Warning over red tape for science field trips

By Katherine Sellgren
BBC News education reporter

Image caption,
Too much bureaucracy is hampering the chances of learning on field trips

Health and safety red tape is stopping school children getting out on regular science field trips, a report warns.

The Association for Science Education (ASE) says too much attention to risk assessment means science field trips are in long-term continuing decline.

The ASE calls for exam boards to have greater flexibility to set questions that allow pupils to draw on their experiences of science in the outdoors.

It also says more fieldwork training should be given to trainee teachers.

The report warns: "Despite the strengths and advantages that fieldwork can bring to teaching at all ages, there has been a long-term and continuing decline in the provision and condition of outdoor education in science."

Chief executive of ASE Annette Smith said that if trips meant teachers filling in endless forms, or if procedures for asking for parents' permission for children to go on trips were not streamlined, organising a science outing could become unattractive.

"It's a question of making sure that, within school, they don't create a bureaucracy that makes it difficult to get out.

Image caption,
Annette Smith: "Every educator would say outdoor experience is good"

"Every educator would say outdoor experience is good, but it is more complicated to organise."

In September, Education Secretary Michael Gove promised to reduce the level of bureaucracy encountered by schools.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of Schools and College Leaders, said health and safety laws could be a deterrent to trips.

"They do create a deterrent because of the risk assessment and the risk of teachers being blamed if there's an accident.

"We welcome the government's statement that they will try and reduce this type of burden."

Exam questions

The ASE report said exam boards should be able to "significantly increase open-ended assessments that recognise skills which are primarily developed through fieldwork".

Image caption,
The report says exams should give pupils a chance to demonstrate what they have learned on field trips

Mrs Smith added: "It's easy to test through examinations some factual recall, it's very easy to ask those questions.

"It's much more difficult to ask young people questions about the work they've done outside. It's difficult but it can be done."

A spokesman for the exam board Edexcel said: "If we were given the necessary flexibility within the qualification criteria, and teachers were in support, we would welcome the opportunity to include assessment based around learners' field trips."

The ASE report also said fieldwork training should be provided for all trainee science teachers and should be part of continuing professional development for existing science teachers.

The report also recommended the creation of a "dedicated outdoor science website... to signpost, exchange and compare high-quality fieldwork training resources".

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: "We know that over-complicated planning processes imposed on staff can make them reluctant to take children on trips.

"We are revising our guidance on health and safety for schools and employers to remove the red tape that can deter teachers from lessons outside the classroom."

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