Select Committee on Education and Skills Second Report

7 Conclusions and recommendations

The value of outdoor learning

1.  The broad extent of this inquiry has convinced the Committee that outdoor learning can benefit pupils of all ages and can be successful in a variety of settings. We are convinced that out-of-classroom education enriches the curriculum and can improve educational attainment. Whilst recognising this cross-curricular scope, we conclude that in order to realise its full potential, outdoor education must be carried out properly, with sessions being prepared by well trained teachers and leaders and in accordance with good curriculum guidance as well as health and safety regulations. (Paragraph 9)

2.  Like all educational processes, the benefits of education outside the classroom should be rigorously researched, documented and communicated. Positive and reliable evidence of the benefits of outdoor activities would help schools determine the priority to afford to such work. (Paragraph 13)

The decline of education outside the classroom

3.  It is clear to the Committee that outdoor education is a sector suffering from considerable unexploited potential. (Paragraph 18)

Risk and bureaucracy

4.  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. (Paragraph 19)

5.  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. (Paragraph 22)

6.  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. (Paragraph 26)

7.  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. (Paragraph 29)

8.  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. (Paragraph 35)

9.  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. (Paragraph 38)

Teacher training

10.  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. (Paragraph 43)

11.  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. (Paragraph 44)

12.  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. (Paragraph 47)


13.  Our evidence suggests that EVCs are working well in schools, 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. (Paragraph 49)

14.  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. (Paragraph 53)


15.  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. (Paragraph 56)

16.  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. (Paragraph 57)

17.  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. This should lead to a reduction in costs. (Paragraph 58)

18.  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. (Paragraph 60)

Centres and operators

19.  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. (Paragraph 64)

20.  It is essential that the DfES and DCMS develop a strategy for the long-term viability of activity centres, helping them to retain staff, build strong links with schools and develop expertise. (Paragraph 65)

The role of the DfES

21.  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. (Paragraph 67)

22.  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 deterrent. (Paragraph 68)

23.  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 be expected. (Paragraph 69)

24.  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. (Paragraph 71)

25.  The Committee supports the idea of a Manifesto for Outdoor Learning, but it must be more than 'warm words'. (Paragraph 75)

26.  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. (Paragraph 76)

27.  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 country. (Paragraph 77)

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