Call to take classes to countryside

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MORE children should learn about the countryside outside the classroom according to a new report today which warns that misplaced health and safety fears are preventing schools from delivering outdoor education.

The Countryside Alliance Foundation (TCAF) has produced survey results which show that 92 per cent of parents believe their children would benefit from being given hands-on-tuition in the countryside.

The poll also shows that almost two-thirds of these parents believe health and safety issues are the main barrier to schools taking pupils outdoors. However, the foundation also reveals today that just 20 councils out of 178 across the UK have paid out compensation as a result of outdoor injuries suffered by pupils.

Between 2009 and 2011, 67 successful claims led to compensation payments of £55,620 – including 17 claims in Yorkshire which resulted in just over £6,000 being paid out.

Thirteen of these claims were made against York Council, according to TCAF.

Nationally the average amount paid out per authority dealing with claims was £560 over two years. The new report warns that a generation of children are at risk of being isolated from the countryside.

Earlier research from TCAF found that less than half of the six to 15-year-olds it surveyed had gone on a school trip to the countryside.

Now with new figures demonstrating parental demand, TCAF is calling for an entitlement to outdoor learning to be made part of the national curriculum.

The poll results show 91 per cent of parents think it is important that their children learn about the countryside and slightly more believe their children would benefit from hands-on tuition in the countryside. More than two-thirds of parents think that learning about the countryside should be included in key subjects such as maths, science and geography.

TCAF wants a slice of the new pupil premium – paid to schools for every children from deprived backgrounds they teach – to be spent on outdoor learning in the natural environment.

Other recommendations in the report include making outdoor learning part of teacher training and ensuring staff are aware of the “low risks” involved in organising trips to the countryside.

It also contains a recommendation to scale back criminal record checks to ensure “volunteers who help deliver outdoor learning are not bogged down by overzealous bureaucracy, which does nothing to protect children”.

TCAF’s chief executive, Alice Barnard, said: “For many of our children the countryside remains an enigma. This is primarily because schools rarely venture outside the classroom.

“The message from this poll is clear – parents want their children to learn more about the countryside, in the countryside.

“Our polling shows parents dismiss the health and safety fears that are often the major factor holding schools back.

“It is time the compensation culture myth is squashed and our children are given the freedom to learn about the countryside.”

Ms Barnard added: “The Government should lead from the front to tackle the myths and fears surrounding risk in outdoor education and inspire teachers to make wider use of the countryside as a classroom.”

TCAF has welcomed the report published by the former Children’s Schools and Families Select Committee in the last Parliament which recommended that outdoor learning was included in the national curriculum as an entitlement for pupils.

TCAF said: “By creating an entitlement, it would install a duty on all schools to give outdoor learning the priority it deserves within the timetable and would focus the Government to allocate the resources needed to ensure its delivery in schools as an integral part of the curriculum.”