Learning outside should no longer be a ‘box-ticking’ exercise

Children and teachers must be supported to step out of the classroom with outdoor education the key to unlocking barriers to learning.

That’s the message from the Field Studies Council (FSC), which fears outdoor lessons may become a ‘box-ticking’ exercise as pressures on schools and curriculums continue to increase.

Mark Castle, chief executive of the FSC, which welcomed more than 165,000 students to its network of educational centres last year and has its headquarters in Preston Montoford near Shrewsbury, says engaging children in the outdoors is key to both protecting our “crisis-stricken planet” and to stimulating curiosity of the natural world.

He believes education leaders and the Government must do all they can to support schools by funding outdoor learning opportunities with more than eight out of ten UK teachers wanting to take their classes outside more often.*

Mr Castle, who will speak at a conference in London next week to mark the end of the FSC’s 75th year and to promote the importance of outdoor learning, said: “The UK and the rest of the world is currently facing the two biggest challenges of our time – climate change and biodiversity loss.

“We need everyone to not only care about the danger that our planet faces, but have the knowledge and ability to take action.

“This means we need everyone to be curious, knowledgeable, passionate and caring about our environment. By creating a world where everyone feels connected to the environment, we will help them enjoy the benefits it gives but also make the choices that help to protect it.

“This connection must start at a young age. Children are the key to protecting the future of our crisis-stricken planet.

“We therefore need to create more opportunities for children to learn outside the classroom and we must remove any barriers which prevent this from happening on a day-to-day basis whether it be funding, confidence, training or poor transport links.

“Getting children outside to learn must no longer be seen as a box-ticking exercise as and when schools have the time and budget. Schools must be supported to teach outside at every opportunity, encouraging youngsters to learn more freely through outdoor field experiences and adventure.”

Mr Castle is one of a number of high profile, expert speakers who will be attending ‘The Vital Nature of Field Studies’ conference in Piccadilly on December 4, at which he will launch the FSC’s new five year strategy.

The 2020-25 plan sets out FSC’s continued commitment to providing high quality outdoor education to children but also highlights the pressing need for it to provide opportunities for people of all ages to connect with the natural world.

The charity’s mission over the next five years is to ‘create outstanding opportunities which inspire everyone to engage with and care for the environment’.

The strategy outlines FSC’s ambition to encourage more people into the great outdoors and to achieve greater environmental awareness.

It outlines how the organisation will continue to use its network of UK field study centres to connect school children, college and university students with the environment but also reveals an expanded education programme which will target pre-schoolers, community groups and international audiences as well as new outreach programmes to encourage life-long learning in the outdoors.

A core part of the strategy focuses on the FSC using its expertise and knowledge to influence national decision makers to shape the agenda for outdoor learning and making sure it is included in school curricula.

Promoting environmental sustainability and valuing the health benefits of the outdoors are also key objectives outlined in the plan.

Academics from across the UK, as well as experts from leading environmental organisations, will hear first-hand about the new ambitious strategy from Mr Castle.

Many of the experts will also be speaking at the event, which aims to shine a spotlight on outdoor learning.

Geology “rock star” and TV presenter Professor Iain Stewart, from the University of Plymouth is among the speakers.

Best known for his science shows such as ‘Men of Rock’ and ‘How the Earth Made Us’, the BBC presenter will give a talk on ‘Promoting field studies and their impact’.

Also addressing the conference which will be hosted and supported by The Linnean Society of London will be Professor Tim Burt, president of FSC, Professor Des Thompson, chair of FSC, writer and producer Mary Colwell, Gill Miller, president of the Geographical Association, Christina Ravinet from the British Ecological Society and a host of other experts.

For more information on the FSC-led conference which is being supported by the Royal Geographical Association, CIEEM, British Ecological Society, Royal Scottish Geographical Society, and the Geographical Association visit https://www.field-studies-council.org/the-vital-nature-of-field-studies/

*https://outdoorclassroomday.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/FINAL-Project-Dirt-Survey-Outdoor-Play-and-Learning-at-School-2018-15.05.18.pdf

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