THE Countryside Alliance has some good news for teachers and parents on rural education. Following concerns about outbreaks of E.Coli on petting farms, we have published encouraging research on the low risks associated with school trips.

Teachers have told us that they would love to offer more outdoor education but health and safety and the threat of being sued is a concern. The Countryside Alliance is calling for outdoor education to be put onto the National Curriculum, and our research shows how easily it could, and should, be done.

We asked local authorities how many legal claims relating to children injured on school trips they received between 1998 and 2008. Across the 138 responding local authorities, 364 legal claims were made for school trip injuries, with fewer than half resulting in payouts. Local authorities paid out an average of £293 per year. That’s roughly the cost of one Playstation 3. These results should inspire confidence among teachers that the risk of being at the sharp end of litigation is low.

We sympathise with those affected by the E.Coli outbreaks, but barring children from contact with animals is an extreme response to a very manageable risk. The most effective way of preventing contraction of E.Coli is through thorough hand washing and good on farm hygiene procedures. Despite the recent E.Coli outbreaks on a small number of isolated farms, farm visit risks remain very low.

Children have become increasingly disconnected from the countryside – many don’t even know where milk comes from. The benefits of reconnecting children with our countryside and food chain, when done in a responsible way, outweigh the rare risks. We do not live in a risk-free world, so it’s best to embrace our countryside with common sense and boost the rural knowledge of the next generation.

Charley May, Education Campaign Officer, Countryside Alliance.