Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Secondary Heads Association

  1.  The Secondary Heads Association represents over 11,000 members of leadership teams in maintained and independent schools and colleges throughout the UK. This is an area that is of great interest to many of our members both in relation to the operation of their own schools and colleges and out of their concern for the education system as a whole.


  2.  Educational trips and visits may be more or less extended, and require planning long in advance or might ideally be close to ad hoc in response to an event or a point raised by a learner. Visits to a law court, a local firm, a museum, or a local cultural event are all examples of such visits that have real value. Students involved in virtually all types of course and stages of education can benefit from such visits. These are generally half or full day visits that do not require overnight stays.

  3.  Fieldwork is required for some examination courses and can add an important dimension to many others. Geography and biology use fieldwork most commonly, but other subjects may do so to good effect. These experiences may be in the locality, the best examples often involve an extended stay in some otherwise unfamiliar area. The experience of being away in a group is itself valuable.

  4.  Foreign exchanges clearly have the value of introducing young people to other cultures and teaching them something of how to travel abroad. Likewise, inviting a "foreigner" into the home is not an experience a great many young people would otherwise have, and from which they and their families benefit. This can lead to important social learning.

  5.  Sport will generally take place outside the classroom, though not necessarily outside the building. The value of sport in encouraging teamwork, and its direct benefit to the participant in terms of fitness and wellbeing are well rehearsed. Familiarising young people with sports that they can continue in adult life and developing good habits of exercise, is important to their future health.

  6.  Outdoor education in the sense of fell-walking, orienteering, climbing, canoeing etc, has many of the virtues of sport, and teaches self-reliance and useful skills.

  7.  The Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme has elements of outdoor education and elements of community service, both of which need to take place outside the classroom.

  8.  Community service has often to take place away from school, it has obvious benefits to the young people engaged in it as well as via the service they provide. The young people learn the value of service, and as many opportunities involve interacting with others they may learn greater respect for the elderly, the young, the disadvantaged etc.

  9.  Work experience is a requirement for year ten pupils in school and for many students enrolled in vocational courses. It can mean an afternoon a week, a block of two weeks close to home, or for older students an extended stay away from home.


  10.  Direct experience is needed for certain aspects of personal development. Children can be challenged via such experiences to behave in a more adult way, gaining useful experience and setting habits of mind.

  11.  Education outside the classroom has direct benefits in teaching and learning in providing pupils with experiences more vivid and memorable than even the best teacher can arrange in the classroom setting. Just a change of routine marks out the experience as special and helps to fix it in mind.

  12.  Teachers who have taken groups on residential visits of any kind almost always report an improvement in relationships between the young people, and between them and their teachers. Working well together is a critically important skill in its own right as well as improving children's performance in their studies.

  13.  Getting outside the classroom can be important to enable children to understand the wider society in which they live. As such it is a key preparation for citizenship and work.

  14.  At a time when there is widespread concern over obese children, opportunities to engage them in enjoyable exercise are of great value. Especially if that engagement will be (in at least some cases) carried forward into habits of exercise.


  15.  The examples mentioned above carry more or less risk. None are risk-free, no human activity can be. Most activities carry risks that would not be encountered in the classroom: travel, accident related to the activity, exposure to less well vetted adults, other children creating danger from their carelessness or inexperience, the "message" being less well controlled than in the classroom.

  16.  Such risks need to be carefully considered and managed, but if they are, they are generally felt to be risks worth taking for the benefits of the experiences gained.

  17.  There is also a value of risk in itself. Children grow up protected, rightly so and increasingly so, but as they enter adulthood they have to learn to manage risks—and the only way to do that is to take some.


  18.  It is widely thought that we are living in an increasingly litigious culture. Citizens are tending to greater dependence, and to lesser acceptance of their own responsibilities. So that if something goes wrong they look for someone to do something about it, and perhaps look for someone to blame. This has certainly been noticeable in the education world, with much more challenge and many more court cases than would have been the case in an earlier generation.

  19.  It is right of course that schools, colleges, teachers and education leaders should take care of young people. Reasonable steps should always be taken to protect children, and thought should always be given to keeping risk to a reasonable level.

  20.  Not everyone agrees about what is reasonable though, and there is a need for a new consensus. With the benefit of hindsight an injured person or the parents of an injured child, will often take a different line from that which they would have taken before the event. This, the cultural change mentioned above, and in some cases greed, have all contributed to an increase in legal action against schools, colleges and individuals.

  21.  The desire to attribute blame has also in some cases led to schools or individuals being hounded by the press and media. Some of these cases have been very widely reported and have caused alarm amongst teachers and school leaders.

  22.  Some official bodies, in an excess of zeal, have taken a similar line and persecuted individuals for faults that were either non-existent or those of a system rather than an individual.


  23.  These valuable activities are in decline because the governments, both national and local, LEAs, governors, school leaders, and teachers are all tending to play safe. Despite all precautions accidents will continue to happen, and other things will continue to go wrong, but naturally no one wants to be the one held responsible for them. So there is buck-passing up and down the chain and a marked tendency always to favour the most restrictive "safest" option.

  24.  The bureaucracy is generally not helpful. Guidelines issued may be unworkable in practice, leaving those who wrote them safe, but those closer to the young people faced with a choice of giving up on a valuable activity or taking a risk to their own career.

  25.  At present there is real uncertainty about what qualifications a teacher should have to drive a minibus. One interpretation is that teachers should have a licence to drive a passenger-carrying vehicle. Few do, so that much of the activity mentioned above would cease—yet there is no reason to suppose that the accidents that have taken place when teachers have been driving minibuses are attributable to their lack of driving skills, still less to the lack of such a licence.


  26.  All this has already led to a reduction in education outside the classroom, and the danger is that it will decline still further.

  27.  The effect is damaging to all children by denying them opportunities for growth, and opportunities to learn important skills, facts, and habits.

  28.  Schools and colleges are happy to take responsibility for their actions, and do not expect immunity. But a lot that is of real value will be lost if the balance is not redressed so that individual teachers, their leaders and their institutions can make reasonable arrangements for education outside the classroom with confidence.

  29.  Despite every obstacle, and although it has reduced, much very good work continues in schools and colleges.

October 2004

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