Teachers should not to be afraid to take pupils on trips involving adventure activities, according to the chief inspector of Ofsted.
David Bell said teachers had "nothing to fear" if they followed the right guidelines.
However, teachers' unions disagree. The NASUWT advises its members to avoid school trips, as it says following procedures is no protection against being sued.
Would you send your children on a school trip? Does the cost of activities discourage families from sending children? Are schools and teachers afraid of litigation?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:
It is inevitable that unless teachers are protected against unjustified and often outrageous claims of negligence against them that out of school activities will simply no longer be available and the children themselves will be the losers. Don't blame the teachers who could lose their livelihood. Blame the education authorities who avoid their responsibility by not supporting their own employees and the parents who are hoodwinked by the current compensation culture that is destroying our whole way of life
Robert Lever, Oldham, UK
I spent 5 weeks in the Australian outback with my school in the summer of 2002 (at a cost of £3000) and it was one of the most valuable experiences of my life. Yes, accidents happened - one girl got bitten and her leg became infected, but none of us sued because of it. Trips with schools, regardless of the scale, are invaluable as learning experiences.
James McEnaney, Glasgow, Scotland
It was always accepted that accidents happen. But nowadays they've always become somebody else's responsibility/fault/negligence. I can't blame teachers for not wanting to risk their careers and local authorities not want to risk their pockets. Even following procedures doesn't help - no procedures can be designed to cover ALL possible situations, events, consequences etc and you can bet some solicitor will find the unplugged hole. It's the children who lose out by being denied these potentially rich experiences.
School trips with good supervision are a great idea but who can blame the teachers for their reluctance to take them. I'm sure there are lots of unscrupulous parents out there who would milk the system and damage the career of a good teacher because little Johnny scraped his knee.
School trips are a great way for children to learn and a well designed trip can make learning more fun. Of course care should be taken to ensure that the children return safely, but teachers should not have to fear they will be prosecuted unless they really are negligent. Proper supervision is important and it is vital that the children are taught to respect their teachers and follow instructions to avoid problems.
Rachel, Farnborough, UK
I was fortunate to go to a school that focused heavily on outdoor pursuits. Going on adventurous training weekends and such like, added hugely to my education and personal development. The outdoors has so much to offer the young people of today. Not only does it instil an attitude of respect for nature and our countryside but life skills such as self-reliance and personal confidence are developed in a fun and challenging way.
Ed Hollinshead, UK
I do not believe that climbing a mountain broadens a child's academic education per se. We send our children to school to be in a contained safe environment designed for learning how to read, write and do maths. I do not want my child engaging in potentially dangerous activities outside the school grounds without my supervision.
Once again schools and teachers are expected to make up for what parents fail to provide! First of all they are to become baby sitting services for working parents and now they are to provide holidays and days out too! Maybe parents could just drop off their kids when they are born and pick them up after they finish university! Let's encourage families to take on their roles and responsibilities and let schools and teachers concentrate on education - this is what they do best.
Yes, yes and yes. During my school years I travelled to France and Switzerland, learned to ski and experienced a brief part of parachute training. All things my parents could not, or were not likely to be able to, provide. All memorable experiences. Let children have similar opportunities and learn to take a few calculated risks.
Barry Bailey, Basingstoke, England
I actively encourage my 8-year-old daughter to go not only on school trips but outings with the Brownies too. It would have to be an immense event for me to even consider suing our school or Brownie pack and also bear in mind that claimants are in effect attempting to cash in on the misfortune of their own child! I deplore the attitude of the NASUWT.
Chris Green, Hagley, Worcs, England
It is this same kind of attitude I believe that has lead to the undermining of authority of school teachers. Unfortunately the people threatening to sue will be doing their children a disservice. Trust the teachers and your children will be better off. Of course these kinds of activities should be undertaken. A single day learning in the field can be worth several weeks stuck in a classroom.
Jono Taylor, Bristol, UK
It's no wonder that education in this country is considered to be second-rate if people like Trevor from Cambridgeshire continue to harp on about the use of 'their' taxes for broadening a child's education. I pay taxes too believe it or not and think that the best way in which to back-up learning and development in a classroom environment is for children to go on these trips/visits. To call them holidays is degrading and insulting to the teachers and parents that put the effort in to giving children as interesting and varied an education as the National Curriculum currently allows.
Jon C, Swindon
School trips and adventure activities especially can teach children respect for each other and develop team building skills in a society that is increasingly isolated from all but their immediate group of friends and close family. An ideal time to meet people from all walks of life, and HAVE to get on and work with them.
Edward Ridgway, Edinburgh
Yes, they should be going on school trips, but if I was a teacher I certainly wouldn't want to take kids on a trip in today's 'Sue You' culture, so until this culture changes school trips will be curtailed.
It is a natural enough response from a group that gets little thanks or praise but is expected to educate, and in some cases, provide parenting. This can only increase a general lack of understanding about our surroundings and continue the degradation of the environment. Is there any surprise that voluntary organisations such as Scouts, Guides and Cadets have a lack of leaders? We are truly back in the 80s where "me first and what can I get have" replaced "what can I give and how can I help". It has to be accepted that accidents do happen and that there is not always somebody to blame.
Dan, Plymouth, Devon, UK
What amazes me is where they are now going. The furthest I went in secondary school (which was only ten years ago) was the nearest beach about 20 miles away to study the geology of cliffs. Now my nephew (who is 15) is to go on a school trip to NEW YORK! As much can be learned by going down the road as can be learned on the other side of the planet.
Absolutely. Putting kids outside what is familiar, beyond their comfort zone, is essential in developing their character. School trips are valuable for all, but especially for those whose parents cannot afford to take them on activity holidays or to national heritage sites, art galleries and museums. However, schools should have the right to deny such trips to children who unlikely to behave themselves, as they will not only make life miserable for everyone else on the trip but are also (literally) a liability.
Heather, Stockport, UK
School trips are a good idea in principle and my children have been on all sorts. But they can be very expensive (£265 for 5 days to France, for example, to improve French for my year 10 daughter)and I think teachers and parents are right to worry about the supervision issue. It only takes one silly child or inexperienced teacher to cause a disaster. My worry is that school trips do seem to be proliferating at an alarming rate. I sometimes wonder when the teachers have time to teach, they are so busy organising extra-curricular activities at the school where I work.
Also many of the trips offered do not seem to be strictly educational - they are more like adventure holidays which I think parents should arrange if that's what they want their children to take part in. The Duke of Edinburgh award scheme is a different matter, as it has 4 parts including service to the community, and the participation in this does not use up school time on the whole, and I support this movement whole-heartedly. But if the trip is not strictly related to the curriculum I question whether they should take place.
Sarah Allen, Somerset, UK
I'm a teacher who has recently returned from a trip to Germany with a group of 14 yr olds. Despite laying down some clear rules about not going into town on their own, only if they are in a group, and informing a teacher if they want to go swimming so that we can ensure there is supervision, most of them disregarded these rules in about 2 seconds. Comments like "I'm paying £250 for this trip - you can't tell me what to do" sum it up really. I know that they are 14 years old, but at that age, I would have expected them to be able to take even a tiny bit of responsibility for themselves. That's the last time I volunteer for such a trip!
M, Essex, UK
School expeditions should be almost obligatory. We are growing another generation of couch potatoes. Anything that encourages physical activity and a healthy interaction between individuals has to be encouraged. No activity with excitement can take place without a small element of risk and that risk is what builds character.
P Smith, Claydon Suffolk
As a teacher of law and languages I would not take children out of school while a culture of litigation exists that can see a professional career wrecked due to what many would see as an accident, but the law sees as reasonably foreseeable negligence. Why take the risk? We get paid the same whether we take trips or not. It is appalling that the experiences of youngsters are now so limited but why should an teacher take the risk with their livelihoods?
I have cut down on the number of off-site activities. The paperwork that has to be completed, the medical forms to collect to go past the school gate with a pupil even for a few minutes. The risk assessments, the cover lessons to plan, the insurance to arrange and the insurance forms to complete. The permission that has to obtained from the governing body. And all before you plan the educational activities of the field work, gallery visit or theatre trip!
Should school trips be encouraged. Yes, New Zealand children spend one week on camp. Parents are also encouraged to help and encourage all types of outbound activities organised by group camp organisers similar to an Army assault course and other outdoor activities so long as they are manned well. These activities start at the age of approx 9. Older children go on more advanced courses i.e. making rafts, solving logic problems and cooking outside.
Krys Byrne, Stafford
School trips are indeed one of the few things that can engage children when all else fails. However, I don't think it would be wise to encourage the activity while lines of responsibility have still to be clearly defined. There have been numerous disasters on such outings and which may well have been avoided with proper training and manageable numbers of pupils. When I was a sixth former we went on a survival week to Skye. After the hurricane hit on the first night and all the tents had been shredded we came home, having not survived at all. Schools and teachers cannot control the elements, but they should know when the elements are beyond their control.
Fraser Irving, Sheffield, UK
The problem lies with parasitical lawyers who shamelessly exploit every situation in order to line their own pockets, combined with a mindless legal aid system which provides limitless amounts of taxpayers' money to bankroll their activities.
Ron, Brit living in USA
School trips must be encouraged as they provide valuable social experience for developing young minds. However, there is a clear fear of litigation among teachers. At a recent former pupils' dinner at my school, I spoke with a teacher who was appalled at how threatened they feel by litigation. I was told that outdoor activity trips are almost a non-starter these days and if a pupil is to be kept back on detention, two teachers have to act as supervisors in case of vindictive claims of abuse or assault on them which can lead to immediate suspension even if the claims are utterly false. While the safety of the child is paramount, as sensible balance must be struck.
M, Edinburgh, Scotland
Yes, school trips are a very valuable way of broadening pupils' learning experience. However the amount of red tape surrounding them in the modern litigation culture is unbelievable. My kids' primary school takes a group of year 6 pupils to an outward bound centre for a week each summer. The teacher in charge has to prepare a risk assessment document which is an inch thick; this then has to be approved by the LEA before they can even contemplate going. I can understand why some schools find it easier not to bother arranging outings.
Simon Haven, High Wycombe, UK
This is just another example of the ridiculous practice that we seem to have inherited from the US of suing everyone and anyone. The trips I went on at school are some of my best memories. When I have children I don't want them to miss out on this. Also, what's the alternative? With the government being so keen to get parents back to work as soon as children can crawl, there's not much chance of the parents taking their children out to give them these experiences.
Jackie, Hull, UK
Yes, they should be encouraged to widen views and perceptions. Staying in a school all day every day grows machines, not children. It will grow the next generation of recruitment consultants, which these days seems to be the most popular job on the market. But until we begin to open our eyes to this, we are going to degenerate into a society of bland, closed minded and cultureless simpletons.
Sergio, Bristol UK
I'm surprised school trips take place at all any more. When the slightest mishap can result in legal action it is hardly rocket science to see that teachers will, quite reasonably, refuse to take school trips in order to protect themselves from frivolous lawsuits. It is also a tragedy that frivolous lawsuits fail to differentiate between gross negligence and a genuine accident for which nobody can be expected to take the blame. Places have to be limited, because if the teacher-to-pupil ratio goes beyond a certain level the teachers are even more likely to be sued if anything goes wrong. I would want my kids to experience more from their education than the inside of a classroom, but fear I'll end up taking them on trips myself if the school refuses to do so.
John B, UK
Only once pupils have mastered the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic should they be permitted to go on school trips. They attend school to be educated, not to go on holiday. I object that my taxes are used to give free holidays to children who whose grasp of grammar and punctuation is almost non-existent.
Trevor, Cambs, UK
Trevor, Cambs: School trips are far from free. I have so far paid over £1000 to my son's state secondary school for trips and he's only 12. I do however feel that he benefits in so many ways from the opportunity that we are willing to make sacrifices in other areas to find the money.
Val, Bristol UK
It is a very good idea that children go on school trips to broaden their horizons a bit. If I was a teacher though, there is no way I'd have anything to do with one. Increasingly spoilt children behave exactly as they see fit, while teachers following procedures get sued and lose their careers if any accident happens. Let the parents take the risks if they want their children to leave their seat in front of the TV.
Of course, they should be encouraged. We are in danger of turning our children into litigious stay-at-homes, who will have only a limited exercise level a limited social ability and a lack of appreciation of the natural world
Richard, Bridgend, Mid Glam
Yes, of course they should be encouraged. It is good for kids to see a bit of the country, get some fresh and air work together etc. It may start a hobby (e.g. hill walking) that will stay with them for life. They don't have to be dangerous, as long as the instructors are experienced and qualified (a teacher took 40 schoolgirls up a mountain in Scotland this summer, without proper clothing or a compass. Could have been a tragedy). Secondly, school trips help rural economies.
Rob, Birmingham, UK
Of course, children must be encouraged to go on school trips. The fact that this debate has been published as a reflection is a very sad reflection on our society and makes my blood boil with absolute rage! The pernicious nature of current Health & Safety legislation must stop! It is sucking all semblance of joy from the enriching world that we live in!
Yes of course. I took advantage of many school trips when I was at school and feel the better for it. I made new friends from different years and classes as well as touring the world. These subsidised holidays are many children's only opportunity to leave the minute part of the world they call home.
Ed, London UK