Select Committee on Education and Skills First Special Report

Appendix 1

Government's response to the Second Report from the Education and Skills Committee, Session 2004-05.

The Committee's conclusions and recommendations are in bold text. The Government's response is in plain text.


The Government welcomes the Education & Skills Select Committee report which highlights the important issue of education outside the classroom. A number of recommendations point to a strategic response by the Government and partners (Recommendations 1, 18, 21, 24, 25, 26, 27). The Government recognises the value of education outside the classroom for all ages and abilities, on site and beyond, during the formal school day and beyond. We are promoting these benefits widely to encourage out of classroom learning to be seen as an integral part of all children and young people's education.

We do not accept the Committee's conclusion that education outside the classroom is in decline. We have seen no factual supporting evidence—either in the submissions provided by different organisations to the Committee, or elsewhere. The evidence collected by the Department, direct from schools, as well as that gleaned from discussions with groups of schools and LEAs gives a picture of stable or increasing activity, and positive support and understanding of the benefits which pupils derive from these experiences. However, we are also clear that there are a number of ways in which education outside the classroom could be strengthened and we are keen to engage external organisations and school communities, including Heads, teachers, parents and pupils, in moving forward.

As we said to the Committee in both our oral and written evidence, the Government is keen to develop, with partners, a Manifesto for Education outside the Classroom. For it to be successful and to draw together the expertise, energy and commitment of all interested parties, it must be a product of consultation and consensus.

We are working with a range of bodies to get the Manifesto underway. On 11 February the Department for Education & Skills (DfES) brought together around 30 partners from across the outdoor learning, cultural, heritage, built environment and museum sectors at an initial scoping workshop for a Manifesto.

On 15 February, the Secretary of State for Education and Skills announced a Manifesto for Education outside the Classroom, to be launched in the new school year. In her announcement she said that, bringing together a range of stakeholders, the Manifesto will: set out a joint commitment that all children should have the opportunity of a wide range of high quality outdoor learning, including at least one residential experience; encourage schools to partner with other schools and outdoor learning providers; encourage parents to take an active interest in outdoor learning; set out a range of advice and support; provide information and good practice guidance on health and safety issues; and set out priorities for the development of outdoor learning. The Secretary of State also announced new forthcoming guidance to remind employers how they must treat staff fairly in investigating any rare but unfortunate case of pupil injury: the law protects from liability all school staff who take reasonable care.

In the Manifesto, we want to vigorously promote DfES's standard forms, and remind schools in plain terms how to keep risk assessment proportionate. We will underline that schools should not over-complicate—they should ignore the trivial, and make risk assessments sufficient, not perfect. We want to work closely with our partners, to reduce duplication and conflicting paperwork by increasing use of common standards right across the education visits sector.

We share the Committee's concern for pupils in deprived areas having the same chances as those from well off families and this is something we shall pursue in our Manifesto discussions. We will also include the future role of Educational Visits Co-ordinators and the Committee's suggestion of a 'champion'. We will link with key DfES programmes, including Extended Schools and activities for teenagers.

We think it is important also to acknowledge the value which schools themselves place on the help they already get from the Government and from many other organisations. We trust the professionalism of teachers, and that of the many people working in different settings, and will continue to work with them to change attitudes and expectations over time. The support, advice, and resources we and other organisations offer schools are greatly appreciated and help teachers to make these experiences a reality for their pupils.

We set out below our response to the Committee's recommendations.

The value of education outside the classroom

Recommendation 2

Like all educational processes, the benefits of education outside the classroom should be rigorously researched, documented and communicated. Positive and reliable evidence of the benefits of outdoor activities would help schools determine the priority to afford to such work. (Paragraph 13)

We agree with the Committee. We have co-sponsored two recent studies and have recently published the results of our current research. We will promote the findings to schools.

The potential of education outside the classroom

Recommendation 3

It is clear to the Committee that outdoor education is a sector suffering from considerable unexploited potential. (Paragraph 18)

We agree with the Committee that there is a wealth of good practice and many committed teachers, Heads and providers who value the benefits of learning outside the classroom and who make sure pupils experience a range of safe and stimulating activities. We believe these experiences should be widely acknowledged as an essential part of children's education at all stages.

We also agree that evidence from different sources, sometimes contradictory, provides a patchy picture. Evidence direct from schools appears generally more positive than that from other sources.

In July 2004 MORI research on study support (out of school hours activity) found that 67% of secondary schools provided field trips; the 2003-4 survey of school sport partnerships showed that 68% of the 6500 schools taking part in the survey offered outdoor and adventurous activities (which are part of the PE curriculum).

In Autumn 2004, we commissioned the Duke of Edinburgh's Awards (DoE) and The Scouts Association (SA) to do a survey of school visits for 7 to 16 year olds in 900 secondary & primary schools. The draft report shows 86% of primary and 99% of secondary schools offer pupils at least one residential opportunity during their time in the school. We will publish the full report soon.

We are planning a further sample survey of LEAs and schools, with in-depth study of visit records and school patterns of activity.

Managing risks and streamlining paperwork

Recommendations 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9

Many of the organisations and individuals who submitted evidence to our inquiry cited the fear of accidents and the possibility of litigation as one of the main reasons for the apparent decline in school trips. It is the view of this Committee that this fear is entirely out of proportion to the real risks. (Paragraph 19)

The Government welcomes this conclusion. We agree that seven million pupils from schools in England go on school activities off-site or outdoors throughout the year, on which mishaps are rare, and serious ones even more so. We believe that this excellent record is due to good risk management by LEAs, schools and their staff, supported by good behaviour by pupils and cooperation by parents. (See also our response to recommendation 23.)

We welcome the DfES health and safety guidance which clearly sets out what is expected of all those involved in organising school trips. There remain some concerns relating to guidance on trips involving children with special educational needs, where there could be more specific recommendations on levels of staffing and the right of children to attend. This area is likely to be affected by the enactment of the Disability Discrimination Bill and we recommend that the DfES review its guidance in this context. (Paragraph 22)

The Government is pleased that the Committee welcomes current guidance. We had already noted internally that, when we next update our guidance, it would be useful to say a little more on Special Educational Needs. We aim to publish updates (on the web) in 2005-06, with links to our recent SEN travel checklists, and to the outcomes of two projects now underway with external partners. These two projects will develop tools to help schools and LEAs review and revise their Accessibility Plans and Strategies and a DVD to help explain to schools how they might make Reasonable Adjustments to their policies and practice to include disabled pupils in all aspects of school life. It is intended that the DVD resource will include a section on school trips. (See also Recommendation 22 about guidance.)

We do not believe that the NASUWT wishes to see the end of all school trips. We therefore recommend that the union seriously reviews its advice to members not to participate in school trips, which is not a helpful attitude. (Paragraph 26)

NASUWT, as they told the Committee in their oral evidence, are already preparing to review their advice as a result of good progress made in talks with DFES. We are glad that DfES's announcement on 15 February of forthcoming new guidance to school employers on treating staff fairly was greeted by NASUWT as a further step forward, which should help their review towards a positive conclusion.

We recommend that the DfES makes it clear to schools and LEAs that it is unacceptable to settle frivolous and unfounded claims out of court simply to get rid of the problem. By working with teacher unions, including the NASUWT, the DfES should be able to address their concerns and persuade the unions to move forward from what is in our view, a needlessly obstructive attitude. (Paragraph 29)

We agree with this point. We will emphasise it in our forthcoming guidance, and will make links with current work by the Department for Constitutional Affairs on improving the compensation system and public confidence in it, as highlighted in Lord Falconer's 22 March announcement that we will use the law to regulate the activities of claims managers. Andrew Adonis now represents the Department for Education and Skills on the working group looking at compensation, chaired by Baroness Ashton.

We recommend that the DfES takes action to streamline the risk assessment system surrounding school trips, promoting its standard forms more vigorously and deprecating bad practice. We further recommend that AALA licensed centres be subject to a much streamlined risk assessment process, and that the DfES considers expanding the AALA licensing scheme to include other sectors, such as foreign and voluntary operators. (Paragraph 35)

We will be happy to promote our model forms further in the context of the new guidance on treating staff fairly, and of the forthcoming education outside the classroom manifesto. We already point LEAs and schools to HSE guidance which makes clear to employers that they should not over-complicate risk management, but should "ignore the trivial" and make assessments "suitable and sufficient—not perfect". (See also our reply to recommendation 22.)

We wrote to all local education authorities in England in May 2004, reminding them that they need not seek duplicate assurances of safety for adventure activities already safety-inspected by the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority (AALA).

As to expanding the AALA, DfES considered such matters relatively recently in its latest review of the Authority; as a result, Ministers decided last year, in line with broad support from consultees, not to widen the remit of the AALA at this time. We believe it is too soon to revisit such issues at present or in the near future, especially in the light of the Government's recent acceptance of the Hampton Report recommendation that an expanded HSE should take in the functions of the AALA, among other regulators. We are pleased that the AALA are doing a good job in assuring, by inspection, the safety of higher-hazard paid-for adventure activities for under-18s.

We recommend that the DfES thoroughly investigate the extent to which difficulties securing insurance cover are a barrier to education outside the classroom and develops options to resolve any problems. (Paragraph 38)

We agree with the Association of British Insurers, who are confident that insurance cover for schools is not a significant barrier to activity by schools. To make quite sure, we are including public liability insurance in our current pilot to help LEAs manage insurance better, even though it is much less significant than their largest insurance cost, which is premises (e.g. fire). We are also keeping in touch with work by the Home Office on risk management and insurance matters for the voluntary and community sector, which includes some providers of activities to schools.

Teacher training

Recommendations 10, 11 and 12

We recommend that the DfES work with the Teacher Training Agency to ensure that Initial Teacher Training courses demonstrate the potential benefits of education outside the classroom and point teachers towards ways to develop their skills in this area as their career progresses. (Paragraph 43)

Initial teacher training programmes have a great deal of ground to cover and delivery is subject to tough time constraints. Nonetheless, "Qualifying to Teach", which sets out the professional standards for qualified teacher status and requirements for initial teacher training (ITT), requires those awarded QTS to demonstrate that they are able to plan opportunities for pupils to learn in out-of-school contexts, such as school visits, museums, theatres, field-work and employment-based settings, with the help of other staff where appropriate.

For the future, the Teacher Training Agency is likely to be setting in train a review of the standards in "Qualifying to Teach" with a view to implementation in the school year starting in September 2007. This would be subject to public consultation and reporting and provide an opportunity for interested parties to propose changes to the standards—for example, that more emphasis should be placed on education outside the classroom within initial teacher training.

Any attempt to raise the quantity and quality of outdoor education depends crucially on the skills and motivation of the teachers involved. We therefore recommend that the DfES give an explicit commitment to support Continuing Professional Development in this area. Any Departmental Manifesto for Outdoor Learning that may emerge should include an entitlement to training for teachers. Networks such as Teachers TV can also be of significant benefit in spreading good practice and should be engaged in this project. (Paragraph 44)

The DfES Five Year Strategy for Children and Learners recognises that continuing professional development (CPD) is central to improvements in teaching and learning. The Government's ambition is that all teachers should benefit from and contribute to professional development throughout their careers, and that professional development should be planned, appropriate to the individual concerned, be informed by performance management, and be linked to plans for school improvement. Decisions about professional development activity will continue to be taken by schools and teachers.

The Teacher Training Agency (TTA) has been given a new remit for teachers' continuing professional development (CPD). They will be working with a wide range of partners, including teachers' professional bodies and subject associations, to bring greater coherence to professional and occupational standards and to CPD; to provide leadership and guidance to schools and local authorities; to monitor the quality and coverage of provision; to help to shape future strategy priorities; and to co-ordinate specific programmes. Their remit starts to become operational from April this year.

We strongly support the Committee's view that the drive to raise standards in this area, as in others, depends on the skills and commitment of the school team. We agree that it will be valuable for schools, as part of their strategic planning for training and development, to think about what preparation and support their staff need in order to develop their capacity for education outside the classroom.

We agree Teachers' TV is a good method of disseminating good practice to schools. It is run independently of the Government, but there are opportunities to propose programming ideas to the channel. In fact there are 8 episodes in 'Worth the Trip', with one featuring the Growing Schools programme. Others include a maths trip to an arboretum, a geography trip down a cavern and a visit to an exhibition about ancient Egypt. Early Years programmes include 'the Outdoor Environment', and how to use it as an integrated part of the classroom. In Primary programmes, there are two on field trips and classroom follow up—'Invaders and Settlers', with Year 4 extending their knowledge of place and environment by studying their own locality. Two Geography experts comment on the organisation and content of the field trip.

We recommend that the DfES engage teachers' professional bodies and subject associations in the provision of fieldwork training for science and geography teachers, ensuring that appropriate programmes of professional development are on offer to all those teachers who might benefit. (Paragraph 47)

We acknowledge the importance of engaging teachers' professional bodies and subject associations.

We have funded the Association for Science Education (ASE) to develop training courses that will increase teacher skills and confidence in providing outdoor learning opportunities. These are currently being delivered through Science Learning Centres, a national network for professional development in the teaching of science, set up by the DfES in partnership with The Wellcome Trust. Since the Centres started delivering courses in October 2004 many of them have delivered or are in the process of delivering, field work related courses.

We have also funded the Geographical Association (GA) to develop a Professional Development Unit on fieldwork which is now available on the Open University Teach and Learn website. This series includes units on supporting fieldwork in Primary and Secondary Geography as well as in History and Science.

Last year DfES supported, via the subject associations, the development of geography resources and networks for primary and secondary schools—all emphasise outdoor learning as a defining characteristic of high quality geography.

The Geography Focus Group, which we outlined in our written evidence, has an outdoor learning working group.

The subject associations also provide, independently, substantial support, including the Royal Geographical Society's three fieldwork safety training courses—attended in the last 4 years by over 750 teachers and outdoor leaders. This summer the GA in association with the Field Studies Council will be publishing a number of resources to support teachers with fieldwork, enhancing an already rich list of published leaflets, posters and handbooks, for all phases of education from early years to post-16.


Recommendation 13 and 14

Our evidence suggests that EVCs are working well in schools, but we would re-iterate our comments on training. In order to be effective, educational visits co-ordinators must have access to high quality programmes of Continuing Professional Development. We also consider that the EVC role should be developed further into that of a champion for outdoor learning within a school. This should include not only the promotion of off-site visits but also the benefits of using the school grounds as a resource. (Paragraph 49)

Responsibility and funding for Continual Professional Development is delegated to schools. The establishment of EVCs, which the Committee welcomed and which DfES helped to fund, was in large part aided by the Outdoor Education Advisers Panel (OEAP), who are currently:

a)  continuing and sustaining the original EVC initiative by work to:

  • deliver training, with LEA trainers, to new staff to be the EVC for the school they work in, where new staff have replaced colleagues leaving to other jobs or are otherwise new to the role;
  • update the skills of existing EVCs, as many were trained some time ago.

b)  initiating a new scheme to train visit leaders. This is for teachers, youth workers and support staff who lead and support visits. It focuses on active risk management in the outdoors and in particular, near key hazards (e.g. water), for staff of the school/ group. It comprises national and regional Trainer-Training, to help each LEA to have 1-3 trainers for its schools and groups; and LEA training for schools and Youth Groups, with an eventual target of covering all establishments.

We are interested in the Committee's suggestion for a wider EVC role, and will pursue this in our discussions with partners on the Education outside the Classroom Manifesto.

It appears that some new schools are being built without due regard to the educational potential of school grounds. This is a result of the lack of leadership and strategic planning from the DfES with regard to outdoor learning. We urge the Department to take action to ensure that new capital projects incorporate good design of outdoor spaces into their plans. (Paragraph 53)

Schools, LAs and their partners are encouraged to look as widely as possible at all educational needs, both inside and outside the classroom, as part of their overall construction strategy.

To support the delivery of high class outdoor learning facilities, we provide design guidance in the form of Building Bulletins, which apply to all maintained school sectors, including academy and non academy secondary schools, primary schools and special needs schools:

  • Building Bulletin 71: 'The Outdoor Classroom' (2nd edition 1999) and 85: 'School Grounds' (1997), highlight the potential of school grounds as a valuable resource to support and enrich the whole curriculum and the education of all pupils;
  • Building Bulletin 95: 'Schools for the Future' (2003), gives guidance on developing external areas in "schools for the 21st century"; and
  • Non-statutory area guidelines for outdoor areas have recently been updated and are available in Building Bulletin 98: 'Briefing Framework for Secondary School Projects' and Building Bulletin 99: 'Briefing Framework for Primary School Projects'. For the first time, these now include specific recommendations for 'habitat areas' developed for a wide range of activities (such as meadowland, wildlife habitats and gardens to support the curriculum and improve play and recreational spaces), as well as outdoor PE facilities and informal and social areas.

The DfES recent publication Schools for the Future: Exemplar Designs, where many designs have considered how the grounds can enhance learning and links with the community. These include confined urban sites where a number of solutions including play decks and terraces were proposed to create additional space to make up for the lack of social and informal spaces. The use of external spaces is generally carefully considered from all aspects and there are examples where use is being planned and made of site features and spaces:

  • At Liverpool Kensington Academy, a core theme is sustainability. Gardens and overflow spaces are being provided, together with ecological design features.
  • Reading Academy is using an exemplar design, one of whose principals is the creation of strong links with the outdoors for teaching and pastoral care: featuring courtyards, external teaching areas and an amphitheatre.
  • The more traditional use of external space is proposed for Leicester Academy, one of whose stated aims is that the landscape design is of high importance to promote the 'Healthy Mind, Body & Soul'. The site includes an existing covert of about 0.5 Ha (1.2 acres) mature mixed woodland which have a variety of uses in relation to both the formal and informal curriculum and can also be beneficial to wildlife.
  • Kingsmead Primary in Cheshire is a good example, where the school intended to grow food for school lunches as part of the learning experience.
  • Good Classrooms of the Future projects are in Bedfordshire (external interactive facilities developed by the Science Museum); Sheffield (Ballifield Primary and Mossbrook Special); and Bournemouth (field studies centre).


Recommendations 15, 16 and 17

Much of our evidence cited cost as a significant barrier to the organisation of educational visits, yet we do not believe that cost alone is responsible for the decline of education outside the classroom, or that simply throwing money at the problem would provide a solution. (Paragraph 56)

We agree with the Committee's view that cost is one of the complex factors affecting education outside the classroom. We would emphasise the variety of options open to schools, not all of which carry a high cost, for example, using school grounds and local facilities as a rich resource for learning. However, we would not want to underplay the value of pupils experiencing unfamiliar places, particularly as part of a residential experience.

We urge the DfES to monitor any unintended consequences of the Workforce Agreement to determine whether it has led to an increase in the cost of arranging supply cover during school trips. (Paragraph 57)

We can appreciate why some people who gave evidence to the Committee saw potential difficulties with the annual limit of 38 hours on cover. However, we believe that this is based upon a misunderstanding of the provisions and purpose of the limit. We are clear that, provided school trips are planned well in advance, there need be no conflict with the cover limit. This view is shared by members of the Workforce Agreement Monitoring.

Teachers must be given better support so they can focus more of their time on their professional role of teaching and on activities which directly improve pupil attainment. The limits on cover introduced in September and the commitment to guaranteed planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) time from next September, together with enhanced roles for support staff, present real opportunities to make a difference to each pupil's learning.

Support staff, who have relevant experience or skills, can be deployed by schools to take part in a visit, or to provide cover for an absent teacher. The Department envisages a number of ways in which support staff may help teachers, including acting as Educational Visits Co-ordinator or Group Leaders. Head teachers and local authority advisers will decide on appropriate roles, based on their assessment of the skills and experience of the support staff member.

Parliament is currently legislating on school transport, an area we considered during our previous inquiry into the draft School Transport Bill. As we recommended in that report, we would expect the DfES to strongly encourage local authorities trialling alternative arrangements for school transport under the new legislative framework to include transport for school trips in their pilot schemes. This should lead to a reduction in costs. (Paragraph 58)

Most schools organise transport for visits themselves, whereas Local Education Authorities organise children getting to and from school. The School Transport Bill fell when Parliament was prorogued for the General Election. LEAs do not require the School Transport Bill in order to achieve efficiencies in the organisation of school trips, and will be encouraging schools to collaborate. For example, small primaries could decide to take their year 5 pupils swimming at the same time each week and share the transport.

Centres and operators

Recommendations 19 and 20

In its Five Year Strategy, the Government proposes that all secondary schools should become independent specialist schools and that LEAs should lose control over school budgets. We recommend that the DfES give serious consideration to how it will structure funding for central outdoor activity services under this new system, or help schools access private and voluntary provision, so that students still have access to high quality outdoor education. (Paragraph 64)

Under current arrangements, funding for outdoor education can be retained centrally by local authorities. In a number of instances such funding has been delegated to schools. Where this is the case, schools have discretion over their budget to support the provision of outdoor education for their pupils.

The Government has recently consulted on proposals to implement the promise in the Five Year Strategy of guaranteed three-year budgets for all schools, geared to pupil numbers. The proposals include the introduction of a dedicated schools grant that will be paid to local authorities, who will as now be responsible for its allocation to schools. Under the proposed new system, local authorities who retain funding for outdoor education will continue to be able to do so. The Government's intention is that the certainty and predictability of multi-year budget settlements will give schools greater confidence in planning their curriculum and the resources needed to support it. In areas where the funding is delegated to schools, this might include the provision of outdoor education, where at present schools may be reluctant to commit to such provision in the long term.

It is essential that the DfES and DCMS develop a strategy for the long-term viability of activity centres, helping them to retain staff, build strong links with schools and develop expertise. (Paragraph 65)

We do not consider it to be the role of central Government to intervene in the running of activity centres operated by private companies or voluntary sector bodies or the operations of other organisations who offer education outside the classroom to schools. The DfES allocates project based funding in some circumstances, where, for example, the quality of what is offered needs to be enhanced or upgraded. It is important for schools to make their own decisions about the opportunities which best meet the needs of their pupils and to assign funding as appropriate from within their own budgets. The longer term certainty of budgets should offer the opportunity for schools to build up relationships with those centres where they feel their pupils' needs are catered for and where provision is of high quality.

The role of the DfES

Recommendations 22 and 23

The Department as well as LEAs should take care to ensure that schools and activity centres are not becoming overloaded with risk assessment bureaucracy from different, overlapping organisations, as this can be a significant deterrent. (Paragraph 68)

We will double-check with LEAs that they only ask schools to do what is reasonably practical to keep pupils safe from injury, which will also protect staff from liability. On the reference to requests for assurances of safety from different overlapping organisations (which we take to refer to requests to activity centres, not to schools), we are in discussions with stakeholders both in adventure and in the wider education visits sector, such as the AALA, British Adventure Holidays Association, OEAP, School Travel Forum, and other industry representatives, about the future scope for common standards.

We commend our partners in the sector for the progress they are making, independently of the Government, in this area. They have also made available a range of guidance which LEAs and schools can choose from, on how to assess risks straightforwardly, e.g. the simple process for assessing and managing risk which the Outdoor Education Advisers Panel published (on its website) in 2004, which includes a clear form and a worked example; the BAALPE guidance on PE and sport; for adventure, AALA guidance on its website; and for e.g. overseas tours, the School Travel Forum website on "de-mystifying risk assessment".

The DfES needs to take the lead by demonstrating the low levels of risk attached to school visits. This could perhaps be achieved via a statistical comparison with other everyday activities. Given the relatively low levels of risk attached to outdoor activities, the Department should now give a clear steer to schools that educational innovation outside the classroom is to be welcomed and even to be expected. (Paragraph 69)

We recommend the guidance of the HSE, which clearly distinguishes hazard from risk. Apparently low-hazard visits could become high-risk unless the school puts proper risk management in place. Through good management, schools can ensure that planned high-hazard activity becomes a low risk. As to a clear steer that education outside the classroom is welcomed and even to be expected, we have done this consistently, most recently in our 15 February announcement, and are happy to continue to do so.

Department for Education and Skills
July 2005

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