Government urged to support outdoor learning
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Government urged to support outdoor learning

A coalition of non-for-profit school residential and educational providers has written to the government urging it to extend the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and bring forward funding intended to support outdoor learning as outlined through the aims of the Landscape Review.

Over half a million children have missed out on a school residential this year. With more than 2 million households having been through lockdown without a garden, many children and young people have had even less access to the known benefits of the outdoors.

The coalition welcomed the recent announcement for the extension of the Job Retention Scheme. It now awaits details to see how it might be possible to bring staff back part time and help re-open provision.

However, there are still a fears that education and residential providers will be amongst the last to benefit from the easing of social distancing restrictions, which has prompted the Access Unlimited coalition to take action to protect the future of outdoor learning.

The CEOs of YHA (England & Wales), The Outward Bound Trust, Scouts, Girlguiding, Field Studies Council and the National Parks, wrote to the Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson last week, urging him to not to forget about outdoor learning and bring forward funding that has been earmarked for ‘a night under the stars in a national landscape for every child’ following the Landscape Review.

The Review, which was commissioned by Michael Gove through DEFRA and led by Julian Glover, made a number of proposals designed to reverse environmental decline in England’s National Parks.

Amongst the proposals, one of the recommendations stated that every schoolchild should be given the chance to visit the National Parks and spend a night under the stars. This builds on evidence of the importance of both outdoor learning and residentials in both academic progress and well-being; as well as the crucial role in developing young people’s connections to the environment and nature.

Andy Leming, Deputy Head, Coppice Primary School said: “Outdoor learning and residentials are very important to us. We know many children have missed out this year on something which makes a real difference to them. When the time is right, we want to return in the next (2020/21) academic year. While it is not possible to take our planned residential, we are also looking for ways to work in partnership to find other solutions and ensure young people are not missing out on all that outdoor learning has to offer.”

With business as normal expected to return more slowly to providers of outdoor educational and residential experiences, the coalition continues to be concerned that the entire outdoor learning community will be financially vulnerable during winter, a period which would normally have been funded by successful summer and autumn trading.

Bringing forward the funding and ensuring the sector is not forgotten will safeguard survival of not-for-profit school residential and educational providers in National Parks, help with the recovery of the National Parks and invest in the futures of young people.

Recognising the impact that the crisis has had on schools and families, the coalition is also asking for the Department for Education to create a hardship fund for schools who have had trips cancelled but not yet had monies refunded by insurers and need to repay parents.

The coalition are also looking at how they can work in partnership with their schools to see how the sector could be part of the solution to getting education restarted; a move that teachers have welcome.

Trevor Beattie, Chief Executive of the South Downs National Park and who leads the education portfolio for UK National Parks, said: “Outdoor learning in our wonderful National Parks has the power to transform lives – often inspiring a life-long connection with nature that helps young people become custodians of our precious environment.

“A key focus of the Government-backed Glover Review was to connect young people and harder-to-reach groups with their national landscapes and we must not lose sight of this long-term ambition.

“As we enter the recovery phase of the COVID-19 pandemic in the months and years ahead, National Parks remain the nation’s breathing spaces, with the ability to support the healing process and promote lasting well-being benefits. Outdoor education for young people is at the heart of this service and its long-term viability must continue to be a priority.”

James Blake, Chief Executive of YHA (England & Wales) said: “There are two million households, many of which have children, living through lockdown without a garden, it is these children that stand to lose the most from missing out on a residential learning experience in the National Parks. It is imperative that, collectively, the Access Unlimited coalition secures support from the government so that we can continue to deliver life enhancing residential experiences to every child in the 2020/21 school year and beyond.”

Mark Castle, CEO of the Field Studies Council, added: “There is no substitute for the real thing. Connecting children to nature through first-hand experiences reignites their passion for learning, feeds their curiosity and often sparks an interest in looking after our world. Sadly, those that would benefit the most are the most likely to miss out. This has been further exacerbated with so many children being out of school. Urgent intervention is needed to ensure that a generation don’t miss out”

Matt Hyde, Chief Executive, The Scouts said: “We cannot overestimate the value of outdoor learning and school residentials for Britain’s young people. For 112 years, the Scouts has been giving young people across the country the opportunity to learn outdoors, develop skills for life and experience fun and adventure. Having these experiences is critical to the development of children and young people and we must ensure the current generation, and future generations, do not lose out on the opportunities that have been given to so many others.”

Girlguiding Chief Executive Angela Salt OBE said: “For girls and young women, and all young people, access to the outdoors is an enormous source of enjoyment and enriches their learning. That young people are missing out on these opportunities now will already be having an impact. Outdoor adventure is one of the things our nearly 500,000 members value most about guiding and is a cornerstone of our programme for girls. Our recent Planet Protectors campaign shows how girls care deeply about protecting the natural environment for everyone to enjoy into the future. We wholeheartedly want to see opportunities secured for every child and young person to benefit from outdoor learning and adventure as a crucial part of recovery.”

Nick Barrett, Chief Executive, The Outward Bound Trust, added: “Adventure in wild places is great for young people. Resilience, challenge, teamwork, fun and emotional well-being are just some of what young people will need in abundance in the years ahead. Outdoor learning is so powerful in all these respects and we simply cannot allow it to disappear for a generation of young people.”

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