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Children denied school trips over teachers' fears of being sued

Local authorities paid out just £293.44 per year following problems on school trips, research finds

Children are being denied school trips for fear teachers will be sued if something goes wrong, despite the fact that only 156 recorded legal actions have ended in compensation in the past decade, new research reveals.

A culture of fear has grown up around trips, with anxious schools avoiding taking children out of the classroom because of the perceived possibility of legal action if something goes wrong. Teachers also claim the amount of time taken up dealing with health and safety concerns is a deterrent. But teachers' fear is based on the "myth" that they could be sued, the research finds.

Of the millions of individual school trips taken over the past 10 years in the 138 local authorities that responded to requests under the Freedom of Information Act, only 364 ended in legal action and in fewer than half of cases – 156 – were schools found to be culpable and ordered to pay compensation.

Between 1998 and 2008 the total compensation paid out was £404,952, meaning on average local authorities paid out just £293.44 a year following problems on school trips.

The findings are contained in a dossier of evidence presented today by the Countryside Alliance. It includes a survey of 1,400 primary and secondary teachers that found 76% felt the main barrier to venturing out of school was "concerns about health and safety", while nearly half (49%) cited "fear of litigation in the unlikely event of an accident".

A separate poll of 2,127 children aged six to 15 found that while 85% of young people would like more school trips, only 46% of children had been to the countryside with their school in the past year.

Simon Hart, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, said: "Statistically, the chances of accidents happening are low and we are working to explode the myths that the countryside is any more dangerous than anywhere else. The benefits of practical countryside education far outweigh the concerns."

Beth Gardner, chief executive of the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom, said: "There is a culture of fear – health and safety are one concern – but there's not good evidence that there are real problems. There is not a culture of litigation out there. We shouldn't be wrapping children in cotton wool but teaching them how to manage risk."

There have been concerns that up to a quarter of school trips will be cut this academic year after new government regulations, designed to protect teachers' working hours, stated that teachers should "rarely" be asked to cover an absent colleague's lessons. School trips often mean more teachers out of school, with others filling in for them.

Government research has also condemned the cost of school trips, with parents spending an average of £78.44 a year for every child at a primary school in England, and £289.71 for those at secondaries.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "Schools should not let ungrounded fears of a compensation culture deny children educational opportunities. School trips should be an integral part of every child's education and personal development."

Children denied school trips over teachers' fears of being sued

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Posted in: News on October 7, 2009 @ 11:47 AM

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