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.”
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