Inspector calls for adventure
Too many young people are being deprived of outdoor activities because their teachers fear being sued, David Bell, the chief inspector of schools, said this week.
Adventurous pursuits such as canoeing, archery and rock-climbing could be among the most memorable experiences of pupils' schooldays, he said.
Mr Bell said schools should ignore worries about accidents or legal action and allow pupils the chance to enjoy outdoor activities.
An Office for Standards in Education report found such activities form only a small proportion of the PE timetable in most secondary schools.
Yet they make an important contribution to students' physical, personal and social education, it said. Students generally progress well and learn valuable leadership and teamwork skills. Teaching is rated as good or better in eight out of 10 lessons and very good in a third.
Mr Bell said: "Outdoor activities both at school and on residential courses enable pupils to enjoy challenging and unfamiliar experiences that test and develop their skills. They can be among the most memorable experiences for pupils of their schooldays.
"The benefits of outdoor education are far too important to forfeit, and by far outweigh the risks of an accident occurring. If teachers follow recognised safety procedures and guidance they have nothing to fear from the law."
Mr Bell said that teachers' fears of a growing compensation culture were misplaced and cited a study by the Government's Better Regulation Taskforce which found that the number of accident claims registered in 20034 fell by nearly 60,000, a fall of approximately 10 per cent.
In 2002 the Actuarial Profession produced a report showing that compensation payouts by councils reached pound;200 million in 2001, 2 per cent of the UK's pound;10 billion compensation bill. School-related accidents were thought to account for half the payouts.
The chief inspector's comments follow an article by the Duke of Edinburgh in The TES earlier this year in which he said there was an understandable reluctance by schools and teachers to encourage any activity that might be seen as risky and result in litigation.
Ofsted said some schools remain unconvinced of the benefits when weighed against the pressures on curriculum time, lack of specialist expertise and fear of litigation, its report said.
Two weeks ago the House of Commons education select committee announced that it is to conduct an inquiry into outdoor education. Jerry Bartlett, acting deputy general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, admitted that most of his union's members ignored advice not to participate in trips.
But he said that when things go wrong "neither the Government nor local authorities nor school governing bodies provide adequate support or assistance".
Outdoor education: aspects of good practice is available from www.ofsted.gov.uk