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Ministers try to save trips

The Government is trying to save school trips by drawing up an outdoor education "manifesto". But unlike the recent music manifesto it would not give children the right to outdoor activities.

The move follows threats by Britain's second biggest teaching union to halt school outings for four years amid concerns that many are of "dubious educational value".

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers has urged its members not to organise outings because the responsibility for ensuring pupils' safety has become too onerous for teachers.

But Helen Williams, director of the Department for Education and Skills'

school standards group, told MPs on the House of Commons education select committee this week that the department was considering creating an outdoor education manifesto, similar to its music counterpart.

The aim, she said, would be to identify the contribution out-of-school activities can make to teaching and learning and get agreements between schools, teachers' unions, local authorities and parents.

However, she rejected the suggestion that pupils should be entitled to a set number of hours of activities, however.

The plan comes as opportunities for pupils to learn outside the classroom are shrinking because of increased curriculum pressures, rising insurance costs, and fears that teachers may be sued if there are accidents.

The music manifesto pledged to offer subsidised music lessons to all children, but was criticised by some musicians for not making firm-enough commitments.

Barry Sheerman, select committee chairman and Labour MP for Huddersfield, suggested that the outdoor education manifesto could also face similar criticism.

Chris Keates, the NASUWT general secretary, said recent discussions with the DfES had been positive and that the union might change its policy in the future.

But she said that some issues still needed to be tackled: many school trips were of "dubious educational value", particularly those taken during the summer to places such as Alton Towers and Blackpool Pleasure Beach.

Fiona Hammans, head of Banbury school in Oxfordshire and representative for the Secondary Heads Association, said that most schools only organised trips for genuine reasons.

"We wouldn't take on the hours and hours of planning and the rest that's involved just for a jolly," she said.

Alton Towers was visited by 232,000 pupils on school trips last year.

A spokeswoman for the Staffordshire theme park said it offered a range of educational programmes related to science and design and technology.

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