Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)

1 NOVEMBER 2004

MS HELEN WILLIAMS AND MR STEPHEN CROWNE

  Q80 Chairman: How many people in the Department will be working on this area?

  Ms Williams: In our curriculum area, for which I am responsible, we have a small team of four or five people which covers two or three subjects in the  national curriculum—geography, design and technology, ICT—as subjects within the national curriculum and that team is also the focus for work on outdoor education. They are focused and mobilise other people in other subject teams. For example, people who work in science have an interest in outdoor education, as do people who work on citizenship. It is quite difficult to give you a figure but there is a significant staff effort in the Department going into working with partners on outdoor education. Following on from what Stephen was saying about what we are doing, the Department is doing quite a lot to promote, publicise and disseminate guidance about outdoor education. I will not take the Committee's time up with reading off a lot of detail but there is guidance on the foundation stage curriculum which talks about the role of outdoor learning to develop young children. There is stuff in the primary national strategy materials on outdoor education. There is some material in the Key Stage 3 strategy. We also have supported the Growing Schools programme which is an alliance that brings together some 25 organisations which are interested in outdoor education. That Growing Schools programme we support in various ways but in particular we have supported them to undertake research on identifying good practice. There is a Growing Schools web site which has an enormous amount of material on it about what works in outdoor learning at different stages in different subjects, what advice is available to teachers, and that web site is a very well visited web site.

  Q81 Chairman: Do you think there is a problem that too often we discuss this, and perhaps even the Department may look at this, as beneficial to a particular subject, like geography or one of the science subjects, as a practical aspect of getting out there and looking at real plants and so on rather than looking at it as a beneficial exercise for the ethos of the school, for the team building of the kids? Is it the less focused bit of it the bit that you are least comfortable with? You tend to come back to curriculum-related issues rather than the other thing that we are trying to tease out.

  Ms Williams: That is a very interesting question. My instinctive response would be that we value both the   specific curricular contribution of outdoor education but also its contribution to the less tangible things like team building and developing pupils' horizons and experience. I very much hope that is reflected in the guidance and materials we put out. I am sure it is although I cannot quote chapter and verse.

  Q82 Helen Jones: I want to take up what you said about continuing professional development. How many teachers are undertaking or have undertaken continuing professional development which relates specifically to outdoor education?

  Mr Crowne: I do not think we can answer that. [1]

  Q83 Helen Jones: That is exactly my point.

  Mr Crowne: If I could say a little more about this, there is a lot of continuing professional development which is highly relevant to this which covers different subject areas and covers the way school activities are organised. The key thing is that the school itself should have a clear overall view of how it wants to use outdoor education across a broad range of its curricular areas and the other aspects of the life of the school and it should ensure that the professional development necessary to realise that particular vision is in place. Often when it is said, "How do we ensure there is enough training?", you do that by being very clear at the school level about what you want to deliver and how you are going to deliver it. We could of course seek to collect more and more information about this. I am not quite sure that we could come up with a methodology for doing it that would fully illuminate the picture that you want, but I do not think we have that data at the moment.

  Q84 Helen Jones: That is my point really, that you cannot be sure because you say to us, quite rightly, that schools should do this. Do you have any information as a department on how many schools actually do it?

  Ms Williams: It depends what you mean by "do it".

  Q85 Helen Jones: I am taking up Mr Crowne's point. Tell me what schools should do. I would like to know if you know whether they are doing it.

  Ms Williams: We know that 10,000 schools registered last year in the Growing Schools programme. Growing Schools is an alliance which is promoting the use of the outdoors as a learning resource. It does not follow from that that in each of those 10,000 schools all the teachers have necessarily been very energetic in following up and getting relevant CPD but it is of some significance that that number of schools, which is more than 50% of the total number, is positively participating in that programme.

  Q86 Helen Jones: I just want to be clear. You are not telling the Committee that that necessarily means that their teachers have undertaken continuous professional development work in that area, are you?

  Ms Williams: No.

  Q87 Mr Chaytor: Can I ask about the impact of the Workforce Reform programme on the amount of electorate taking place? In your submission it says that the limits on cover introduced in September, the commitment to guaranteed planning, preparation and assessment times, together with enhanced roles for support staff, present real opportunities to make a difference. It does not say "a difference to outdoor learning". I thought it did. It says, "a difference to each pupil's learning". In fact, I am not sure why it is here because it does not say anything about outdoor learning at all. I will revise my question. Why is this paragraph in because it does not seem relevant to the inquiry? Previous witnesses have flagged up school Workforce Reform as an obstacle to the expansion of outdoor learning. The implication of this paragraph being here in this submission, even though it does not mention outdoor learning, is that school Workforce Reform could provide an incentive to outdoor learning. What is your view on the pros and considerations of the Workforce Reform agreement?

  Mr Crowne: We are aware of concerns that there maybe an obstacle here but we are very clear—and this is working with our partners on the Workforce Reform agreement—that there are real opportunities. One of the issues for us is to ensure that the advice and briefing going to schools about the opportunities with Workforce Reform cover this and other areas. What we see as the opportunity essentially is that there is now a broader range of ways of organising and covering for activities of this kind. We are not and should not be wholly reliant on supply cover; there are different ways that we can use the evolving school workforce to help manage these kinds of activities. The first point is that we need to be clear in our guidance to schools in order to build their confidence about how it can be done. The other opportunity there is about what happens in the school while these trips and other activities are going on because that does open up opportunities for different kinds of provision with the groups of children that are left, and again, with a more flexible workforce, teachers and others, it should be possible to devise stimulating, interesting and different kinds of activity back in the school as well. I do see it as an opportunity but I recognise that there is a real job to be done to identify the practices that work and help and help all schools to understand what they can do to access the opportunities.

  Q88 Mr Chaytor: What you are saying is that the opportunities really are that teaching assistants and other support staff take on many of the functions of organising these activities?

  Mr Crowne: Absolutely.

  Q89 Mr Chaytor: But are you not then getting the worst of both worlds in your relations with the NUT and the NASUWT, because the NASUWT is saying to teachers, "Do not get involved in these activities at all", and the NUT was opposed to teaching assistants in the first place? How are you going to get out of all that?

  Mr Crowne: If I can answer that more generally, we recognise that there are various kinds of concern. Certainly in relation to the NASUWT concerns, and we have been working very closely with NASUWT to see how we can take those matters forward, there are plenty of practices now in schools about the way different groups have started to contribute to these activities. All we are saying with Workforce Reform is that there is now a wider range of opportunities because we have a stronger cadre of non-teaching staff available and we just want to build on the experience of using the whole school staff to support these kinds of activities.

  Q90 Mr Chaytor: Leaving aside the impact of the administrative tasks and the use of non-teaching assistants, if a teacher is taken out of the classroom for a given period of time the Workforce Agreement means that supply cover will kick in earlier than it would have done before 1 September, so there is going to be an additional pressure in terms of supply cover that was not there previously, is there not?

  Mr Crowne: That is only if you assume that that is the only way you can deal with the teacher absence.

  Q91 Mr Chaytor: The non-teaching assistants will be   covering for absent teachers in addition to organising the trip in the first place?

  Mr Crowne: What I am saying is that because we are now developing the notion of high level teaching assistants there are different ways of providing for teacher absences. As I said before, those provide some opportunities back at the school to do some different things as well. I am not laying down the law on this. The way we have to proceed is looking with our partners at examples of where the different approaches work well and share those quite widely. In the end it does not matter what we say. It is the confidence that schools have in their ability to organise and deliver these things that matters. That above all is the obstacle to progress. It is about delivering that confidence and sharing the practice that seems to work.

  Q92 Mr Chaytor: There is not a specific funding stream directly to schools for outdoor learning, or is there? There has never been a strand of the standards funds?

  Mr Crowne: I could not say never.

  Q93 Chairman: Helen Williams, for the record, is shaking her head.

  Ms Williams: Within living memory we are not aware of there having been a specific strand.

  Q94 Mr Chaytor: If the Department is so confident that this has advantages for pupils and their learning is there not a case for having a ring-fenced funding stream as there is for certain other parts of the curriculum?

  Mr Crowne: As you will know, within our overall strategy we are trying to get away from the ring-fencing of specific sums for specific purposes. That builds on the very solid consensus across all of our education partners that a much more effective approach is to give maximum flexibility at local level and encourage schools to be very clear about what their priorities are and then to use their budgets flexibly to deliver those. The challenge for the Department is, rather than using a directed approach through ring-fenced finding, finding a style of leadership which encourages schools to want to take up these opportunities and to prioritise them within their overall budgets, and then we come in to provide guidance and support and access to best practice which will influence behaviour locally. It is getting away from what I call the regulatory ring-fencing approach which we have found over time has rather diminishing returns in terms of leading the system. It is a deliberate attempt to move away from that but we recognise nevertheless that there are some challenges in how you influence and provide the kind of leadership where it is clear that we want more schools to be able to benefit from these kinds of activities.

  Q95 Mr Chaytor: Finally, can I ask about academies? In your submission it says, "We expect as more of them open that many academies will be at the forefront of the provision of outdoor education". Is there any evidence that the first wave of academies have put particular emphasis on outdoor education?

  Ms Williams: I am not personally aware of the evidence but we can certainly let you have whatever evidence there is.

  Q96 Mr Chaytor: Has there yet been the review? I think when the Secretary of State was here last time he said there was going to be an internal review of the first year of academies to be published, as I recall, at the end of September.

  Ms Williams: We do not know about that but we can put in a note about that.

  Q97 Chairman: How would you take the notion that there should be a dedicated part of the budget to a school? There are two ways of looking at this, are there not? One is that every school spend X amount of its budget on outdoor education, or there can be an entitlement for every student to have so many hours per term in outdoor education. Which of those would you favour, or none?

  Ms Williams: Shall I comment on the idea of some kind of entitlement in terms of hours? We would be rather inclined against an entitlement expressed in terms of hours per pupil because that does not offer any assurance about the quality or the relevance of the experience. It is an input measure. The important thing, as Stephen has said and as I have said already, is to create the demand in schools to convince heads and their staff that outdoor education is something that can make a contribution. You have to create that sense of ownership and buy-in within the profession. Simply having a statutory entitlement for pupils to have so many hours per week or per month of outdoor education does not in itself carry the profession with you. Our instinct would be to stick with the approach of promoting the benefits of outdoor education to schools, to building up the capacity and confidence of staff through CPD and through information and by signposting the opportunities that already exist for schools to take advantage of that.

  Q98 Chairman: I would say that sounds a bit weak and waffly in the sense that if you were going to look for an energiser in the past you would look at the local education authority. A good LEA was at the heart of providing good outdoor education. Of course, the government has given LEAs relatively a weaker role in most of these things, or at least that is the view that some of us on this committee have. Is it all going to be done from Sanctuary House that you are going to encourage people or is there a mechanism? I gave you two possibilities, a certain amount of time that students should expect of outdoor education or a special budget like the e-learning budget. What about making Ofsted take it much more seriously? I am looking for ways in which you are going to convince me that the department takes it seriously.

  Ms Williams: Perhaps I can suggest a third possibility.

  Q99 Chairman: Do you not mean the fourth? I have given you three now.

  Ms Williams: This is something we have already talked to partners about, the possibility of developing with partners, including local authority organisations, including teacher union organisations as well as professional organisations, the idea of agreeing some kind of manifesto for outdoor learning on the lines of the manifesto that has recently been agreed among partners on school music. The idea of having such a manifesto would be that it would identify what the partners saw as the contribution of outdoor education within the curriculum to teaching and learning. It could identify some agreed key issues. It could set out a set of priorities and this would be a kind of agreed framework not just for the partners but also for local authorities, non-government bodies. Everyone who has a stake in this field could work together to promote outdoor education.


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