What makes it difficult for schools and teachers to deliver outdoor learning? Well according to the research I commissioned, the biggest barrier was concern about health and safety, followed by a lack of funding, insufficient time in the curriculum and difficulties undertaking risk management. However another issue that was flagged up when we gave evidence at the Children, Schools and Families Committee, in the previous Parliamentary session, was the issue of rarely cover.
While most of the barriers are self explanatory, I'll just run through what rarely cover is for those unaccustomed to it.
When teachers take year groups on outdoor visits they have to organise cover for the lessons they can't attend when they're out. However in England as part of the The National Agreement on ‘Raising Standards and Tackling Workload’ the ability of teachers to do this has become limited.
As a result of this agreement, from 1st September 2009, schools are required to ensure that teachers and head teachers may be required to cover absent colleagues (whether planned or unplanned) only rarely. There is currently no statutory definition as to what 'rarely' means, which unfortunately means some schools are interpreting this as 'never'. Result - teachers won't take kids out the classroom because the head teacher can't ask other colleagues to cover. To be fair to the previous government they issued guidance saying that 'rarely' should not be interpreted as 'never' cover. They said that: " Learning Outside the Classroom activities should be built into an integrated curriculum. Outdoor learning will then be timetabled in advance and will only be subject to Rarely Cover provisions if the person timetabled to take the class is unforeseeably absent (i.e. sick on the day of the visit)."
The recommendation made by the Children, Schools and Families Committee, in the previous Parliamentary session, to make outdoor learning an entitlement within the curriculum is a big step forward in our aim to make the countryside a part of every child's education. While I can't wait to push this issue forward in the next Parliamentary session, politicians and many teachers need to be convinced that what we're asking for isn't an impossible demand. I personally don’t think it is because I know of a number of schools across England already delivering frequent outdoor learning. I feel the next step in the progress of our campaign is to build an evidence base on the schools currently doing good work as a vital source of information on how they overcome the barriers – such evidence would show that if these schools could do it, then there are no reasons why others can’t.
On this note, I’d welcome hearing from anyone who has experience of overcoming barriers to outdoor education in schools.