Councillor Paul Andrews with his yacht Apollo

Do We Have An Obsession With Qualifications? : --

I can remember how, when I was a teenager, I was taken on several outward bound adventures by my school, its scout troop, and holiday centres. These included camping near the top of Welsh mountains in Winter, exploring caves, and even a bit of sailing. It was all good character building stuff. It was often hard, occasionally exciting, but always good to talk about afterwards! And none of the teachers had to have any special qualifications, although I am sure they had a lot of experience.

Teachers were encouraged to take children on these expeditions, and they were a welcome change to the school's daily routine for teachers and children alike. Out of school activities could be used to reinforce discipline within school: children could be told that they would not be allowed to go unless they behaved themselves in school.

There was always a risk of injury, and I used to think that it was the element of danger that made many of these activities worth doing. The only mishap at my school was once, when, during a winter expedition, there was an explosion on one Welsh mountain, when a tent got too full of gas, and camp had to be struck in the middle of the night. Fortunately, no-one was seriously hurt. However, one did occasionally hear of serious accidents and near escapes in other schools, but this was something that used to be accepted.

Since then there has been a determined effort to take the risk and the danger out of any school outdoor adventure activity. A few bad cases involving loss of life, and the abuse of the system by some paedophiles resulted in severe restrictions. No teacher can lead an activity unless they are qualified. Whilst one can sympathise with the reasons for this policy, it seems to have been taken to extremes. So, for example, a scoutmaster of a sea scout troop, who had passed all his DOT "Yachtmaster" exams so as to be able to read maritime charts, suddenly found he could not take his troop over the moors, without having to get additional qualifications in orienteering! Indeed, I believe the emphasis on qualifications may have hit the Scout movement very hard.

Of course, volunteers do not have the time or the money to do as many courses as they would like to do. So the emphasis on qualifications may have discouraged many people who would like to have become volunteer instructors, whether school teachers or not.

So a new industry of qualified instructors at specialist outdoor centres has grown up: teachers take the children to the centre, and then hand them over to the qualified "experts". The system works well, and outdoor centres have mushroomed in recent years. However, like all such systems, they have to be paid for, and the children whose parents can't afford to pay, can't go.

Parents are encouraged to litigate, when they would not even have thought of taking a teacher to court before. So the insurance companies have tightened up their policies to further restrict what "unqualified" volunteer youth leaders and teachers can do. Teachers can now be prosecuted in a criminal court, and I believe the insurance companies have declared that their policies do not cover criminal proceedings. So, it should be no surprise that the teaching unions are now advising all teachers, however experienced, not to do any out of school excursions at all, unless they have the necessary paper qualifications. Teachers who do have the necessary qualifications find the amount of paperwork they have to do discouraging.

I wonder if I am alone in thinking that children - particularly teenagers - find physical challenges very stimulating, and that this is something they need just as much as intellectual study in the class room? If children - particularly the children of poorer parents - are unable to find physical challenges in an organised way, should we be surprised if so many teenagers kick over the traces, and seek physical challenges from anti-social behaviour so as to establish their "street cred"? Perhaps a possible solution would be to provide the resources to make it possible for all children to benefit from the present system without having to pay.

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