Transforming Education Outside the Classroom - Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

3 Prospects for learning outside the classroom


Central initiatives

12.  In our 2005 Report we recommended that a learning outside the classroom manifesto should be introduced and that, in order to deliver real change, it should attract a similar level of funding to the Music Manifesto. The funding that the Department has in fact allocated to its learning outside the classroom initiatives was described by one witness as "derisory".[20] The Music Manifesto originally received £30 million in funding; around £332 million has been allocated to music education for 2008-11, with £40 million spent on one initiative alone—Sing Up. Learning outside the classroom, relevant across the whole of the curriculum, has, since 2005, received £4.5 million, £2.5 million of which was to support a single residential initiative.[21] The Council itself, responsible for taking forward the Manifesto pledges, is operating on approximately £150,000 a year, with an additional £500,000 this year for projects.[22] This core funding is due to end in 2011. Our witnesses were frustrated that the Department had handed responsibility for learning outside the classroom to the Council, but had not given the Council adequate funding to do the job required.[23]

13.  On current funding levels, our witnesses could not see how the Quality Badge scheme could continue. In our 2005 Report we noted that the bureaucracy associated with school trips and visits was a significant deterrent to providing such opportunities. We learnt of instances where teachers were filling in 16 forms per trip.[24] The Quality Badge has the potential to lessen this problem: having got the Badge, a provider would be underwritten in relation to their health and safety provision being adequate. It was further suggested to us that the Quality Badge also challenges providers to raise their game in terms of the learning opportunities that they provide. Comprising a self-evaluation process and inspection, the accreditation process was felt to be robust and worthwhile for all concerned. Yet, it would appear that awareness of the Council and the Quality Badge among schools remains poor. Given the funding and effort that providers of learning outside the classroom experiences must put into gaining accreditation, this lack of awareness threatens the sustainability of the Quality Badge scheme. A total of 526 Quality Badges have been awarded so far—against the thousands that were envisaged and that would be necessary to establish the scheme as self-supporting.[25] Andy Simpson explained:

...we're in this dreadful Catch-22 situation, where it's a lot of effort and expense on the part of the providers to get the Badge, but unless the schools are actually recognising the Badge's significance, [providers are] not going to do it. ... We have a very valuable initiative here that would make life so much easier for schools and the sadness is that they don't know about it.[26]

The Quality Badge accreditation stands for two years, which means that the 'early adopter' organisations will need to renew their accreditation within just 11 months. Andy Simpson noted that there will be little incentive for them to do so where having the Badge has made little or no difference to their take up.[27]

14.  At present, our witnesses suggested, the NGO sector is effectively subsidising learning outside the classroom—in some cases "to the tune of millions of pounds".[28] The RSPB estimates that its own learning outside the classroom operations have incurred net costs of £3 million since 2005. The RSPB has 19 centres that hold the Quality Badge; it estimates that its involvement in the Quality Badge scheme has cost £100,000 per year.[29]

15.  Learning outside the classroom is important, and the Department must provide adequate funding to achieve maximum impact. We see no reason for the very marked differential in funding levels between the Music Manifesto and the Learning Outside the Classroom Manifesto, and request that the Department provide an explanation for the discrepancy. We believe that the allocation of a comparatively small sum would make an enormous difference to learning outside the classroom, and call on the Department to look again at the resources it has provided for the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom and the Quality Badge scheme.

School Trips And Visits

16.  Maintained schools are not permitted to charge for any activities within the school day other than musical instrument lessons, and even then only in certain circumstances. They are allowed to request voluntary contributions and to point out to parents that trips and other activities will not take place if sufficient contributions are not received.[30] The NASUWT believes that this places undue pressure on parents, particularly those on low incomes.[31] Ofsted found that, due to similar concerns, schools can be reluctant to ask parents to contribute too much too often.[32] The English Outdoor Council argues that parental contributions are quite acceptable, providing that there is provision for those young people whose parents cannot afford to contribute. There are funds available at school and local authority level, including the Extended Services Disadvantage Subsidy. Deciding how to use these funds, the English Outdoor Council suggests, is largely a question of local priorities.[33] Some schools cover the costs of visits through the school budget or fundraising.[34]

17.  Our witnesses were particularly concerned about the access that pupils from low-income families have to school trips and visits; for these children school provision may be the only opportunity they have to experience different environments from their immediate locality. Andy Simpson commented: order to have the kind of informed and engaged citizens we would all like to emerge from the school system, it is not unreasonable to identify a range of experiences—some cultural, some environmental, some adventurous—that go towards making that rounded and engaged citizen. Obviously, the role of the family in providing those opportunities is the first port of call and is pivotal, but as a society we have to ask ourselves: are these things important enough that we leave them to a random chance that if the family does not provide them, the schools may or may not provide them?[35]

Research has shown that the higher the levels of pupils eligible for Free School Meals, the lower the number of trips and visits offered (at Key Stage 3). The same study also found that the opportunities for learning outside the classroom offered by schools serving less affluent areas tended to be narrower in scope than those run by other schools—restricted to the local area, and linked into vocational provision.[36]

18.  A notable example of provision for schools and pupils in less affluent areas has been the 'New Views' project, through which the Department funded residential courses as part of the London Challenge initiative. These courses offered a wide variety of residential experiences for Key Stage 3 pupils, "from exploring the glacial landscapes of Snowdonia, to canoeing in the Lake District, or from meeting the Tudors in Stratford to enjoying Eco Adventure in County Fermanagh". The courses aimed to "balance curriculum needs with the wider benefits of a residential experience: personal and social development and team building".[37] The 2009 evaluation of the project reported that the overwhelming feedback from teachers, senior managers, parents and carers and the pupils themselves was very positive; teachers observed a whole range of benefits and impacts for their pupils.[38] It was suggested to us that this funding model might usefully be spread across all secondary schools. The RSPB has put forward a 'safety net' model, based on the Free School Meals model, that would ensure that every child had access to one quality learning outside the classroom experience a year. It estimates that this would cost £40 million.[39]

19.  Learning outside the classroom must not become only the preserve of pupils from more affluent backgrounds or from the independent schools sector—all children should have opportunities to experience environments away from their local area, and to visit museums and galleries and other sites of interest, including the natural environment of the English countryside. We call on the Department to ensure that families' ability to pay is not a deterrent to schools offering or pupils participating in school trips and visits. We commend to the Department the principle of subsidies for children from low-income families for school trips.

School frameworks and accountability

20.  Some of our witnesses called for learning outside the classroom to be made an entitlement within the National Curriculum. In their view, this would be the only way to ensure that all schools took such provision seriously, and that learning outside the classroom moved from being merely an "add on" or "luxury" to sitting at the heart of the curriculum.[40]

21.  Learning outside the classroom is promoted in various National Curriculum-related materials from the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (e.g. A Big Picture of the Primary Curriculum).[41] However, this is not reflected in the subject-level documentation. As Anthony Thomas remarked: "Putting it in a diagram is one thing, but actually looking at how you then help teachers to face up to it across all the subject areas ... is quite a challenge".[42]

22.  Dr Mary Bousted, General Secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, questioned the feasibility of integrating learning outside the classroom activity within what she regarded as a highly regulated and highly assessed curriculum.[43] John Morgan, President of the Association of School and College Leaders, was more optimistic, suggesting that the new primary and secondary curriculum frameworks offered greater scope for creativity and for time outside the classroom.[44] These witnesses were clear that, if it is to be prioritised by schools, learning outside the classroom needs to be valued within the wider school accountability system. This was said to currently be overly focused on the written word.[45]

23.  We are of the view that, to ensure that learning outside the classroom is taken seriously by all schools, there should be an individual entitlement within the National Curriculum to at least one out of school visit a term.

24.  The Department and the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency must ensure that the importance of such provision is indicated systematically throughout curriculum-related frameworks and materials.

25.  We recommend that Ofsted include learning outside the classroom provision—as part of the curriculum—in its inspection framework, and that the Department include pupils' access to such activities in the School Report Card.

26.  The Department should monitor the number and range of learning outside the classroom activities provided by schools. Analysis should include a breakdown by category of school and the socio-economic characteristics of the pupils taking part.

Guidance and leadership

Health and safety

27.  Our previous Report called on the Department to work with the teacher unions and schools to ensure that teachers did not feel vulnerable to vexatious litigation.

28.  Anthony Thomas was of the view that, compared to just a few years ago, there is a much greater emphasis now on encouraging a sensible exposure to risk: as long as it is effectively managed, it is viewed as an extra way of helping young people to develop and manage their safety.[46] We were also told that successful litigation by parents relating to school trips is relatively rare. Research by the Countryside Alliance found that, across 138 local authorities, between 1998 and 2008 there were 364 legal claims made as a result of children injured on school trips. Fewer than half resulted in successful payouts. The average amount of compensation paid out per local authority per year was £293.[47]

29.  Nevertheless, fear of litigation remains an important factor in deterring teachers from organising trips and visits. In a separate survey, the Countryside Alliance found that health and safety concerns were still the main barrier to learning outside the classroom for 76% of teachers.[48] It was suggested to us that, among school leaders, health and safety is sometimes used as an excuse rather than a reason for not offering trips or practical work.[49] The Department is yet to publish its promised revised guidance on health and safety and risk assessment.[50]

30.  The delay in getting revised health and safety guidance in place is disappointing. We urge the Department to publish this guidance at the earliest opportunity. Without a further drive to both ease concerns about litigation and root out the use of health and safety as an excuse for curtailing provision, the effort and funding that has been put into promoting learning outside the classroom will be wasted.

'Rarely Cover'

31.  The National Agreement on Raising Standards and Tackling Workload, published 2003, introduced into the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Document a series of contractual changes designed to reduce teachers' workload. These included the stipulation that teachers should not provide classroom cover for absent colleagues on a routine basis.

32.  From 2004, the amount of time a teacher could be asked to provide cover for was set at 38 hours a year. By September 2008, all schools were expected to have set a more challenging target. This would serve as a 'stepping stone' to the minimal cover levels required from September 2009—known as the 'rarely cover' provisions. Other options for covering a teacher's absence include the use of supply teachers, 'floating teachers', teaching assistants, or cover supervisors.

33.  We noted the potential impact of these provisions on access to learning outside the classroom in our 2005 Report. More recently, we became concerned at the growing anecdotal evidence that the shift to 'rarely cover' would present a more marked threat in this respect.

34.  Guidance on the 'rarely cover' provisions includes a section on learning outside the classroom that is designed to help schools plan effectively for these activities. The guidance states: "Learning outside the classroom is an important part of the curriculum and provision for it should be included in school calendars and timetables. Appropriate arrangements should be included in the timetable for both the staff and pupils who will be participating in learning outside the classroom and for those who are not. is the absence of the person who has been timetabled to take the class or group that is the trigger for cover".[51]

35.  Our witnesses stated that there was evidence of learning outside the classroom being cancelled due to the 'rarely cover' provisions—even where bookings had been made well in advance and cover could therefore have been arranged. The Field Studies Council has 17 centres in the UK, most of them in England. It reported that all of them have experienced a significant reduction in bookings and an increase in cancellations, which it attributed to 'rarely cover'. Robert Lucas, Chief Executive of the Field Studies Council, also noted that teachers who are very committed to learning outside the classroom were finding themselves pressured to go during holidays and at weekends in order to work around 'rarely cover'.[52]

36.  The 'rarely cover' provisions have also impacted on teachers' access to professional development during school hours. In recent oral evidence to the Committee on the teaching of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects, John Holman, Director of the National Science Learning Centre, commented:

It has always been a challenge to get head teachers to understand the importance of teachers coming out of school, but it has been harder than ever this year. That has affected our ability to operate. We do not yet know whether that is because head teachers were zealous in their interpretation of the new 'rarely cover' regulations at the beginning of the year, and pragmatism will set in. We are monitoring that, but we are very worried about it.[53]

Attendance at training run by the National Science Learning Centre is reported to be down 25% since September, enquiries about specialist courses promoted by the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics to have dropped by half.[54]

37.  Our witnesses were clear that these outcomes are unintended consequences of the 'rarely cover' provisions—and that they stem not from the principle of the provisions, but from some schools' difficulties in taking forward much more detailed forward planning, or from the way in which some school leaders are choosing to interpret them. As the NASUWT observed:

['rarely cover'] will require a degree of discipline within schools to plan carefully, to seek to anticipate teaching and learning requirements and deployment priorities across the year, and to do so in greater detail than perhaps many schools have done previously.[55]

As Sir Mike Tomlinson explained:

There are signs that...'rarely cover' is proving to be a matter of concern—not the concept of it, but the way in which it is being interpreted in some schools. In some schools, 'rarely cover' means "never cover". In some cases, heads are using it as a means of...stopping staff from being out during term time.[56]

38.  John Morgan outlined the way in which some schools were managing to accommodate learning outside the classroom in the context of rarely cover: will find schools where, for example, every second Friday, the timetable is a block timetable for the school, or you might find a school that has...larger blocks on their timetable. They don't have 45-minute lessons or one-hour lessons; they have a morning lesson and an afternoon lesson. ... When you have that sort of system set up in your school, rarely cover ain't a problem, because if you [need] a large group to go out and you have a large group of teachers assigned to teach them, they all go out together and the rest of the school carries on as normal.[57]

39.  Our witnesses suggested that better guidance and leadership were required to resolve the 'teething problems' evident elsewhere. Sir Mike Tomlinson regarded "efficient and sensible" guidance as "the real missing element", and believed that the teacher unions "[had] a job to do" in communicating with school leaders to ensure that 'rarely cover' is used for its original intentions, not as an excuse to cut back on opportunities for pupils or teachers.[58]

40.  We were impressed by the way in which some schools had found it possible to accommodate the 'rarely cover' provisions through, for example, the reorganisation of the school timetable. We were disappointed to learn that some school leaders seem to be interpreting the 'rarely cover' provisions as an excuse to prevent pupils and teachers from being out of school during the school day. We call on the Department and the teacher unions to provide stronger leadership on this matter and to assist schools in planning their provision in the context of 'rarely cover'.

Champions For Learning Outside The Classroom

41.  In our 2005 Report we called on the Department to put in place champions of learning outside the classroom at all levels. We called for a dedicated team within the Department with responsibility for outdoor learning across curriculum areas. Our witnesses noted that champions were appointed, but that they took on the role on a part-time basis and have not had a sufficiently high profile.[59]

42.  It was put to us that the lack of champions, within the Department and nationally, was one explanation for the relatively limited funding to date for learning outside the classroom. The Music Manifesto has benefited from having a strong lobby and high profile supporters. It has also benefited from having a more targeted message. By contrast, as outlined earlier, the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom covers 10 diverse areas. Promoting all of them under a single umbrella is a difficult task.[60]

43.  Learning outside the classroom has a range of potential supporters and powerful lobby groups to draw on—the science lobby in the universities, celebrity environmentalists, and the farming lobby, to name a few. The sector requires champions who are committed to promoting the educational and social benefits of learning outside the classroom. These champions are limited in what they can achieve without the back-up of sufficient resourcing of related initiatives, learning outside the classroom being made an entitlement within the National Curriculum and being covered in school inspections.

44.  We believe that each school should have an explicit policy on learning outside the classroom, covering both the educational and health and safety aspects of this provision. Schools should appoint a suitably trained learning outside the classroom co-ordinator to deliver the policy.

Teacher professional development

45.  To get the most out of it, learning outside the classroom must be led by staff who are well trained in this area.[61] In 2005 we asked the Department to review the place of outdoor education within initial teacher training programmes.

46.  The Field Studies Council and the RSPB were frustrated with what they saw as the still inadequate coverage of learning outside the classroom within initial teacher training. All initial teacher training is shaped by the Training and Development Agency for Schools standards for Qualified Teacher Status. The relevant standard specifies that trainees should demonstrate their ability to "Establish a purposeful and safe learning environment conducive to learning and identify opportunities for learners to learn in out-of-school contexts". The related guidance states that "trainees should be able to identify opportunities for children and young people to learn in the school grounds and in out-of-school contexts such as museums, theatres, field centres and work settings".[62] The Field Studies Council suggests that this standard is "weak", and that, while some providers of initial teacher training include a two or three day residential in their training, some trainee science teachers receive no training in this area at all.[63] It would like to see the existing standard replaced with the following requirements: that each trainee teacher, as part of their initial training (1) attend and have an active role in a school visit; (2) plan and lead a lesson with pupils outside the classroom; (3) receive at least four hours of training in out of classroom learning.[64]

47.  Evidence to the Committee's inquiry into teacher training pointed to the limited coverage that one-year initial teacher training programmes give to all aspects of teaching practice, including the fundamentals of subject knowledge and assessment.[65] As Sir Mike Tomlinson remarked: "I think it would be unfair to single out initial teacher training [to cover learning outside the classroom]. It is, of its nature, a short experience of 36 weeks." Sir Mike called instead for "a much more coherent approach through teacher training through the first two years of teaching, to ensure that there is a gradual build-up of experience and expertise, such that teachers become well equipped to take on this work".[66]

48.  Initial teacher training providers can place trainees in settings other than schools, so long as the setting enables the trainee to demonstrate his/her competence against the standards for Qualified Teacher Status and be supported to that end. The Department supports the 'Teaching Outside the Classroom' scheme, which encourages the development of placements for trainee teachers in settings other than schools. These can be anything from museums and galleries to city farms or environmental centres. Launched in 2008, the programme was developed by the Department and learning outside the classroom partners, the Training and Development Agency for School, Creative Partnerships, CapeUK, and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. It has a ladder of progression for the development of non-school placements:

  • Integration within a provider's course structure—whereby setting staff deliver lectures, workshops and seminars to trainees.
  • The enhancement model—whereby trainees complete short placements in these settings in addition to their school placements.
  • The embedded model—whereby trainees complete part of their placements in one of these settings instead of only in schools; placements are formalised, quality assured and assessed, and setting staff will have been trained as mentors by partner initial teacher training providers. These placements must run for a minimum of one week and include at least half a day of direct teaching.[67]

Such provision offers an important opportunity for trainees to build their confidence in relation to learning outside the classroom.[68] At present, just 42 separate providers of initial teacher training participate in this scheme. Our witnesses noted that offering placements in settings other than schools was a significant undertaking for providers of initial teacher training.[69]

49.  Learning outside the classroom supports pupils' learning and development. It has the potential to enrich and enliven teaching across all subjects. Teachers need to be exposed to learning outside the curriculum from early on in their career, and this should not be left to chance. We expect to see a clearer and more consistent presence for learning outside the classroom across initial teacher training and early career and ongoing professional development for teachers.

50.  We welcome the 'Teaching Outside the Classroom' scheme. We call on the Department and the Training and Development Agency for Schools to monitor take up of the scheme among providers of initial teacher training and to address any barriers to their participation.

20   Q 8 (Robert Gray); Q 20 (Sir Mike Tomlinson) Back

21   Q 20 (Anthony Thomas); Ev 3, paragraph 3 (RSPB) Back

22   Q 20 (Anthony Thomas) Back

23   Q 29 (Robert Gray); see also, written evidence from the English Outdoor Council (LOC 02) Back

24   Education and Skills Committee, Second Report of Session 2004-05, Education Outside the Classroom, HC 120, paragraph 30. Back

25   Written evidence from the Adventure Activities Industry Advisory Committee (LOC 09) Back

26   Q 5 (Andy Simpson). See also, Q 1 (Anthony Thomas); written evidence from the Adventure Activities Industry Advisory Committee (LOC 09); Ofsted, Learning outside the classroom: how far should you go?, October 2008. Back

27   Q 5  Back

28   Q 5 (Andy Simpson) Back

29   Ev 4, paragraph 4 Back

30   Written evidence from the English Outdoor Council (LOC 02) Back

31   Ev 19, paragraph 12 Back

32   Ofsted, Learning outside the classroom: how far should you go?, October 2008. Back

33   Written evidence from the English Outdoor Council (LOC 02) Back

34   Ofsted, Learning outside the classroom: how far should you go?, October 2008. Back

35   Q 17 (Andy Simpson) Back

36   Power, S. et al, Out-of-school learning: variations in provision and participation in secondary schools, Research Papers in Education, 2009. Back

37 Back

38   Tilling, S. and Amos, R., New Views: lessons learned from the London Challenge residential courses, June 2009. Back

39   Q 28 (Andy Simpson) Back

40   Q 8 (Robert Gray); Ev 1 (Countryside Alliance); Ev 18 (Field Studies Council); written evidence from the English Outdoor Council (LOC 02) Back

41   See Back

42   Q 15. See also, Ev 4, paragraph 7 (RSPB)  Back

43   Q 50 Back

44   Q 60 Back

45   Q 50 (Dr Mary Bousted) Back

46   Q 25; see also, written evidence from the English Outdoor Council (LOC 02) Back

47   Q 25 (Robert Gray)  Back

48   Q 25 (Robert Gray). See also, O'Donnell, L., Education outside the classroom: an assessment of activity and practice in Schools and local authorities, DCSF Research Report 803, November 2006. Back

49   Qq 27, 37 (Sir Mike Tomlinson) Back

50   "More help for teachers to organise school trips", DCSF press release 2009/0209, 6 November 2009. Back

51   WAMG, Guidance on 'rarely cover', September 2009, paragraphs 73-75. Back

52   Q 35. See also, Ev 17 (Field Studies Council) Back

53   Oral evidence taken before the Children, Schools and Families Committee on 3 February 2010 HC (2009-10) 340, Q 54. See also, written evidence from the Royal Geographical Society (LOC 08). Back

54   'Rarely cover rules see maths and science training collapse', TES, 19 February 2010. Back

55   Ev 23, paragraph 47 Back

56   Q 4  Back

57   Q 57 Back

58   Qq 36-37  Back

59   Q 20 (Anthony Thomas) Back

60   See Q 23 (Andy Simpson) Back

61   Q 12 (Anthony Thomas) Back

62   TDA, QTS standards and ITT requirements guidance, 2008. Back

63   Ev 17 (Field Studies Council) Back

64   Ev 3 (Field Studies Council). See also, Ev 4, paragraph 5 (RSPB), written evidence from the Association for Science Education (LOC 11) Back

65   Children, Schools and Families Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2009-10, Training of Teachers, HC 275-I  Back

66   Q 39 Back

67 Back

68   See Q 44 (Anthony Thomas) Back

69   Q 45 (Anthony Thomas) Back

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