Outdoor education, not just a school trip
By Vicki McCreadie & Kate O’Callaghan
WWW Team HQ
Many may still perceive a residential school trip to an outdoor education centre as just another holiday. A way of missing classroom based education. Not a table performance qualification. Immeasurable in grade.
Well… that’s just it. It’s so vital that it is immeasurable. There’s a bigger picture and those that work within this industry do so because they see and experience, that bigger picture everyday.
I have spent the last 15 years dedicating my career to working within the outdoors. Not with holiday companies or visitors to the area. With centres, who are charitable and work with schools, colleges, youth groups and charities; all within one of the most deprived areas of the North West of England.
I spent 6 years working for, what was, an incredible high school setting up primary school packages in which children in the same deprived area could attend days of outdoor education for FREE! Breaking down the barrier of affordability and often other struggles that stop them from attending a normal residential. Until 2019 when that high school became an Academy and the department was shut.
I went freelance in February and come March, due to the pandemic, I saw a full diary from April until September disappear in a flash, much like many others freelancers in many other sectors. That also means outdoor education centres saw their bookings and income erased for 6 months.
A tough few months followed…
We waited patiently. Some centres managed to diversify, but many couldn’t. They and their staff continued to wait…
The hospitality sector reopened. Day visits were utilised as an option but this needs far fewer staff than the norm. Not much help was out there for us.
We waited… We sought advice… We were patient. Hopeful for support and a change in circumstances.
However, because of Covid 19 and the advice from the Department of Education, which advises schools not to participate in any residentials, outdoor education centres have had their doors shut for a full 9 months.
Not only is that detrimental to them being able to survive financially and or support their staff and freelancers, who are incredibly highly qualified and skilled within this area. BUT all of us support the HUGE point that this means thousands of children and adults across the UK have missed out on opportunities to access the great outdoors.
So after several months in lockdown and on top of the usual norm of living in cities with ever shrinking green spaces, with some children and young people never leaving the city they grew up in; that one opportunity they are offered to access outdoor education is now gone.
Why is this so important?
Because of its immeasurable impacts.
The opportunity to experience the outdoors, the mountains, the lakes, the sea, the caves. REALLY experience it; not just see it in pictures or hear about it.
A trip that will give them fundamental life skills, resilience, strength , building new relationships, gaining confidence, problem solving, team work, learning new skills, trust, exposure to something so different to the screens that dictate a lot of our lives , gaining confidence, patience, freedom, time… the list of the studies that prove the benefits more eloquently and statistically than I, could go on and on and on. It’s not a table performance qualification because it can’t be quantified.
Most of all it’s effects on people’s mental health is huge! Spending time within the natural world, going back to basics and having a break from the ever demanding world that we live in is vital. Not to mention this is the natural world in which we now need THEM to protect.
So we are asking for your help,
I’ve seen first hand what happens to outdoor education when profitable companies take over. Our centres are in trouble, they will struggle to survive a winter of no groups, jobs will be lost but more scarily… centres may be sold. Forever.
There is a petition to get our voices heard, to ask the Department for Education to reconsider their advice, to ask that the outdoor sector be supported through this crisis so that we can avoid loosing outdoor education all together.
9 months of no access to the outdoors is bad enough, let’s not make it inaccessible forever.
There are a number of studies that prove not only the impact of the fundamental life skills that Vicki talks about but also the increased school / academic performance – improved test results, increase in attendance, attitude to learning, reduced behavioural problems etc. Outdoor education is a huge support / integral intervention helping towards the improved academic outcome that the Department for Education are so focused on.
Everything about the life changing experiences our young people are exposed to during outdoor education result in a better future for our young people, they take these ever important life skills with them into their careers or higher education and strive for more, succeed more. The young people our industry are working with at the moment are the leaders of the future, these skills and the increased academic performance are fundamental to each and every young person from all backgrounds. Outdoor educational charities and organisations are giving these opportunities to ALL of our young people, helping to secure the futures of those that may be less fortunate in life.
Our industry works with MILLIONs of young people EACH YEAR! These experiences are needed now more than ever. All of the benefits we talk of around mental health, resilience, confidence, adaptability etc are the fundamental skills that will help our young people navigate their way through this pandemic and whatever it leaves in its wake. An opportunity to explore the unknown, navigate through behaviours that are a result of all of the uncertainty around us in a safe and supportive environment. Understanding these behaviours and how they can use them to their advantage to drive their futures is vital during these times.
There are more than 15,000 jobs at risk in the outdoor education industry, the enormous impact this will have on our young people’s future is immeasurable. Imagine the impact these 15,000 people have had on millions of young people each year, the millions of life changing and often life saving moments that all of these people have created and witnessed – it is more than just a job.