As I write this we are stepping up preparations for the 2018 UK Outdoor Learning Sector Conference. Its inception, planning, content and ultimately the event itself, has and will be representative of the evolution of the Sector in recent years. It will be attended by a wide variety of folk from a wide range of different outdoor learning practice areas, some long established and some more recently developed.
If you attend you will bump into people with a passion for ensuring the value placed on outdoor learning and the numbers participating continue to grow: people like experienced National Park educators, innovative youth workers, inspiring teachers, informed civil servants, attentive research associates, strategic business leaders, creative programme designers....must I go on!
Why have we arrived at this diverse gathering and what does the future hold for the Outdoor Learning Sector in the UK and further afield?
The evolution of the sector has arrived at this stage because there was, and remains a need for professionalism, cohesion and careful articulation if we are to be taken seriously by government, policy makers, funders et al. I’ve had the privilege of observing and assisting a group of dedicated outdoor folk grapple with how to achieve this for the past nine years. Whilst the benefits of concepts such as a clear voice to governments, structured and recognised careers & qualifications, good practice standards supported by evidence and vibrant networks supporting high quality CPD & business development, are inarguable, how they are achieved with the support of all, is a harder thing all together.
The conference is a combination of an examination of progress in delivering these benefits and the on-going building of understanding and consensus around how to deliver the next steps. Just in case you’re thinking that enough has been achieved recently; a new employer led apprenticeship, outdoor learning research hubs across the UK and a significant investment by Dept for Education & DEFRA in new outdoor learning activity, to name a few, I am clear that we are on a journey that is far from over. So, what is on the horizon?
Well I can think of a few growing issues for us to grapple with such as: managing the impact of increased participation; developing better understanding of how to engage with and benefit from outdoor learning; enabling access to green spaces; articulating our valuable economic & social sector contribution through vocational standards and sector wide metrics; and demonstrating the professionalism of provision through a sector led inspection and licensing regime. None of this can be achieved without careful conversations between us and the valuing of a wide range of viewpoints.
It seems to me that most, if not all, of what’s been achieved to date and the developmental issues to come, were not and are not simply for a national debate. We work in natural environments that vary region by region across the UK. When that fact is mixed with the range of practices and beneficiaries involved in outdoor learning, the need for local or regional dialogue as well as national, is clear. I’m encouraged that regional practitioner gatherings are increasingly about common issues and opportunities being shared across a range of outdoor learning communities. I found myself recently in a debate about the need for face-to-face regional networking and CPD activity given the growthm in online and virtual options. My experience has been that to achieve the change of the last few years in our sector we need to draw on all available options to develop understanding and commitment. With that in mind I encourage you to consider the potential changes influencing your practice and beneficiaries. Look out for the opportunities to engage with the debates and initiatives shaping outdoor learning both locally and nationally. The Institute will continue to seek to present those opportunities to you.