Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180-199)

1 NOVEMBER 2004

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

  Q180 Chairman: Would you favour getting rid of this responsibility? A specialist organisation in the private sector could take this all over and take the load totally out of schools?

  Dr Hammans: Our view is very much that it is about holistic education of youngsters and it is not about, "We will deliver national curriculum plus a couple of options." It is about seeing a youngster when they arrive at 11 at our schools through to when they finish at 19 even, their complete growth from the eleven year old through to the 19 year old; and if we start parcelling it up so that behaviour is to do with one group of people, outdoor education someone else, classrooms to do with this, I think we lose sight of what is unique about the UK education system.

  Q181 Chairman: What is your view on that, Steve?

  Mr Sinnott: I think a lot of commonsense has just been spoken, and what I think we have started to see is considerable agreement on those people who represent teachers on this issue. The fear is a real fear. The fear of litigation is not something that Chris Keates is inventing; it is a real fear in the part of schools. So I share what my colleagues have said about that fear. I also say that that places an enormous responsibility—because you are asking the questions and we are answering them—it places a considerable responsibility on the Committee here in its report to do something about assuaging the fear that is out there on the part of parents and others. By asking the questions you really are placing a tremendous responsibility on yourselves. The way in which we do it, I think, is by a good report from you, about all the teacher organisations.

  Helen Jones: All our reports are good!

  Q182 Mr Turner: Another good report!

  Mr Sinnott: I would only say it because I have got absolute confidence in the type of reports that you produce.

  Q183 Chairman: It is very nice of you to say things like this, Steve, but our reports have a curt reputation for being quite good?

  Mr Sinnott: They have.

  Q184 Chairman: I say that reasonably modestly, and our reports absolutely reflect the quality of evidence that we are given. We have been given good evidence today. Some unions sometimes have been relatively reluctant even to come to see the Committee, but that is not the situation today and the quality of evidence we get we can pick up the resonance, and what we are being given today is a very interesting amount of evidence; it is very positive; so do not worry about it.

  Mr Sinnott: Can I steer you in a particular direction?

  Q185 Chairman: It depends upon which direction!

  Mr Sinnott: The direction is to . . . This is in terms of looking at the value of the types of activities that you are looking at, and it is to look at what was developed in Birmingham LEA and in terms of their secondary guarantees and primary guarantees in   which they outlined specific guarantees or entitlements on children at different ages and the way in which all youngsters would benefit from having those guarantees met; and they relate to a whole range of activities, as I have mentioned, from artistic to sporting, residential or foreign visits. For youngsters whose parents cannot afford to do those things or whose parents are not interested in providing those things for their children, it is schools who decide to pick up those pieces. No private sector agency can do that in relation to your question earlier, but it has to be the schools and the teachers who make professional judgments about what is best in the interests of their school and in the interests of those children. What Birmingham did there, I believe, should have been taken up more nationally. It is tremendous evidence and I think there is evidence of youngsters, in particular from the economically deprived backgrounds, who have benefited from that. But there are a range of measures that may take place in the future that will make it for difficult for youngsters to go on some trips. It may be that some of the developments in relation to the Gershin review and the Lyons review may impact on staffing in some libraries or museums, and it may be that at the same time some of the pressures that will flow from the Lyons review in terms of local authority staffing, but local authority resources and local authority sites and local authority amenities, there may be pressure on them getting rid of sites and amenities that benefit youngsters. So that is an area in which you might want to have a look too, Chair.

  Q186 Chairman: If you could write to us about the implications of the Lyons review, because that is a relatively new one for us.

  Mr Sinnott: We will do?

  Q187 Chairman: We spent a week not very long ago in Birmingham, so some of the questions I was asking civil servants really come from that experience in Birmingham. Can I bring all of you back quickly, before we move on to education events coordinators. What is your general view of this as an initiative that will . . . When I was asking the civil servants should there be a champion in the Department or a champion minister, what about champions in schools or someone who has a specific role in seeing if the school is really up to good practice on these issues and energise them? Let us start with Dr Hammans and move across.

  Dr Hammans: From our point of view, and I am speaking now as the head of a school, it has been a very useful addition to us being able to persuade staff that they are safe; because it is the fear of litigation, not necessarily the reality, which is the real concern. So we have our education visits coordinator. I will say that we would not let staff go unless we were fully convinced we were complying with everything such that if there were an incident it would not be the individual, it would be me that ended up in court. So the EVC, which is somebody who is nominated, trained, etc, is another layer to reassure those staff who do want to take students out on trips for good and valid educational reasons.

  Q188 Chairman: Chris, does that help you in terms of having that?

  Ms Keates: We have actually identified some very good practice that has come out of the national agreements, and the DfES is currently circulating to schools a video, which one of the examples they give from a Pathfinder school is an Educational Visits Coordinator, that is a highly qualified member of sports staff who has actually taken a huge burden off teachers in term of planning, coordination, identifying if risk assessments have been done, liaising with the local authority outdoor educational advisers, and we think that is very good practice to look at that, because teachers, quite frankly, with a full teaching load, one of their concerns is having the time to do those kinds of things properly, and we are very pleased in the way the remodelling of the school workforce is bringing on board other staff who are qualified to do those kinds of things and relieving that kind of administrative and coordination burden from teachers.

  Q189 Chairman: So if there were not any of your members, if someone else was doing the job, you would be happier, would you?

  Ms Keates: We think that it is better that there is somebody, given the issues that have to be addressed in the planning of these kinds of activities because, I think my colleagues have emphasised, a great deal of the time and effort needs to go into these if they are going to be done properly. We do not think that it is appropriate to do something that a teacher can do on top of a full teaching commitment and that they are better focused on concentrating on the teaching and learning, look at the curriculum needs in terms of what kind of visit might support some of the curriculum and having somebody on the school staff who can devote some time to that. Certainly the feedback that we are getting is that where people have looked at remodelling of the workforce seriously, that is one of the issues they have looked at and staff are reporting that it has taken quite a considerable burden off them in that respect.

  Q190 Chairman: Would you not miss out that sort of bonding that students get with staff when they do things outside the school?

  Ms Keates: We are not taking it. I am talking about somebody who is doing all the preparatory work, providing all the information, making sure risk assessments are done. That is not necessarily, in fact quite often is not, the person who will conduct the visit. That can either be teachers or support staff.

  Q191 Chairman: You still prefer your members to go on visits?

  Ms Keates: I think if they are totally curriculum related and things like field work, and so on, you have to have a qualified teacher who is relating that back to the classroom issues. Some of the other visits that might not be quite such a subject based link, it might not be necessary for it always to be teachers. What we have said is in terms of teacher workload the big issue of administration, risk assessment and various other things, there are other people who can do that and have the time to do that. In terms of conducting the visits, we think there has to be an appropriate mix of people. What we do not support is the automatic assumption that every aspect of a school visit must be done by a teacher.

  Q192 Valerie Davey: I think in this session I need to register my continued membership of the NUT. A slight change. In terms of the Government and its involvement, I would like to ask the two head teacher representatives, first of all, whether they feel that the recent Government initiatives, and particularly, I guess, the Growing Schools initiative, has been successful in highlighting the value of outdoor activities and, indeed, promoting them?

  Ms James: Do I think it has been successful? I think it has been partially successful. I think it has been part of a growing move on the part of the Government in that there are lots of conversations taking place, if I can phrase it in that way, in terms of seeing how outdoor activities can benefit education and can be promoted. We talked before about the holistic nature of education and the use of outdoor activities within it, and I think we need to continue to see that being promoted so that all staff and parents and the general school community can see the value of the outdoor activities and, therefore, again positive promotion, I think, is an important aspect.

  Dr Hammans: I would agree with that. Anything which comes from any central source which says that this aspect is part and parcel of education, it is not just about sitting in the class room and doing your book work or doing some work on the inter-active white board, it is about a whole range of experiences which have educational outcomes, and I think anything is going to be positive.

  Q193 Valerie Davey: So if the school were going to take this forward, do you think the decision to expand outdoor activities is more likely to happen if it has got the head teacher's backing, if it has got the LEA's backing, if it has got Ofsted's backing or the Government's backing. Where is the pressure going to come from that would be most effective in recharging the batteries in terms of outdoor school activities?

  Dr Hammans: I think it needs the head teacher's backing, because that is the person who is likely to end up in court. So if we are talking about that fear, if the head is going say quite clearly, "These are valuable educational activities which we will run at  minimum risk for the very best interests educationally of our students", then you are going to take your staff with you. You inevitably will have the backing of your governors anyway for that. If the LEA supports it, plus there are national initiatives and agendas to support it as well, then it is a winning situation, but I think it has to start with the school, much as the evidence from the DfES officials earlier on saying that it is for the school to determine its priorities locally, but, if it can link in with other national priorities, including Ofsted, then that is a stronger argument.

  Q194 Valerie Davey: Would you agree with that?

  Ms James: I would in the main, yes, though, again, we keep going back and I know we keep returning to this fear of litigation, but until we start to unpin that and actually almost start to try to remove some of that fear . . . Fiona referred before to the fact that the head is always the one that fears that they are going to land up in court. That is still there. If we want to promote a positive attitude towards outdoor activities being wrapped up within education, absolutely essential, then I think head teachers must be secure in saying, "Yes, I know that I can promote this, I know that this is safe, I know that this secure and I am going to be the one that ends up in court if anything goes wrong, but I know that I am secure in saying this", and I think that really needs to be—

  Q195 Valerie Davey: It is really rather ironic, is it not, that we are using the word "fear" and yet many of these outdoor activities are there to help children overcome fear of climbing, or all the other things. It has to happen. We have to overcome it. I would like to come back very specifically because I know Banbury from old. There is a lot of overseas work, indeed, international European visits?

  Dr Hammans: There is less now. We no longer do European work experience on the advice of the Education Authority. We do a number of overseas trips, which are the day trip to France or the Christmas shopping trip to Germany, which is two or three days, or a week in France residential, or Spain, including expeditions to more exotic places in the summer holidays for a month, but we are very clear that one of the things we offer as a very large school, which makes us distinct from other schools in the area, are staff who are keen and interested in running those sorts of activities, plus it is something value-added for education at our school. So we are fully committed to it as a school anyway, but that is a different starting point, I think, to other schools.

  Q196 Valerie Davey: But clearly that is potentially the largest risk when you are taking children abroad and you are committed still, even if perhaps to a lesser degree you are still committed, to that work and you have overcome personally, as you must have done, the fear which says this is more important than me sitting here worrying that the world will collapse?

  Dr Hammans: If I am honest, the fear is still there sometimes. Certainly when you are getting to the end of a month's expedition in Madagascar, for instance, and you get a phone call at 3.30 in the morning and they are saying, "Actually things are okay; we had forgotten the time difference", there is always a moment of panic then, but it is about as a school we do believe we should be doing it. It is about something special and distinct that we can offer our students. There is a risk there, but our parents have opted into the fact that we will do everything we can and more to minimise that risk, but there is no learning without some risk.

  Q197 Chairman: Steve Sinnott wants to come in on that question, but can I push you on what do you give up on the advice of the Educational Authority?

  Dr Hammans: We gave up European work experience.

  Q198 Chairman: Why is that?

  Dr Hammans: We were effectively sending students solo to places that we had not visited ourselves, were not able to risk assess in advance, had not met the adults, were not aware of the work situation. So in terms of the tick-list that we had to fill in, there were too many blanks and we were being too trusting, so we were not up for that.

  Q199 Chairman: Steve Sinnott?

  Mr Sinnott: Thank you. I wanted just start by correcting Valerie in terms of the way in which she viewed her union. The NUT is a head teachers' organisation and we claim to have the second highest number of head teachers in all the teachers' organisations, and I think I am speaking for Chris Keates here, because she cannot speak for herself this afternoon, as you will have noticed, so I will say they also have head teachers members in the NASUWT. So we are head teacher organisations as well.

  Valerie Davey: I take rebuke from the leader of my union!


 
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