Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 128-139)



  Q128 Chairman: It is my great pleasure to welcome Steve Sinnott, the General Secretary of the NUT. This is your first appearance, is it not, Steve?

  Mr Sinnott: As General Secretary of the NUT it is.

  Q129 Chairman: Welcome indeed. Then we have Dr Fiona Hammans. Is that the right pronunciation?

  Dr Hammans: Yes, it is.

  Q130 Chairman: Who is here from Banbury School in Oxfordshire and a member of SHA, Ms Kathryn James, who is Senior Assistant Secretary to the Professional Advice Department, NAHT, and we have Chris Keates, who is General Secretary of NASUWT. Welcome all of you. You will have had the benefit of experience of listening to the Committee's questions so far. The bad news is we have got an entirely different set of questions for you. It is good to have you all here. Jonathan wants to lead the questioning, but before you start does anybody want to say anything? I cannot have all four of you saying something. Are we going to give pride of place to Steve Sinnott, only because it is his first appearance, or does Chris Keates, because she has been before us and has great experience, want to go first?

  Ms Keates: It is also my first appearance, Chairman.

  Q131 Chairman: I am sorry, Chris, I thought you had been here before.

  Ms Keates: I have been here before, but not as General Secretary.

  Q132 Chairman: I see. Who would like to kick off?

  Mr Sinnott: I would like to kick off by congratulating Chris Keates on being General Secretary. I look forward to working with Chris for a long, long time; so congratulations to Chris.

  Ms Keates: Thank you.

  Q133 Chairman: I think that is totally out of order, but we will let you!

  Ms Keates: I think we will go straight into questions.

  Q134 Chairman: Okay. The opener is: did you find it rather a surprise that we were looking at this subject? Is it on the periphery of your interest and you thought, "What on earth is the Select Committee doing dabbling around with this bit of peripheral stuff"?

  Mr Sinnott: I do not think it is peripheral at all, Chair, I think it is central to what goes on in education. As well as congratulating Chris and surprising everyone by congratulating Chris, can I praise the Government? One of the good things that the Government has done is to emphasise the relationship—

  Q135 Mr Pollard: Can you speak a bit more slowly; I want to get all this?

  Mr Sinnott: —is to emphasise the relationship between social class and education, and David Miliband, I think, has done a terrific job in raising the relationship, the achievement of youngsters and their social class, and there is no doubt in my mind that what teachers want to do, and what the Government and the local authorities should be encouraging to be done, is to ensure that youngsters have a rich experience of their time at school, and that will include giving an entitlement to children to go the theatre, to be involved in drama, to be involved in sporting activities, to visit a foreign country, to be involved in an outdoor activity of one form or another, to be involved in a residential activity—all of those activities—and there is real evidence of the way in which youngsters from economically deprived backgrounds benefit from them. The recent experience of September 2004—Ofsted said exactly what I have just said. At the same time we do know that all youngsters, whether they are gifted or talented or whether they are struggling at school, benefit from those activities and schools benefit from having improved relationships between the youngsters and the teachers following residential activity. So the benefits are clear and real, and I congratulate the Committee for picking up this issue?

  Q136 Jonathan Shaw: A question to Chris Keates. In your evidence to the Committee you say that there is a significant number of schools that conduct visits to venues of dubious educational value. How many of your members take children to schools of dubious economic value?

  Ms Keates: Educational value.

  Q137 Jonathan Shaw: Educational value; thank you.

  Ms Keates: We think there is less than when we first started to raise issues about educational visits, the conduct of them and the risk that we felt needed to be minimised as far as possible because, we accept, there is no activity that is actually completely risk-free, but we have for some time been identifying a number of issues and one of the issues we have raised about minimising risks is about making sure that there is a clear educational value to the trips that are being taken. It has been our experience that quite a lot of schools are engaged, particularly in the summer term, although, as I say, our information back from our members is it is less now than when we first started to raise this issue, where you would get the annual trip to the Blackpool pleasure beach or Alton Towers—things that we would say might be an interesting experience for the pupils, might be something they had not done before, but whether it should be the kind of visit that is conducted by a school and what curriculum relationship it has, we would have doubts about that.

  Q138 Jonathan Shaw: What I am slightly concerned about is the broad brushes that you are using, Chris, in your evidence, both written and what you have just said. "Quite a lot", "significant amounts". What we are trying to do is to drill down in this issue and to get to the heart of the matter. When you say "of dubious value educationally"—you have decided that it is so important that you want to put it in the evidence to the Select Committee—what are we talking about? What are the numbers? Does your union know?

  Ms Keates: If you are asking me for statistical evidence to back up for a percentage of schools, I cannot give you that. What I can give you is the issues that have been raised with us from our members are on a large-scale across the country and we judge the impact of an issue by the response we get from members through our union's casework, and, since we have been raising the issue of educational visits, we have had, on a regular basis, from members in schools right across the country, the issues of concerns they have expressed to us about some of the educational visits; and so, if you are asking me for a percentage, I cannot do that. I think that it is perfectly legitimate for me to say that our casework evidence is demonstrating that this is a concern to some teachers, particularly arising from the risks with visits. They have been looking much more closely at the kinds of activities that a school should be involved in conducting.

  Q139 Jonathan Shaw: How many of your members, how many of the NASUWT members have been the subject of false allegations on residential trips?

  Ms Keates: Of the tracking that we have done, I think we have had in the last . . . The percentage of false allegations on visits, I would say, probably is about 5% of the numbers that we have, and we have been tracking educational visits now—I am sorry, false allegations now since 1991.

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