Children are becoming “entombed” in their homes and classrooms as a result of a demise in organised school trips, MPs were told today.
Thousands are missing out on visits to museums or the countryside because of a new clause in every teacher’s contract aimed at reducing the amount of time they cover for absent colleagues.
The clause, inserted last September, says that teachers should only “rarely cover” for colleagues who are away from the classroom.
It was agreed between ministers, local councils and teachers’ unions as part of a deal to reduce the pressure on teachers.
However, former chief schools inspector Sir Mike Tomlinson, who is also chairman of the National Science Centre – which runs training courses for teachers and school visits, said: “I think there are some headteachers who are taking ‘rarely cover’ and converting it into ‘never cover’.
“There are some headteachers who say there will never be a teacher out of the classroom during term time.”
Even in cases where the Government has promised to reimburse schools so they can pay for cover trips have been cancelled.
Tony Thomas, of the Council for Learning Outside the classroom – a body set up by the Government to promote the take-up of school trips, said: “The figures show a decline in the number of visits to parks and open spaces.”
Figures show that - in the time span of just one generation - the number of visits by children to parks and open spaces – had halved.
“We’re now becoming entombed in our homes and buildings,” he added.
“Some headteachers are seeing ‘rarely cover’ as a cover for refusing to make a commitment to learning outside the classroom.
The MPs, on the select committee, were told a government manifesto aimed at boosting school trips which recommended every pupil should go on at least one a year had failed to have any impact on take-up of outdoor learning opportunities.
Other reasons cited for the decline include included safety fears and the risk of schools being sued if an accident occurred.
A survey by the Countryside Alliance revealed that 76 per cent of teachers were worried by the fear of litigation in the event of an accident. This is despite the fact that only half of the 364 claims made during the past decade had been successful – costing the average authority around £293 a year.
MPs were told that a lack of government cash to promote school trips was hampering efforts to improve the take-up.
Whereas £300 million had been earmarked to improve school music over a three-year period, only £4.5 million had been spent on learning outside the classroom since 2005.
As a result, students in key subject areas such as science were turning up to university ill-equipped for their courses.
”The consequences are you’re not going forward with the practical skills you need and universities are reporting that students simply don’t have the practical skills they need to start courses,” said Sir Mike.
The MPs are expected to deliver a report on outside learning before the election.
A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "There is absolutely no reason why schools should stop providing planned school trips or visits because of this provision as advance arrangements should already have been put in place.
"Rarely cover would only ever apply if the teacher taking the children to the event is then unforeseeably absent and alternative cover had to be provided."
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