Page last updated at 23:00 GMT, Wednesday, 31 March 2010 00:00 UK

Children need more school trips, MPs' committee says

Kids in a classroom
The report says children are entitled to experiences outside the classroom

Children in England are spending too much time in the classroom, according to a report by MPs.

The Children, Schools and Families Committee criticised a lack of funding for trips and said children in poorer areas were less likely to go on them.

Committee Chairman Barry Sheerman said the steep decline in the amount of time pupils spent outdoors was "shocking".

Schools Minister Diana Johnson admitted there was "more to do" but said most children did go on educational visits.

She said: "We are disappointed the committee has not fully recognised the huge progress made... The vast majority of England's eight million children do take part in educational visits throughout the year."

"Central funding is not the be-all and end-all of learning outside the classroom and we disagree that teachers need a new, prescriptive legal entitlement to provide it."

Low-income families

The committee said that all children should be entitled to experience drama productions, sports activities and after-schools clubs.

I think that people are over-anxious... the thing about taking children out is you change [your] relationships with them

Mick Brookes
NAHT general secretary

But it regretted the fact that pupils from poorer backgrounds were less likely to take part in outside visits than other children.

Members recommended the introduction of subsidies and extra funding from the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) so that parents on low incomes could afford to send their children on learning excursions.

Mr Sheerman said: "Research has shown that the likelihood of a child visiting any green space has halved in a generation.

"It is vital for the government to make a commitment to a serious funding increase to ensure that all children have opportunities to visit the wealth of museums and galleries, and the natural environment of the English countryside, which are at our disposal."

Safety fears

Teacher training was also seen as a barrier to getting more pupils out of the classroom. The report said a lack of training meant new teachers did not have the confidence to lead trips.

The committee also said health and safety fears discouraged teachers from organising visits outside school.

A pupil at a museum
Fewer pupils are taking trips to places like museums and galleries

It urged the government to publish revised health and safety guidance "at the earliest opportunity".

Research by the Countryside Alliance quoted by the MPs showed that from 1998 until 2008 there had been 364 legal claims across 138 local authorities as a result of children being injured on school trips.

Fewer than half of those cases resulted in a payment of damages.

Mick Brookes, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, believes the benefits of school trips outweigh the safety fears.

"I think that people are over-anxious about this and the thing about taking children out is you change [your] relationships with them," he said.

"You're no longer teaching maths and science - you're getting to know them."

The committee said there should be a requirement in the national curriculum for at least one school visit a term and said this should be monitored in Ofsted inspections.

Primary schools

The group suggested the DCSF start a record of the activities schools undertake, including information on whether the pupils were from affluent or low-income families.

A lack of outside activities was also partly blamed on changes to teachers' working conditions, which meant they should not be asked to provide cover for absent colleagues on a routine basis.

The report suggested that if a teacher was unable to make a planned school trip, it was likely to be cancelled, rather than being covered by other staff.

The MPs said trips were more common in primary schools, but the excursions were frequently at the end of the year, which limited their learning benefits.

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