Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160-179)

1 NOVEMBER 2004

MR STEVE SINNOTT, DR FIONA HAMMANS, MS KATHRYN JAMES AND MS CHRIS KEATES

  Q160 Jonathan Shaw: Dubious?

  Ms Keates: Or exotic!

  Q161 Chairman: I know for the first time when I was a shadow minister for that sort of area that going to the Blackpool pleasure beach was a wonderful learning experience, but would not people think you were being a bit Stalinist if you did only the things that NASUWT thought were of value?

  Ms Keates: I did not say only the things that NASUWT thought were of value; I said what we would get is a check-list against which schools could do that measurement themselves.

  Q162 Chairman: But would a child's first visit to the seaside be educational or not?

  Ms Keates: It is very easy to put a circumstance like that. What I would say to you is of course it is important for children to have that kind of experience. I would not disagree with this. I think it is borne out of this premise that somehow we are anti-educational visits, which I have tried to explain is not the case.

  Q163 Jonathan Shaw: You are.

  Ms Keates: No.

  Q164 Chairman: Jonathan, I will be handing back to you in a minute. What we are trying to push is it was you that mentioned Alton Towers, not us?

  Ms Keates: That is absolutely right. I am not sure.

  Q165 Chairman: You have got to make a list.

  Ms Keates: Yes, I am not sure—as I often have on these things—I am not sure that that is something I would say should be conducted by a school. The other point I would—

  Q166 Chairman: So a visit to Scarborough is on the list or not?

  Ms Keates: I would say, depending what they are doing at Scarborough. If they are going looking at coastline features and various other things to do with a field trip, then that might be.

  Q167 Chairman: Not to have a paddle and see the sea for the first time?

  Ms Keates: Of course you want children to have those particular experience, but, I have to say, I also think that you need to do some investigation into how many of the trips that are run actually get to the children that you are identifying, because there are a number of trips that take place that actually parents cannot afford for those children to go and they are often the ones that you want to have that first experience. My view is that the more that a trip is related to the curriculum the more opportunity pupils will have to go, because you cannot charge for trips that are necessary as part of the curriculum. Too many of the visits that go rely on voluntary contributions, and some of them are horrendously expensive, and parents get into the position of either they cannot afford for their own child to feel guilty or the voluntary contribution letter says, "If you do not make a voluntary contribution then other people may not be able to go either", which is a double whammy for some parents who have poor economic circumstances. So whilst I would never disagree that for a child to see the sea for the first time is a wonderful experience, I do not think we should get carried away on that wave of emotion that that is somehow what is happening in all these visits that take place and the bad old NASUWT is stopping these wonderful children having these wonderful experiences because that is not true; but I think I have a responsibility to draw to the attention of this Committee the real concerns that my members in schools face around these issues.

  Q168 Chairman: But it is our job also to assess the evidence from NASUWT. A policy, on the one hand, that would stop all schools trips but, on the other, you seem to be in favour of school trips and out of school education. A lot of people that we represent—as elected politicians we have got to explain a policy and that is our difficulty with your position, is it not? On the one hand the logic of your four-year policy would be the end of all out-of-door education for schools?

  Ms Keates: It would until the issues were addressed that we have listed in our evidence that are currently being considered by the Government, because they had clearly thought there was validity to the arguments we put; otherwise I do not think Charles Clarke would have made a public statement at our annual conference that he recognised the validity of them, and he immediately set up meetings with senior officials to look at all of those issues and we are making really good progress because we want to be in a position to say that the risks have been minimised.

  Q169 Chairman: That is excellent, Chris. So you are saying that the Government is putting in place a dialogue that could change—

  Ms Keates: Absolutely; and that is what we say in paragraph 28 of our evidence.

  Q170 Jonathan Shaw: Let me ask Steve Sinnott about the Workforce Agreement. Do you think that these have made school trips more expensive?

  Mr Sinnott: More expensive?

  Q171 Jonathan Shaw: Yes, given that they have placed a financial burden on schools and perhaps having to pay for supply teachers to take them out?

  Mr Sinnott: I have no evidence of whether the Workforce Agreement has made the school trips more expensive or, indeed, less expensive. I have no evidence at all, Jonathan, in relation to that.

  Q172 Jonathan Shaw: What about classrooms assistants? Could they be trained to undertake the risk assessments?

  Mr Sinnott: They could. I think all sorts of people could be trained to undertake risk assessments, but to some extent I think, Jonathan, you are asking the wrong question. I think the right question—

  Q173 Jonathan Shaw: Help me; you are a teacher!

  Mr Sinnott: If you will permit me. The right question is to ask some of the centres that offer outdoor activities for them, for example, to provide generic risk assessments, and they would be of great assistance to schools and in that way reducing the burden, the bureaucratic burden, and, indeed, the work load on teachers, on head teachers and on appropriate support staff. So we think that could be done. Indeed, in activities that the NUT nationally has organised jointly with the NASUWT nationally to support the global campaign for education, we have used and we have undertaken joint risk. We have paid for joint risk assessments to be carried out and provided them with schools who have been sending them on activities that the NUT and the NASUWT have jointly organised?

  Ms James: In terms of risk assessment, I think it is quite important to remember the involvement of local authorities carrying out risk assessments, though, again, I would strongly support the notion of teachers receiving training and all staff receiving training in terms of actually running, planning and moving forward with any outdoor education activity. I think that is absolutely essential. We mention in our evidence the OCR training course, which is actually very valuable, and I think the more people that undertake this the better, or something similar.

  Dr Hammans: In terms of risk assessments, I do not think that there is any need to explain to school and college leaders the importance of them, and most schools already have a bank of their own generic risk assessments which then link with LEA activity centre and association risk assessments, and they are used within schools all the time.

  Q174 Jonathan Shaw: Can I ask you, Kathryn James, do your members have concerns about dubious trips?

  Ms James: You will see in our evidence that we talk about the necessity for learning objectives, and that is for any lesson, and that would also include the necessity for the learning objectives for outdoor education. We think this is an essential part of the planning system. In terms of whether dubious activities, I think any activity that takes place within or without a school needs to have to a strong basis upon which the learning is to be forthcoming. By that I am not just tying it directly to curriculum learning, because you talked about the social aspect and the education of children in terms of their growing up, and particularly children from deprived areas need that rich experience that actually can only come from activities that take place out of school, and this is why we are very much in support of outdoor activities. Chris and I, I think, probably sit on different sides of the same line in terms of where we are coming from because we too see the necessity to make sure that there is adequate safety; that people are secure in what they are doing. We have talked about the concerns about litigation and they may be unfounded, but these concerns are still very real, and that can be off-putting for teachers and for support staff when they are looking at planning these particular activities.

  Q175 Chairman: Dr Hammans, who are these people in schools, heads or governors, or whoever, who are they, who are planning ridiculous excursions to things that have no value? Who are these people?

  Dr Hammans: I genuinely do not think, Chair, that there are any dubious excursions or planned trips; because the bureaucracy and the risk, whether it is real or not, associated with those in people's minds who are organising the trips and taking the students out is so great that there has to be a genuine agreed set of objectives for it. For instance, if it is Alton Towers, it may be a trip to reward students who have done particularly well, or it may be an entitlement for every Year 7 student to go to do some practical physics which is then built on throughout the whole of their visits curriculum in school, but the amount of work that needs to be done in advance has to be quite clearly worth it, otherwise what is the point? We do not go on trips that take hours of planning with the risk associated just in case something goes wrong for just a jolly; it does not happen like that any more. It is not like that in schools and colleges.

  Q176 Chairman: So these unnecessary value trips are a sort of urban myth?

  Dr Hammans: Our impression certainly would be that they do not occur these days. They may have happened 10, 15, 20 years ago where teachers decided, "It is summer term, let's take the students out for a walk down the river bank", but these days with the pressure from national curriculum, the wider agenda for personal development for students, team-building, leadership skills, there is no spare time. Teachers do not have the time, students do not have the time to waste and parents certainly would not support us.

  Q177 Chairman: Kathryn, is that your take on it?

  Ms James: I would agree. I do not think that you ought to underestimate the actual planning time and the commitment that all of the staff need to give to make an outdoor activity valuable for all concerned. When Stephen Crowne and Helen Williams were here before, they commented about strengthening relationships with the school. Actually outdoor activities can even work in terms of strengthening relationships with the community, and, particularly in the more deprived areas, again, that can be a very, very strong element in terms of how schools function within their community; but that takes time, it takes effort, it takes a lot of resources, and I think the staff who give their time for this want to see that they are valuable and that the activity is valuable and that it is of value to the pupils who undertake them.

  Q178 Chairman: You both say then that the concern that NASUWT has that is really central to their objection, one of the central concerns, does not exist. It is figment of someone's imagination?

  Ms James: I think that there have been problems. Chris herself has said that in fact the dubious nature of school trips—I think she herself said that they think that this has decreased in NAS terms. From our perspective, we would say that the learning objects which are central to any activity actually mean that this has to now be defined before anything can go forward. So, yes, I would say that in fact they have been minimised, if not wiped out.

  Dr Hammans: Could I add something there. I agree very much with what Kathryn says, but it is that fear of litigation, particularly for our members. So in terms of calls to the Secondary Heads Association hotline, the HQ, then there will be calls each week from members who have received a solicitor's letter or are outraged or intimidated either by the receipt of those, or disciplinary action from their own governing body or through the LEA or even the Health and Safety Executive. So whether it is real or not, whether it gets to a court of law or not, it is something additional on our members which needs to be borne in mind.

  Q179 Chairman: So what is it, Dr Hammans? I am going to ask Chris Keates. What is it that would put your members' minds at rest? What kind of support do they want which would mean that they felt better about participation in out of school activities? You heard the civil servants talking about the manifesto, and so on. What should be in that manifesto that would put your minds at rest and lead to a greater level of cooperation?

  Dr Hammans: There needs to be something which is definitive. So if you are looking at the bureaucracy that everybody has to fill in there is the DfES guidelines which need to be met, there is then the local authority set of guidelines which, as has been indicated earlier on, will change and will change somewhat, then you have got again school's interpretations, plus whichever group you may be going with, whichever partner you will be working with—so you have got a huge amount of bureaucracy—but even when you have dotted the "I"s, crossed the "T"s and something might have gone wrong, the view is somebody has to be responsible for what has happened to my child or that child; and it does not matter what you have done, the sense is that you as an individual, if you have been involved in that school party, or myself as head of a school, is the one who will be in court. Real or not, that is the fear. So something where the bureaucracy—if you want the guidelines, the safety, the nets, everything is filled in, that is the end of it and an individual is not identified but the authorities who have been giving you the guidance are the people who then are answerable.


 
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