In 2011 education secretary Michael Gove told schools and local authorities to scrap “unnecessary paperwork” and the Department for Education shrank its 150 pages of guidance to eight. Mr Gove said it would mean a “more common sense approach to health and safety”.
Although most teachers welcomed the change, they say it has since made little or no difference to the frequency of school trips as workload and budget constraints – in both authorities and families – have offset any potential advantage.
Marianne Cutler, director of curriculum innovation at the Association for Science Education (ASE), said higher teacher attrition rates and an increasing focus on exams and results were making the climate for such trips harder.
“It means something has to give, and teachers will then say it’s too big an effort to go outside the classroom,” she said.
“It was good to reduce that Health and Safety Executive guidance, but it wasn’t the main reason schools and teachers decided against trips. For teachers who were snowed under and/or lacked confidence (to take pupils outside the classroom), it was just too difficult.”
Ms Cutler, who chairs the ASE’s Outdoor Science Working Group, will present evidence from a survey of hundreds of members to a House of Commons Select Committee on practical education later this year. The survey, due to be carried out this month, is a repeat of a similar ASE exercise three years ago that drew about 600 responses.
“It’s likely there will have been little impact from the new guidelines,” she said.
A spokeswoman from the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said headteachers had not noticed a great reduction in red tape and the number of trips had probably remained about the same.
Ian Bauckham, ASCL president, said: “If there is a barrier from teachers’ point of view it is general workload. There is so much additional work to be done in schools to plan for changes to curriculum, qualifications, SEN, to name a few, that teachers simply have less time to arrange trips.
“With budgets getting tighter, schools have less money available to fund additional activities, and pressure on family budgets in the last few years means that extra-curricular trips have come under pressure too.”
Shaz Minai, a maths teacher at Northampton School for Boys, has accompanied older pupils on overseas trips to several countries including Tunisia, Morocco, Russia, China and Japan.
“They can add so much to the educational and cultural experience of young people,” she said. “Our pupils are fascinated by the differences in the way other people live and what they learn at school.
“A lot of our children find learning a second language very hard, for instance. Yet in Tunisia they see pupils speak not just Arabic but French, then in secondary school also fluent English. And quite a lot of them speak Italian too.”
An exchange programme with countries including Turkey often shows British families that “it is an honour, not a burden, to have a guest”, added Ms Minai.
She admitted the cost of some trips – £1,400 to China – was too high for some families, even with the Pupil Premium and at least two years to save.
The school uses educational tour company Travelbound to arrange such travel. Bryn Robinson, managing director, said he welcomed the revised guidelines, which also explain the “much misunderstood area” of teachers’ fears of being sued in the event of an accident.
“The guidelines show that the government supports teachers who make the effort to take students on school trips. So many teachers tell us how these trips have sparked passion for study and broadened horizons.”