Education & Family

Unions criticise plan to cut school trip red tape

Pupil and teacher
Image caption Ministers say there is too much bureaucracy involved in organising school trips

Teaching unions have criticised plans to make school trips easier to organise amid government fears about the over-zealous application of safety laws.

The Department for Education is publishing new guidance to help schools ditch "unnecessary paperwork", and has cut 150 pages of guidelines to eight.

But the National Union of Teachers (NUT) said it feared reducing best practice could lead to more accidents.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said it was a "more common sense" approach.

Amanda Brown, of the NUT, said: "What we wouldn't want to do is to see a reduction of guidance which could lead to a lot more accidents.

'Myths'

"What we want is advice which is very clear and straightforward but long enough to cover enough of the detail so that people do feel secure."

The NASUWT teachers' union said cutting back guidance could reduce parents' confidence and make teachers more nervous about school trips because it provided a safeguard.

"The decision to scrap over 140 pages of guidance is potentially reckless and could increase litigation against schools and teachers," said general secretary Chris Keates.

"There is no evidence demonstrating the need for the previous guidance to be abandoned, and no educational reason for doing so.

"Schools and teachers organise educational visits when it is clear that there is an opportunity to enhance and enrich pupils' learning and when they assure themselves that children will be safe.

'Crazy situation'

"The dilution of guidance for schools is likely to reduce rather than increase the number of educational visits."

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said it hoped the new guidelines would dispel legal "myths".

Chairman Judith Hackitt told the BBC it was "time to out those who hide behind red tape and procedures and often blame us and health and safety as the reason why they can't do these things".

She said guidelines had ended up being overly bureaucratic because of a fear of civil litigation, cost-cutting and because it was an easy way to avoid work that was regarded as more difficult.

Teachers were intelligent people and should be trusted to use their common sense, she added.

Ministers said school trips could broaden children's horizons but fear of prosecution was too often used as an excuse not to organise them.

In the past five years only two cases had been brought against schools for breaches of health and safety law on a visit, they said.

Employment minister Chris Grayling said: "We've got a crazy situation at the moment where, very often, headteachers and teachers think that actually the rules are such that it's not a good idea to plan school trips.

"There's too much bureaucracy, too many health and safety rules and a risk of prosecution if something goes wrong," he told the BBC.

"There is no reason - and never was - why children should be prevented from going on school trips by over-enthusiastic misinterpretation of rules," he said.

A Labour Party spokesman said health and safety rules needed to be applied sensibly.

The new guidelines clarify that written parental consent is not needed for each activity and encourage schools to use a new one-off consent form signed once when a child starts at a school.

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