Byline: David Williamson
THE number of school trips to historic sites in Wales has plummeted in the past decade, new figures have revealed.
In 2008-9 there were 86,956 education visits to sites maintained by the Assembly Government's heritage body Cadw, down from 110,096 in 1999-2000.
Possible reasons for the fall include less time in the school curriculum, concerns about health and safety, and falling numbers of pupils.
The fall in such visits has sparked concerns that today's children are learning too little about their heritage.
Professor Peter Stead, a leading Welsh historian, said: "I think that's a tremendous shame... I find that quite devastating and I would urge the Assembly to make sure visits of this sort are programmed into the curriculum.
"It's essential children are taken to castles, archaeological sites and theatres." He said a school visit to Stratford-upon-Avon, the home of Shakespeare, had been "probably the most important thing in my whole education" and he called for trips to include destinations in England.
"I think trips to London and the major English cities should take place," he said. "People were telling me in the Valleys there is often tremendous anti-English prejudice and yet a lot of young people have never been to England." NUT Cymru secretary David Evans said: "It is a great shame because visits to Cadw sites and historical monuments do assist in the learning process. It's something that teachers do enjoy and many go into the profession to be able to teach and give a whole life experience outside the classroom as well." Mr Evans urged teachers to go ahead with visits, saying: "We periodically get calls from members who have concerns about taking school trips. Our advice is always the same: We tell them, provided they have made sure everything is in place, by all means go out and do these trips." Rex Phillips, NASUWT Wales organiser, said: "One of the factors must be there is so much in the curriculum that schools just can't find the time to take children out as much as they used to." The requirement to do detailed risk assessments is also a challenge for teachers.
He said: "It may be the amount of paperwork and burden involved in that is problematic. There is probably as much - or more - time taken up preparing for the trip than taking the trip." Mr Phillips said it was essential that teachers were accompanied by sufficient numbers of staff.
He said: "The one thing we are clear about is if you are driving a minibus there must be an adult on the bus to take charge of the children." Conservative Shadow Education Minister Paul Davies said more must be done to encourage such visits. …