Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the National Association of Head Teachers


  The National Association of Head Teachers welcomes the opportunity to present evidence to the Committee on this important matter. Staff, pupils, parents—indeed the whole school community can benefit from increased opportunity for learning that such activities can supply. However, there needs to be an awareness of the implications for the school that the organising and running of out-of-school activities can have.


  The increased demands on school budgets means that priorities for allocation are contentious and budget allocation hard-won. Any activity organised by the school must be able to demonstrate a favourable cost-benefit analysis. This applies to any out-of-school activity as much as in-school curriculum enrichment opportunities. There is no doubt that out-of-school activities can incur substantial costs in time, financial and human resources. Schools need to budget carefully for these and consider the "value for money" aspect.

  Just to arrange a one-off, off-site visit for a day has implications for transport costs, staff cover costs, preparation time and debrief time. A residential visit has the potential to increase these costs exponentially and also residential costs must be incorporated. There is no opportunity for schools to recoup these costs other than through voluntary contributions from parents. Needless to say, these may or may not be forthcoming! Where they are not forthcoming, the school can only resort to placing the whole trip in jeopardy.

  Staffing costs for out-of-school visits can vary hugely, but it is fair to say that there is always an expense over and above that normally incurred if the pupils were to remain in the classroom. In ensuring that the degree of extra risk inevitably associated with off-site visits is kept within acceptable limits, the adult : pupil ratio is generally higher. Where pupils with special needs are involved, this can also lead to additional costs to cater for the pupils' needs. All of these costs have to be met from the school budget and/or voluntary contributions. This can produce an unacceptable drain on already stretched budgets.


  There is an expectation that learning objectives will be specified for any educational provision: for education outside the classroom the imperative is to specify clearly what is to be learnt, and how, and to indicate why such learning needs to happen outside of the classroom environment. The value of such activities in terms of character-forming exercises, team-building, development of leadership qualities cannot be overestimated. However, consideration of such benefits must also be weighed against the costs and the fact that, in general, they not central to the school's curriculum and learning objectives.

  Examples of activities that have historically formed part of the off-site provision are:

    —  science and geography field trips;

    —  PE/games activities off-site, like orienteering, horse-riding etc;

    —  historical activities, such as museum visits;

    —  visits to places of worship as part of religious education;

    —  theatre trips;

    —  visits abroad, to support modern foreign languages;

    —  exhibitions, art and music events.

  In general, many of these experiences could not be replicated adequately in classrooms. They should be considered as essential off-site activities and should be funded as such.


  The adequacy and quality of specialist outdoor provision is the responsibility of the employer—the LEA for community and voluntary schools, the governing body for foundation and voluntary aided schools. Obtaining information about providers is not always straightforward but is necessary. Some routes are reasonably easy, such as those providers that are covered by the Adventure Activities Licensing Scheme. Others are less so, though equally important.

  External accreditation of providers should be more widespread. Staff involved in organising off-site activities should be expected to undertake appropriate training.


  Planning for even the most straightforward of off-site visits can be extensive. If the off-site visit starts and/or finishes outside the normal times of the school day, for example, this may mean arrangements for delivery and collection of pupils, checking on availability of parents/carers to meet the timings, additional opening hours of the school grounds. Work experience placements can provide their own challenges.

  Where not all children from a particular class participates in an activity, this can add pressure to the resources of the school. Any children left on the premises must be catered for. This can happen on a regular basis for sporting activities off-site, for example, but is not confined to such activities.

  Though the setting may be different, the management, control and authority issues with regard to the pupils still remain the same as on-site. In some cases, they become more acute. Sufficient staff must be present, emergency procedures should be in place and well communicated to all participants, medical needs must be catered for, playtime must be arranged etc. Managing these out of the pupils' usual environment can present additional challenges.


  Training is available for leaders of off-site activities, for example, OCR's training course, "Off-site Safety Management Scheme" is aimed at those who organise off-site visits of any nature and covers all aspects of planning, including risk assessments, pre-planning etc. Any staff members organising and planning off-site visits should be expected to undertake such training, as this will better prepare them for the task they are undertaking.

  Although staff are generally motivated to plan and undertake off-site visits, it is true to say that this is not as widespread as it was. Teachers undoubtedly have concerns about the possibility of litigation. These may be unfounded but they are very real. The idea that, if an accident occurs, then someone must be to blame and that person, in the eyes of the parents, must be the teacher, does nothing to assist with willingness to organise off-site visits. Lack of clarity with regard to what can be expected in terms of right to participate for children with special educational needs can also cloud the issue.

  Workload issues must be taken into consideration when looking at the additional burden put on all staff. Planning and organisation is in addition to the normal work undertaken by staff. Where an educational visit is arranged over an extended period, for example, staff may be considered to be "on duty" for the whole period, day and night, as they continue to be responsible for the pupils in their care. Organising off-site visits is potentially a great drain on the staff concerned.

  In the context of workload issues, it is not unreasonable to mention work experience. The organisation, monitoring, assessment, on-site visits to pupils, can reach nightmare proportions, and not always to great effect. The value of such placements should be balanced against the huge effort required to set these up.


  There is no doubt that there is ever-present concern with regard to both accidents and the possible litigation that may arise. It is also true that the compensation culture mentality does nothing to encourage schools to undertake the additional workload that off-site visits require. Although the vast majority of activities take place successfully and without incident, the tiny minority where problems occur are reported so widely that the effect is greatly skewed.

  Training of staff will help to minimise the likelihood of things going wrong. Some form of protective insurance would assist in reassuring understandably nervous staff that they will not be made the scapegoat for any potential untoward incident. It might also be helpful if a positive publicity campaign were to be mounted to demonstrate the value of education outside the classroom and also how successful and safe almost all activities can be. The current advice document, Health and Safety of Pupils on Educational Visits, is seen as very helpful and should be commended to all those involved with the planning and running of school visits.


  We have no comment to make in this area.


  We would not wish to see education outside the classroom diminish. Its value both in supporting the curriculum and in character development is immense. However, unless adequate training, sufficient funding and explicit protection/insurance can be identified, it seems unlikely that schools will be able to maintain the current provision, let alone increase it. An accreditation scheme for specialist providers should be more widespread.

October 2004

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