Outdoor education too important to abandon, says Ofsted

Ofsted backs adventure sports
Ofsted backs adventure sports

A new report from the school inspectorate Ofsted says that the benefits of outdoor trips are too important to forfeit because of fears of legal action.

Concerns have been rising among teachers about the prospect of litigation if an accident occurs on a school trip. Some teaching unions, notably NASUWT, have even advised its members not to undertake school trips.

Ofsted, though, says that teachers who follow proper procedures should not fear litigation.

The chief inspector of schools, David Bell, said: "Outdoor activities both at school and on residential courses enable pupils to enjoy challenging and unfamiliar experiences that test and develop their physical, social and personal skills

"If teachers follow recognised safety procedures and guidance they have nothing to fear from the law."

The Ofsted report found that teacher leadership, a vital factor in the provision of outdoor education, was at least good in more than half of the centres.

The quality of accommodation and resources was also generally good and pupils were offered a wide range of activities.

Despite general recognition of the value of such experiences, however, the report said that some schools remain unconvinced of the benefits when weighed against risks and fears of litigation.

The cost of sending pupils on such trips and the limited number of places also played a part in limiting activities, it added.

Ofsted urged schools to take action to improve outdoor education provision, recommending that all teaching take account of students' responses and be properly planned to support the school curriculum.

Responding to the report, Chris Keates, acting general secretary of NASUWT, said: "As NASUWT casework has demonstrated time and time again, following the procedures and guidance is no protection against litigation.

"Fortunately, the Government is now taking our concerns seriously, having recognised that the demise of the concept of the genuine accident and the rise of the blame culture has left teachers and schools vulnerable," she added.

"Mr Bell has failed to grasp the reality of what actually happens when accidents occur," she said.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, added: "The fact is that accidents can happen. With so many parents turning to the courts at the first sign of a problem, schools are right to be extremely cautious in their approach to the organisation of outdoor activities.

"Regrettably this has created a situation in which many teachers have felt unable to take on the additional responsibility.

"This has led to a reduction in the number of visits which are a vitally important part of the educational experience, especially for children from families that could not otherwise afford them."

The teachers' concerns do have some parliamentary backing. At the beginning of the month a new All Party Group for Adventure & Recreation In Society (ARISc) was launched with the aim of protecting the adventure industry from the "compensation culture."

The group aims to find a way to prevent companies being pushed out of business because of unsustainably high insurance premiums.