'Risk no reason to cancel trips'

23rd April 2010 at 01:00
New government guidance urges teachers not to limit opportunities because of outdoor learning's potential hazards

School trips to the outdoors should go ahead even if they put pupils at risk.

That is according to new national guidance, which insists that forests, fields and playgrounds are often better places for learning than classrooms - and that pupils should not be stuck inside by risk-averse teachers. The guidance makes clear that outdoor education is an entitlement, and schools should be capable of taking pupils outside at the first glimmer of sunshine.

"Eliminating or controlling a hazard may seem so daunting that offering the experience seems impossible," states the guidance, Curriculum for Excellence Through Outdoor Learning. "That is the point for serious consideration, but not necessarily the moment to cancel plans."

It continues: "Children and young people should not be denied an experience simply because an unlikely hazard could not be completely eliminated. A venture where all conceivable risk has been eliminated removes the opportunities for learners to develop their own strategies and attitudes towards risk."

Bruce Robertson, chair of the Outdoor Learning Strategic Advisory Group, said: "Coping with risk is an important part of growing up and outdoor learning should not be marginalised because of a risk-averse culture."

A nursery teacher, quoted in the guidance, agreed: "Helping children to become risk assessors is a big part of our work . We believe that one of the greatest risks in life is not understanding what risk is."

Schools may take some persuading before they embrace risk, however. Last year (May 1) The TESS reported the comments of Pete Allison, an Edinburgh University lecturer in outdoor education, who said research showed risk assessment, rather than the level of risk itself, was the major barrier to teachers taking pupils on outdoor trips.

But this type of education is no longer a luxury in Scotland: the outdoors is frequently a "more effective place to learn than indoors", the guidance says, and every pupil's schooldays "must include opportunities for a series of planned, quality outdoor learning experiences".

Schools, therefore, should not restrict pupils to outdoor trips scheduled far in advance, and they should be prepared for "spontaneous or pre- planned, `off-the-shelf' visits when, for example, weather conditions are suitable", it adds.

Self-evaluation should be "integral" to planning. Teachers can get help in deciding whether their ideas for outdoor learning are suitable through an online resource, which has been published along with the guidance and is described by Mr Robertson as "the best educational package to be produced thus far by Learning and Teaching Scotland".

The guidance advises that the new baccalaureates, particularly in science, will provide fresh opportunities for outdoor learning, alongside established schemes such as the Duke of Edinburgh's Award.

While the report recommends identifying a specific member of staff with a brief for outdoor learning, it is the responsibility of all in education to ensure young people get the experiences they should.

Local authorities should allocate in-service training specifically for outdoor learning, it says. The onus is also put on universities to give it more prominence in initial teacher education, with help from the General Teaching Council for Scotland.

Skills and Lifelong Learning Minister Keith Brown, who launched the document at Auchenblae Primary in Aberdeenshire, said the Scottish Government would ensure that every child could take part in outdoor learning, and that it enhanced classroom teaching.



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