Who killed the school trip?

The UK government wants children to get out and about - but it was its own suspicious regulation of adults that cast a cloud over such adventures.

Josie Appleton

Topics Politics

Today, the UK government will issue a call to bring back the school trip. It is launching a new independent council, because it wants to reassure teachers (who are apparently afraid of being sued) and parents (afraid that children could come to harm) that school trips are safe, and that they are good for kids, too.

Yet the government has just waved through legislation that makes organising a school trip very difficult, if not impossible. The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill – against which I am coordinating a campaign – will make it compulsory for any adult who comes into contact with a child as part of his or her working day to undergo criminal records vetting.

For the average school trip, this will mean bus drivers who drive the kids, workers at the hotel where the children are staying, any parent or adult volunteers, and any foreign exchange families. (Foreign exchange families cannot presently be vetted, which is why one Scottish local authority decided to cancel all overseas trips for its local schoolchildren.)

Vetting is costly and time-consuming – and it is part of the growing official regulation of relationships between adults and children. These regulations call into question the open encounters that kids experience on school trips, whether it’s the cranky geologist telling you about rocks or French or German parents showing you around their town. To go anywhere near a child now, adults require a Criminal Records Bureau certificate and various other certificates showing that they have been on the requisite child protection courses.

Relating to children is becoming a specialised profession, rather than the job of any adult with a bit of common sense and some experience from which children might benefit. Official regulations treat anything that takes kids away from the classroom as a problem. Even university interviews now have special guidelines on how tutors should relate to 17-year-old interviewees (see Just 17? Then forget university, by Josie Appleton).

In the midst of this, how dare the government call for more adventurous school trips? It’s true that officials frequently launch big campaigns against trends that bear their fingerprints – the Health and Safety Commission launches initiatives against safety-first regulations, for example, while the Commission for Racial Equality takes on multicultural politics.

Yet these are all managerial reactions to a problem. Indeed, the government campaign to save the school trip is as dull as can be. There will be a new independent council, which will give teachers special training and provide them with special ‘out and about’ packs. These officials even manage to make the school trip sound boring, by calling it ‘learning outside the classroom’.

Worst of all, the government’s main justification for rescuing school trips is that they can help tackle childhood obesity. Aside from the fact that one of the defining features of school trips is that you eat a lot of unhealthy food (I remember many a happy hour with platefuls of German ‘Spaghetti ice’), this is an extraordinarily narrow-spirited logic.

The point about school trips is that they expand your mind, not that they limit your waistline. You are travelling to new places with your friends and without your parents, and with teachers who are a little less uptight than normal. You always come back a bit more independent, and a bit more inspired by geography or German now that you can see how such subjects might actually be useful. I recall one biology fieldtrip where we counted seaweed species by day and whisky species by night: a liberal education that has left all branches of the fucus family imprinted on my brain.

So three cheers for the school trip, and boo to the Better School Trip Commission! School trips thrive on the spirit of adventure, not on ‘out-and-about’ packs about how ‘learning outside the classroom’ can help meet obesity targets.

Josie Appleton is convenor of the Manifesto Club, which is currently campaigning against the expansion of vetting. For more information read the report The Case Against Vetting.

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Topics Politics


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