October 4, 2008

‘Fear of Litigation’ is Choking School Trips ; Teachers Must Be Able to Take Their Pupils on School Trips Without “Fear of Litigation”, According to the Children’s Secretary.

By Jenny Stocks

Teachers must be able to take their pupils on school trips without "fear of litigation", according to the Children's Secretary.

On a visit to Westcountry schools yesterday, Ed Balls, Secretary of State at the Department for Children, Schools and Families, spoke of his determination to slash red tape and get children learning outside the classroom - with the help of a pounds4.5 million investment.

He spoke of a "compensation culture" and "fear of litigation" surrounding school trips, which was sparked by the tragic death at Lyme Bay of four Plymouth teenagers in 1993. The youngsters died of hypothermia after ending up stranded at sea during a badly run canoe trip.

The legislation created in response to the incident has made it more difficult for teachers to take pupils out of school - but the Government is now determined for this to change.

While Mr Balls said parents were justifiably "uncompromising" about the safety of their children, he maintained that it was essential to get the children out of the classroom.

Speaking at Lipson Community College in Plymouth, he said the process of checking out whether sites were safe had led some schools to cancel trips altogether.

He said: "All the evidence says that outdoor learning helps young people to do well.

"We will have a specialist council to look at all the facilities around the country to take the bureaucracy away from schools."

He explained that his new Council for Learning Outside the Classroom will have powers to give companies a Quality Badge - or "kitemark" - if they meet the required standards. Responsibility for the quality of school trip sites will therefore lie with the Government rather than individual schools, cutting paperwork for teachers. The first centres are due to receive their quality badge next year.

Mr Balls also said the move would boost the economy of Devon and Cornwall as more children visit sites in the area.

He paid a trip to Haven Banks Outdoor Education Centre in Exeter yesterday morning, which he named as one of the many great local activity centres.

Learning outside the classroom - whether within school grounds, locally or on visits further afield or even abroad - should be "part and parcel" of every child's school career," he said.

The initiative has been welcomed by the Association of School and College Leaders (ACSL).

Its general secretary, Dr John Dunford, said: "There are three reasons why school trips have reduced in recent years: risk, bureaucracy and cost.

"Risk assessment represents a huge bureaucratic burden for even the smallest of visits and schools will want to see evidence that the new quality badge does actually reduce paperwork."

Yesterday's announcements followed the Learning Outside the Classroom Manifesto, launched in November 2006 - the first time a Government committed to increasing the learning outside the classroom for all three- to 19-year-olds.

All the major teacher and headteacher trade unions, alongside more than 1,000 other organisations, have now signed up to the manifesto.

As part of the new plan, winners of the first ever national Learning Outside the Classroom Awards were announced. The scheme rewards "outstanding provision" in schools, colleges and early years providers. Castlechurch Primary School in Stafford is the first national winner, alongside eight regional winners, including The Manor School in Melksham, Wiltshire, for the South West category.

(c) 2008 Western Morning News, The Plymouth (UK). Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.