The last few months have been a time of an enforced and increased focus on many things that have a direct bearing on the world of outdoor learning. Changing sources of physical and mental health, tests of financial sustainability and alternative approaches to meeting learning and development needs are a few that spring to mind. These and other issues are ones that have received increased attention at a personal, organisation and wider community level.
I have had some very challenging conversations across our professional community as new legislation and government guidance has forced long established ways of delivering outdoor learning to become at least temporarily unavailable. This has had significant personal impacts which I’m sure you’ve either experienced or noticed. Impacts that may take a while to rebuild from and may require change to practices and organisation models.
The last few months has also shone a very hard light on the value placed on outdoor learning and the role it plays in school led education and wider society. Some of the issues revealed have been uncomfortable. At a time when children and young people especially, should have been turning to the outdoors as a valuable option for restoring self-confidence, contributing to their on-going education and presenting healthy options to engage with the natural environment, too often the opposite has happened. Even in the parts of the UK where outdoor learning is built into curriculum delivery the residential models that are so often core to that delivery have been excluded and delivery models have broken down.
I think the big lesson here is not so much that outdoor learning is not truly valued in UK society, rather that the current approaches are not realising its true potential and importantly not sufficiently progressive or integrated in their nature.
A series of disparate experiences in the outdoors before reaching adulthood with limited clear progression and recognition of contribution to wider personal development is a problem.
This problem is magnified when society is forced to jettison any ‘unnecessary’ activity that is perceived to contribute to the impact of a pandemic.
Whilst I’ve no doubt that the coming months will continue to see legislation and guidance that restricts or even completely rules out certain practice. I am also clear that learning and development outdoors can be much more impactful than screen-based activity and involves much lower risk of transmission that indoor groupings.
UKOutdoors has become a very useful vehicle for getting a clearer and more consistent dialogue with some key influencers of the constraints impacting outdoor learning. The conversations around the UKOutdoors Transformation Group table have also revealed how much more there is still to do in establishing an integrated and progressive model that adds value to activity at regional, home nation and UK wide levels. For the rich and varied outdoor learning practices, organisations and representative bodies across the UK to better contribute to the development of individuals and society, we must continue to seek common ground.
I’m personally encouraged by the progress made with building UKOutdoors during the testing last 6 months. I encourage you to consider what it is that you and the beneficiaries of your practice need from a UK wide body that provides a voice, standards, guidance and accreditation across the whole of outdoor learning. Please share your thoughts through contacting me or any of the team firstname.lastname@example.org