5 The Role of the DfES
66. Our inquiry has revealed that there is currently
a very patchy provision of outdoor education in schools. Some
schools do well in organising a carefully planned programme of
educational experiences outside the classroom, whereas others
are put off by perceptions of risk, time-consuming bureaucracy
and cost. The good practice of some schools in this area suggests
that it would be possible for others to follow suit and that the
DfES could expect to be successful in an attempt to share good
practice across schools. When we expressed this view to the Minister,
"We want schools to make the very, very best
use of the various opportunities that are available and what we
know is a lot of schools do but a lot of schools do not. What
that says is there is the potential within the framework we have
got at the moment to get there. Our role needs to be to see what
can be done to encourage all schools to take up the opportunities
that are available to them."
67. We conclude that the DfES has a vital role
to play in demonstrating the value of out-of-classroom learning
to schools and spreading best practice across all schools. The
future of outdoor learning depends on clear direction and leadership
from the DfES that has so far been woefully missing.
68. A key role for Government is the provision of
advice concerning the conduct of visits and of health and safety
guidance. As we noted earlier in this report, the DfES has recently
updated its guidance on a number of occasions. This clear health
and safety advice is to be welcomed, but the Department as
well as LEAs should take care to ensure that schools and activity
centres are not becoming overloaded with risk assessment bureaucracy
from different, overlapping organisations, as this can be a significant
69. We are also concerned that the recent overwhelming
focus on risk and health and safety issues may have meant that
opportunities for curricular development have been missed. For
example, in a written submission to the Committee, Dr Pete Higgins
"The response of the outdoor education sector
on issues of safety has been, since the Lyme Bay incident in 1993,
to focus almost exclusively on safety-related issues in their
professional practice. Whilst such a response is entirely understandable,
it has meant that curricular change has gone largely unnoticed
and the resulting opportunities unexploited. This has led to a
situation where although many experiences outside the classroom
can be deemed to be 'safe' they have little or no locus in a curriculum."
The DfES needs to take the lead by demonstrating
the low levels of risk attached to school visits. This could perhaps
be achieved via a statistical comparison with other everyday activities.
Given the relatively low levels of risk attached to outdoor activities,
the Department should now give a clear steer to schools that educational
innovation outside the classroom is to be welcomed and even to
70. The DfES has set up some initiatives aimed at
encouraging outdoor learning. Chief among these are GetREAL and
the Growing Schools programme. These have been supplemented by
projects from other departments, for example Defra's Countryside
Access schemes, as well as some innovative work by the Welsh Assembly.
In oral evidence, the Minister particularly stressed the importance
and success of the Growing Schools project, terming it "a
really, really powerful instrument of improvement"
and claiming: "We have got 10,000 schools signed up to Growing
Schools. Almost half the schools are already part of this. What
that means in practice in most schools is going to vary. They
are not all at the excellent end of the spectrum but it is pretty
impressive to have that number of schools already part of a network.
71. Although the Minister boasted that 10,000 schools
have signed up to Growing Schools, we have some concerns about
the limitations of this project. Growing Schools was specifically
set up to teach children about food, farming and the environment,
to explain how food travels from the farmyard to the dinner table
and explore healthy eating and environmental impacts in this context.
The Real World Learning Campaign describes the Growing Schools
project as a programme "shackled if not dominated by a food
and farming agenda", which cannot therefore be expected to
resolve the wider problems facing outdoor education, described
in this report. In
addition, an independent evaluation of the programme by the Council
for Environmental Education and Bath University's Centre for Research
in Education and the Environment notes the good resources supplied
via the Growing Schools website, but questions whether the scheme
recognises, or significantly addresses, barriers to effective
learning outside the classroom.
The Committee believes that current Government initiatives
do not go far enough in overcoming the barriers to outdoor learning.
What is needed is a coherent strategy for education outside the
classroom that brings together good practice from around the country,
rather than a small number of limited, if worthy projects.
72. Throughout this inquiry, we have been impressed
by the number and variety of voluntary, commercial and professional
organisations involved in the provision of outdoor education.
These include charitable foundations in the heritage and environmental
sectors, local and national companies that bring schools into
their businesses, commercial providers of educational and adventurous
activities and teachers' professional bodies. In developing a
strategy for out-of-classroom education, the DfES needs to more
effectively engage these partners, exploiting and developing the
resources that already exist.
73. In order to reverse the decline of outdoor education,
some of our witnesses have called for a national entitlement to
a certain amount of hours of outdoor learning within the school
curriculum. The National Curriculum already lays down some limited
statutory entitlements to outdoor learning, particularly in the
Foundation Stage for nursery children, in PE and recently in Geography,
where there is now a requirement for an element of fieldwork.
Our evidence on the extent to which this requirement is being
met or exceeded varies. The Field Studies Council told us that
"the statutory requirement to carry out fieldwork has had
a major positive impact on levels of geography fieldwork",
yet other witnesses complained that provision is patchy with some
schools struggling to reach the bare minimum.
We are particularly concerned that these subject-specific requirements
do not sit easily with the cross-curricular nature of much outdoor
learning and its ability to raise achievement across subject areas.
74. In oral evidence, DfES officials opposed the
idea of a cross-curricular statutory entitlement to outdoor learning,
saying that an entitlement "does not offer any assurance
about the quality or the relevance of the experience. It is an
This response surprised us, as the department has used the concept
of an entitlement successfully in the past (for example, with
the 'Literacy Hour'). Nevertheless, we would agree that the simple
imposition of an entitlement is unlikely to improve matters by
itself. It would need to be accompanied by other measures enabling
the entitlement to be delivered.
75. As an alternative to an entitlement, DfES officials
suggested that education outside the classroom could be expanded
and improved by means of a 'Manifesto for Outdoor Learning'. Campaign
groups have called for such a commitment, most recently through
the Real World Learning Campaign, an alliance of organisations
involved in outdoor education. Any manifesto should be part of
a national strategy. The Committee supports the idea of a Manifesto
for Outdoor Learning, but it must be more than 'warm words'.
76. Whatever mechanism is used, the Department's
role must be expanded from its current reactive work to a more
proactive function, championing the benefits of outdoor education.
We regret that too often in education, the General Teaching Council
and professional organisations do not have the will or the capacity
to promote best practice effectively and so the Government is
left with the responsibility of driving change.
77. We recommend that the DfES set up a structure
to promote education outside the classroom at all levels. Within
the Department, a dedicated team of officials should have responsibility
for outdoor learning across curriculum areas and should tap into
other Departmental initiatives, such as the extended schools programme
and the provision of before/after school activities. 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
71 Q 227 Back
Ev 192, Ev 163. Back
Q 226 Back
Q 248 Back
Ev 101 Back
Growing Schools-The Innovation Fund Projects (2002-2003): an
External Evaluation; Council for Environmental Education,
University of Bath Centre for Research in Education and the Environment,
2003. Ev 176. Back
Ev 11, para 3. Back
Q 4 Back
Q 97 Back