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July 4, 2011

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School-trips digest to ease bureaucracy burden

The Government has torn up reams of health and safety guidance for schools and condensed them into eight pages of simplified advice.

In a move designed to alleviate teachers’ fears of legal action being taken in the event of an incident in which a child suffers harm, as well as encouraging teachers to take children on more school trips, the Department for Education (DE) has slashed 150 pages of health and safety guidance for schools into eight pages.

The fear of prosecution is often cited as a barrier to the organisation of school trips, but the Department emphasises that convictions are rare. In the past five years, the HSE has pursued only two cases for breaches of health and safety law in relation to school visits, and both were taken in the light of evidence of recklessness, or a clear failure to follow sensible precautions.
The revised guidance:

  • summarises the legal duties of head teachers, governing bodies and local authorities on health and safety, and covers activities that take place on and off school premises;
  • clarifies that a written risk assessment does not need to be carried out every time a school takes pupils on a routine local visit;
  • tackles teachers’ fears about being prosecuted by making the law clearer; and clarifies that parental consent is not necessary for pupils to take part in the majority of off-site activities organised by a school, as most of these activities take place during school hours and are a normal part of a child’s education.

To help schools further, the DE has also developed a ‘one-off’ parental consent form, which covers activities outside the normal school day.

The consent form will cover all activities and will only need to be signed once, when a child enrols at the school. Rather than filling in forms for every excursion, schools will then only need to inform parents in advance of each activity to give them the opportunity to withdraw their child from the activity if they wish.

Education secretary Michael Gove said: “Children should be able to go on exciting school trips that broaden their horizons. That is why we are cutting unnecessary red tape in schools and putting teachers back in charge.
“This new, slimmer advice means a more common-sense approach to health and safety. It will make it easier for schools to make lessons more inspiring and fun.”
The HSE has also prepared a myth-busting statement for schools and local authorities, explaining what issues they need to focus on when organising excursions.

Said Safety minister Chris Grayling: “Memories of our school trips stay with us. Learning outside the classroom brings the curriculum to life and is essential to our children’s development. We cannot let confusion over health and safety requirements deprive them of the opportunities we had.
“I want to dispel the myths and remind schools, teachers and local authorities that a disproportionate fear of prosecution should not get in the way of common sense.”

However, teaching unions have questioned whether the revised guidance will have a positive impact on outdoors learning and health and safety. 

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT union, said the decision to simplify the guidance to such an extent could, in fact, lead to fewer school trips, as parents would be more likely to question schools’ safety procedures.

Describing the move as “potentially reckless”, she said: “The dilution of guidance for schools is likely to reduce rather than increase the number of educational visits.

“The previous health and safety guidance was developed in response to particular needs and in response to incidents in which children had died, or been seriously injured. The previous guidance was widely accepted by teachers and there is no evidence that the generality of schools found the guidance to be off-putting.

“The existence of robust and detailed guidance provides schools and teachers with an important safeguard if things go wrong. The Coalition Government’s decision to dilute the guidance could make teachers more vulnerable.

A spokesperson for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) said it is hard to tell what effect the new guidance will have. She commented: “We think it’s very important that children get the opportunity to go on school trips because they can learn a lot outside the classroom but it’s equally important that schools take all the proper safeguards and carry out proper risk assessments before organising trips.

“But because we live in a litigious society, teachers are often very nervous about being held liable if something goes wrong.”

The guidance and statement from the HSE can be found on the DE’s website.

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13 years ago

Gove described this as replacing 150 pages of rules and the need to complete hours and hours of paperwork. Actually the booklet has not been scrapped it is still available and it is still the best guidance to teachers about how to run a trip well, why would anyone want to scrap that. it is extremely doubtful that the once in a life time consent form will stand up to scrutiny in the first court case, and informing the parent and allowing them to decline will take MORE time than getting an OK

13 years ago

The truth is its all about money!
1000’s have schools have been running trips for nearly half a century, doing simple maths there have been 10s of 1000s of trips, with little or no injury, add to that other youth groups like scouts, guides, army cadets, etc. that can possibly be doubled.
Of course there have been some terrible exceptions, but the truth is no responsible adult would knowingly take youngsters away without thinking about risk.
I say its a real step forward to reduce beaurocracy

13 years ago

Reality check! School trip – child hurt (broken wrist) – parent suing. School’s judgement, professionalism called into question. Demanding all evidence must be written incl risk assessments to back staff judgement and protocols. LA’s view is no case to answer. Insurance view is to pay up. The case will take months to resolve with teacher under a cloud. How does this document help?

13 years ago

Personal liability waivers are invalid under EU law. Any solicitor would know this. If incident occurred outside EU then they may well be valid eg advent. act. in US/ Australia. (NB this could invalidate your travel insurance). Our schools are advised to contact the LA if such waivers are asked for and we take it up with the provider.

13 years ago

My sister feel 5metres a few years back now from a failed absail rope. Mum could not sue according to the “liability” form that the schools get you to sign.
My sister was in hospital for 3 days and unable to move until it was proven she had no spinal injuries.
Perhaps it is time for a shake up on the school trips, or perhaps we were just unlucky.

13 years ago

150 pages = reams.

Since when?

13 years ago

I agree with Steve, I get involved with the DofE scheme at my local school, naturally all the staff have the safety and welfare of the chidren fore most in their minds.
Guidance should be available but you can’t wrap the children up in cotton wall or make the trips so stressful for the staff and organisers through needless bureaucray.

This is a very positive step forward.

After all your more likely to hurt yourself at home than on a school trip.

13 years ago

Let’s hope the exercise works out in the manner intended. However, will we get the court case where the claim of negligence still stands because the line of best practiise (i.e. guidance established in the 150 page document) was not followed.