-69. Back

35   Q 68 Back

36   Ev 147 Back

37   Ev 191 Back

38   Commercial or voluntary activity centres that require their own insurance may also experience difficulties and would not be covered by blanket LEA premiums. Back

39   Qq 109, 110. Back

40   Q 233 Back

41   Q 54 Back

42   Q 173 Back

43   Ev 143 Back

44   Q 245 Back

45   Q 17 Back

46   Ev 62 Back

47   Q 79, Q 83. Back

48   Q 17 Back

49   Q 4 Back

50   Q 17 Back

51   Q 17 Back

52   Ev 42, paras 94-97. Back

53   Qq 187-189. Back

54   Ev 133 Back

55   Q 251 Back

56   Ev 158, para 2.2. The Chairman also had a meeting in a representative capacity with Sophie Andreae, Chair of the CABE Education Foundation. Back

57   Q 8 Back

58   Q 46, although Steve Sinnott, General Secretary of the NUT, said he was unaware of any problem in this area. Back

59   Q 253 Back

60   Ev 130, para 6.5. Back

61   Education and Skills Select Committee, Third Report of Session 2002-03, The Draft School Transport Bill, HC 509. Back

62   A charge cannot be made for a trip taking place wholly or mainly during normal school hours, or one which is connected with the National Curriculum or religious education, or meets the requirements of the syllabus for a public examination. Extra-curricular residential trips can be offered at a charge. Back

63   Qq 46, 47. Back

64   Q 99. The Music Manifesto promises every primary school child the opportunity to learn an instrument. Back

65   Ofsted, Outdoor Education: Aspects of good Practice, paragraph 41. Back

66   Ev 105, para 1. Back

67   Ev 105, para 4. Back

68   Q 43 Back

69   Department for Education and Skills, Five Year Strategy for Children and Learners, CM 6272, July 2004. Back

70   Ev 127, para 2.6. Q 46. Back

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