Practical experiments in school science lessons and science field trips - Science and Technology Committee Contents


Written evidence submitted by the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom (Sch Sci 10)

I enclose evidence on behalf of the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom as to the importance of practical science lessons and field trips for improving individual and school attainment and improving the personal, social and emotional development of young people.

The Council for Learning Outside the Classroom (CLOtC) is an independent, national charity which champions learning outside the classroom (LOtC) and encourages young people to get out and about, because research shows that children learn best through real life experiences. We believe that EVERY child should be given the opportunity to experience life and lessons beyond the classroom walls as a regular part of growing up.

We ensure that more young people have access to these life changing educational experiences by providing support on the ground, facilitating the sharing of best practice and promoting the benefits of LOtC in raising attainment and aspirations, reducing truancy and re-motivating those who are disengaged from their education.

The Council for Learning Outside the Classroom is the awarding body for the LOtC Quality Badge, which recognises providers offering good quality LOtC provision and managing risk effectively. The Council also offers free online guidance to help teachers and youth leaders plan, run and implement effective LOtC experiences.

1.0  Introduction

The Council's response answers the questions most appropriate to its knowledge and expertise, highlighting key points within each section, and following this with supporting evidence.

2.0  How important are practical experiments and field trips in science education?

2.1  Key points:

—  2.1.1  Regular learning outside the classroom (LOtC), including practical learning and experiments in the school grounds or field trips in the local community and beyond, raises attainment, improves behaviour and re-motivates children who do not respond well in the classroom environment.

—  2.1.2  LOtC appeals to different learning styles. It makes learning more memorable, enabling pupils to apply what they have learnt inside the classroom to real life situations and giving them hands on skills that equip them for real life and employment.

—  2.1.3  LOtC is extremely effective in helping to develop scientific skills. LOtC has been demonstrated to move pupils beyond simple knowledge recall to a point where they can apply knowledge, hypothesise and think critically through inspiring real life experiences. It effectively supports learning back inside the classroom.

—  2.1.4  In order to be most effective, frequent, continuous and progressive opportunities for LOtC should be integrated into the curriculum. It should not be about once a year field trips. The outdoors represents the real world laboratory and quality fieldwork can take place in the school grounds, local community, environmental centres, on residentials and field trips abroad.

2.2  Evidence:

—  2.2.1  Nundy, S (2001) Raising achievement through the environment: the case for fieldwork and field centres.

—     Reinforcement between the affective and cognitive outcomes which resulted in students being able to access higher levels of learning was reported.

—     Positive impact on long-term memory was identified, due to the memorable nature of the fieldwork setting as well as affective benefits of the residential experience (eg improvements in social skills). There was reinforcement between affective and cognitive outcomes which resulted in students being able to access higher levels of learning.

—     "Residential fieldwork is capable not only of generating positive cognitive and affective learning amongst students, but this may be enhanced significantly compared to that achievable within a classroom environment."

—     "Fieldwork in new and unfamiliar surroundings creates events and images that significantly enhance long term memory recall, knowledge and understanding."

—  2.2.2  Opinion Matters survey on behalf of TUI Travel PLC, 2010. 99% teachers agreed that children are more animated and engaged when learning outside the classroom.

—  2.2.3  NFER TeacherVoice survey 2010. 70% teachers said LOtC is more effective than classroom teaching in engaging different learning styles. 77% teachers said LOtC is more effective than classroom teaching in motivating and enthusing children with regard to learning.

—  2.2.4  Malone, K (2008) Every Experience Matters. Children engaged in LOtC achieve higher scores in class tests, have greater levels of physical fitness and motor skills development, increased confidence, self esteem, show leadership qualities, are socially competent and more environmentally responsible.

—  2.2.5  Ofsted (2008) Learning Outside of the Classroom—How far should you go? "Learning outside the classroom contributed significantly to raising standards and improving pupils' personal, social and emotional development and also contributed to the quality and depth of learning. Even when it was not delivered particularly well LOtC still resulted in major learning gains for the young people taking part."

—  2.2.6  Passy, R, Morris, M, and Reed, F (2010). Impact of School Gardening on Learning. Outcomes from involving pupils in school gardening: "Greater scientific knowledge and understanding; enhanced literacy and numeracy, including the use of a wider vocabulary and greater oracy skills; increased awareness of the seasons and understanding of food production."

—  2.2.7  Rickinson, M et al (2004). A review of research on outdoor learning. "Substantial evidence exists to indicate that fieldwork, properly conceived, adequately planned, well taught and effectively followed up, offers learners opportunities to develop their knowledge and skills in ways that add value to their everyday experiences in the classroom."

—  2.2.8  Cowell, D & Watkins, R (2007), Get out of the classroom to study climate change—the "Spring Bulbs for Schools" project. The museum outreach programme involved setting up 160 monitoring sites. Students became "aware of the world around them and the idea that human activity can have noticeable effects, even on a local scale in the school garden". "The project enabled [students] to undertake pattern-seeking and observational activities—aspects of scientific enquiry that are often underdeveloped throughout the science curriculum".

3.0  Are practical experiments in science lessons and science field trips in   decline? What are the reasons for the decline?

3.1  Key points:

—  3.1.1  There is evidence of a decline in opportunities for children to learn outside the classroom over recent years.

—  3.1.2  Increasing pressure on teachers' time and an increasing bureaucratic burden associated with planning LOtC appears to have contributed to this decline.

—  3.1.3  Cotton wool culture, fear of litigation and concerns over health and safety have also played a part.

—  3.1.4  The perceived barriers that teachers say prevent them from taking children outside the classroom include funding, health and safety, red tape, lack of confidence, teacher cover issues and concerns over behaviour.

3.2  Evidence:

—  3.2.1  Education Select Committee Report, 2009-10. Transforming Education Outside the Classroom. "School trips and visits were not seen to have flourished, especially day or residential visits to natural environments. Our evidence suggested that, in subsequent years, pupils' access to school trips and visits had, at best, remained static".

—     "A recent survey by the Countryside Alliance showed that, in any year, only around half of 6-15 year-olds go on a trip to the countryside with their school."

—     "Anthony Thomas, Chair of the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom, having reviewed a series of Ofsted reports, found that even in geography, where fieldwork is a requirement, not all pupils are spending time outside the classroom. He also found that only around 10% of pupils experience learning outside the classroom, broadly defined, as part of their science lessons."

—     "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% teachers. 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."

—     "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. It reported that all of them have experienced a significant reduction in bookings and an increase in cancellations, which it attributed to 'rarely cover'."

—     "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."

—  3.2.2  Association for Science Education Outdoor Science Working Group. (2011), Outdoor Science. "Despite the strengths and advantages that fieldwork can bring to teaching at all ages, there has been a long-term and continuing decline in the provision and condition of outdoor education in science."

—     "Some research points to a decline in the provision and condition of fieldwork at primary and secondary levels, and that this is a long term trend in GCSE and A-level science." Sources: Fisher, A. (2001) The demise of fieldwork as an integral part of science education in UK schools and Tilling, S (2004). Fieldwork in UK secondary schools: influences and provision.

—     "Issues of health and safety, risk management and cost are the most significant factors reported as limiting fieldwork...Rickinson et al. also highlighted teachers' confidence and expertise in teaching and learning outdoors; requirements of school and university curricula and timetables; difficulties due to shortages of time; resources and support; and more generally the susceptibility of fieldwork to the wider changes in the education sector and beyond." Source: Rickinson et al. (2004), A review of research on outdoor learning.

—  3.2.3  Power, S et al. (2009), Out of school learning: variations in provision and participation in secondary schools. 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 LOtC 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.

—     "Despite the potential of out of school learning to open up new learning horizons to disadvantaged students, our research suggests that it is the most disadvantaged pupils who will be offered the least inspiring experiences".

—  3.2.4  Opinion matters survey on behalf of TUI Travel PLC, 2010. Teachers surveyed identified the top five barriers to LOtC as:

—     57%—Cost.

—     46%—H&S issues (including risk assessments, paperwork, fear of litigation).

—     41%—Stress of organising.

—     38%—Lack of time.

—     26%—Lack of staff availability to accompany students.

4.0  What part do H&S concerns play in preventing school pupils from performing practical experiments in science lessons and going on field trips? What rules and regulations apply to science experiments and field trips and how are they being interpreted?

4.1  Key points:

—  4.1.1  The role of health and safety concerns in preventing more learning outside the classroom opportunities are well established (see 3.0). Teachers say they are worried about litigation, and hindered by the bureaucracy associated with planning trips.

—  4.1.2  Many barriers associated with the health and safety requirements are perceived rather than real, as teachers are confused about the legal requirements around risk assessments, ratios etc.

—  4.1.3  The free online guidance on the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom website www.lotc.org.uk was initially developed for the Department for Education in 2008 (then DCSF) in order to help teachers plan, run and evaluate effective LOtC experiences and overcome the perceived barriers. However, more support is needed in letting teachers know that this free guidance is available to them.

—  4.1.4  The LOtC Quality Badge is the national accreditation scheme which recognises organisations offering good quality educational provision and managing risk effectively. It was initially developed for the Department for Education (then DCSF) to provide assurance to teachers and reduce paperwork when planning educational visits and is the only industry-led scheme recognised across all ten sectors involved in LOtC provision (including Adventurous Activities, Farming and Countryside, Natural Environment, and Expeditions Overseas). The Outdoor Education Advisers' Panel has endorsed the award and ask that their Local Authority members request that teachers look for the LOtC Quality Badge when planning educational visits. Support is needed in getting the message out to teachers to look for the LOtC Quality Badge when planning educational visits.

4.2  Evidence:

—     See 3.2.

5.0  If the quality or number of practical experiments and field trips is declining,  what are the consequences for science education and career choices?

5.1  Key points:

—  5.1.1  Attainment in science education will be compromised. LOtC has been demonstrated to move pupils beyond simple knowledge recall to a point where they can apply knowledge, hypothesise and think critically through inspiring real life experiences.

—  5.1.2  Children who are not given access to regular opportunities to learn outside the classroom as part of science education will be disadvantaged. LOtC significantly improves the development of scientific skills and enhances scientific understanding compared to that achievable within the classroom environment.

—  5.1.3  The skill and attainment levels of young people entering the workforce or higher education will be compromised. LOtC provides young people with real life experiences and help them to develop hands on skills that equip them for real life and employment.

—  5.1.4  Fewer children will enjoy and engage in scientific education, impacting on the number of quality students entering science and engineering degree level and vocational courses post-16.

5.2  Evidence:

—  5.2.1  Education Select Committee Report, 2009-10, Transforming Education Outside the Classroom. Anthony Thomas, Chair of the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom, having reviewed a series of Ofsted reports, found that even in geography, where fieldwork is a requirement, not all pupils are spending time outside the classroom. He also found that only around 10% pupils experience LOtC, broadly defined, as part of their science lessons. Declining access to laboratory based practical work in science is a related problem. Science can be taught rigorously through LOtC. The relative absence of these opportunities, as well as practical work, undermines the whole basis of science as an experimental learning experience, and leaves pupils ill-equipped to study science at university level.

—  5.2.2  Nundy, S (2001), Raising achievement through the environment: the case for fieldwork and field centres. (See 2.2.1)

—  5.2.3  NFER TeacherVoice survey, 2010 (See 2.2.3)

—  5.2.4  Malone, K (2008), Every Experience Matters (See 2.2.4)

—  5.2.5  Ofsted (2008), Learning Outside of the Classroom—How far should you go? (See 2.2.5)

6.0  What changes should be made?

6.1  Key points:

—  6.1.1  As part of the National Curriculum programme of study for science, provide schools with accompanying guidelines and exemplar materials on how integrating LOtC into the curriculum can be achieved. We have strong evidence which indicates schools require guidelines and information in order to have the freedom to integrate frequent, continuous and progressive LOtC into the curriculum.

—  6.1.2   Include guidelines for the amount of time to be spent outside the classroom at each key stage (defining what is meant by frequent, continuous and progressive LOtC) within the National Curriculum programme of study for science and/or accompanying guidance notes. These guidelines should highlight the opportunities for LOtC that exist in the school grounds and local community at very low cost as well as opportunities for visits further afield.

—  6.1.3  Promote the support and guidance available to help science teachers embrace methods of teaching that can bring the curriculum to life. Signpost the free guidance on planning, running and evaluating LOtC on the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom website, www.lotc.org.uk (which the DfE initially helped to support so it already has Departmental endorsement) within the National Curriculum programme of study for science.

—  6.1.4  LOtC is not a subject area but a method of delivering the curriculum across all subject areas and we hope that the new National Curriculum will include accompanying guidelines highlighting the value of LOtC and how teachers may integrate frequent, continuous and progressive LOtC across the full breadth of the curriculum.

—  6.1.5  Ensure teachers learn the tools to deliver LOtC through its inclusion in the ITT curriculum. Currently, the ITT requirement is that teachers have to plan an LOtC activity, but they do not have to deliver it. This means that the requirement may be little more than a paper exercise, with no real life experience gained of actually taking children out and about.

—  6.1.6  Recognise the LOtC Quality Badge as an industry-led, non-statutory scheme to decrease bureaucracy for schools when planning field trips and other educational visits (as recommended in the Lord Young report Common Sense: Common Safety) and promote the scheme to schools within the National Curriculum and accompanying guidance notes.

—  6.1.7  Reduce bureaucracy for schools when planning school trips in line with Lord Young's recommendations within Common Sense: Common Safety.

—  6.1.8  The Council for Learning Outside the Classroom has a vital role to play in helping educational establishments incorporate learning outside the classroom across the curriculum and overcome the perceived barriers such as lack of funds, concerns over health and safety and red tape. The Council must be given more support from Government in achieving these aims (including financial support).

6.2  Evidence:

—  6.2.1  Opinion matters survey on behalf of Education Travel Group, 2009. Teachers responded with the following top five answers when asked what the Government can do to encourage school trips:

—     79%—more funding.

—     63%—minimise bureaucracy.

—     43%—offering well accredited organisations and providers.

—     33%—offering more guidance.

—     20%—offering advice and consultancy on school trips.

—  6.2.2  Education Select Committee Report, 2009-10, Transforming Education Outside the Classroom. "Fear of litigation remains an important factor in deterring teachers from organising trips and visits. The Countryside Alliance found that health and safety concerns were still the main barrier to learning outside the classroom for 76% teachers. 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."

—     "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."

—     "Learning outside the classroom is important, and the Department must provide adequate funding to achieve maximum impact...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".

Beth Gardner
Chief Executive
Council for Learning Outside the Classroom

10 May 2011



 
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Prepared 14 September 2011