Well sooner or later someone had to say it. (Part 1)
I know it’s not a maths problem.
But it is a problem …and it does need to be grasped.
Many headteachers say the same. There are just as many of course, who are only too pleased to have ticked the box – “Outdoor learning? Yes, we’ve got some of that!” Move on to the next thing.
It’s a common problem with “branding” – everything under one name. If it’s called “Forest School,” it must mean outdoor learning, nature, play, all that stuff. But it’s not that simple. Forest School is a wide and variegated beast. Trainings for trainers can be very different and independent practitioners reflect these differences, not only in the quality of their training but also the motivations that brought them to the work in the first place.
Now, I’m all for independence but from a headteachers’ point-of-view, there are attractions to the Forest School “solution” which are problematic for outdoor learning achieving anything like the potential in school settings that the research suggests is possible – and when the Parent Association/Council etc. gets involved it can be even worse!
When the government funding was available for outdoor learning training, the Forest School Level 3 accreditation suited a lot of schools and heads. Often free, it offered a quickly achieved certification. What could be better? When the funding dried up, the momentum in the movement, those who had been convinced by the children and nature discussion, largely remained however. Parents, for example, who saw their children enjoying the ‘wellie-walks’ in the Early Years wondered what had happened to all the fun once they moved into ‘big school.’
There is nothing better for galvanising an agitating parent group than raising money for a ’cause’ – and there is nothing better to raise money for, than a gazebo! Or in ‘school-speak,’ an Outdoor Learning Classroom.
Heads are under pressure 360° – 24/7. We know that. Motivating their parent community, satisfying the outdoor learning (LOtC) requirements, monitoring professional development and demonstrating a committment to school-grounds development can have one, tidy solution: Focus the fund-raising attentions on something with high visibilty, get the raised garden beds in – that means ‘community’ and better still, business community involvement, if one of the big chains donates some permapine logs…and then? Find someone to oversee the show. Anyone?
First things first – Outdoor Learning is not an add-on. The hardest thing, even for highly motivated heads is to have the outdoor learning embedded in their school. Under pressure, it’s often the first cut. Until it is understood as a method not a subject, this will always be so.
When we buy in Forest School ‘experts’ like nature coaches, there is no requirement for the teachers themselves to change their teaching, to allow the children’s work to be more experiential.
Add-ons go first, even value-added add-ons!
The serious nature-based work that is taking place around the world with children and adolescents is as far removed from most of what goes on in our school ‘outdoor learning’ as it is from first rate teaching. If we want to actually make a difference, if we want to really help children, we need to get a lot more definite about how we teach. All the claims for personal development, 21st century skills and empathising with nature, simply can not be achieved by occasionally wandering about the school, collecting different coloured leaves, or the odd expedition to the plastic-lined pond.
There is a great deal more to it than that. The process is hugely important – from the preparation, the way experiences are drawn out and managed, the follow up, the linking that draws it all together – these different aspects all need to build together.
Outdoor learning may equal Forest School. It all depends. (…continued)