Outdoor education community lobby Prime Minister

Over 200 leaders from the outdoor education sector, as well as high profile supporters, are among those who have put their names to a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling on him to allow the outdoor education sector to reopen.

In the letter, the positive role that outdoor education plays in the wellbeing of the nation’s children is outlined, as well as the part the sector can play in supporting their recovery from the effects of the pandemic.

However, the serious impact that the pandemic has had on the industry is highlighted, and the Prime Minister is urged to ensure that outdoor education is part of the Government’s wider reopening of education, with both day and overnight visits allowed to operate in the critical summer term.

Well known signatories to the letter include: Benedict Allen, explorer and author, Sir Michael Morpurgo OBE, former Children’s Laureate and author, Victoria Humphries, polar explorer and three times Guiness World Record holder and Sir Clive Woodward OBE, former coach of the England rugby team.

Andy Robinson, chief executive of Institute for Outdoor Learning and Member of UK Outdoors, said:

“The benefits of outdoor education are clear. Over the last year, so many children and young people have been locked down in cities and towns with restricted opportunities to connect with each other or with nature; the sector can play a critical role in helping them recover from the impact of COVID-19.”

The sector has formally submitted its proposal for inclusion in the Government’s Roadmap to the Department for Education, to ensure it can restart safely as soon as possible. The proposal includes day visits restarting from 29 March and residential from 17 May, in line with Step 3. A final decision is expected in the week commencing 1 March.

Jim Whittaker, chair of Association of Heads of Outdoors Centres and UK outdoors member, said: “The outdoor education sector is willing and able to help children recover from this awful pandemic. We call on the Prime Minister to allow the sector do what it does best and open in the summer term, so that we can work with young people to help them achieve their full potential.”

The letter read:

Dear Prime Minister,

Children and young people have been among those most impacted by the COVID pandemic. All have missed vital school hours and valuable time with friends, while being confined to their houses with limited access to the outdoors and the life enhancing experiences it can bring.

With over two million children a year taking part in outdoor education, the benefits to health and wellbeing and to socio-emotional learning outcomes (including self-confidence, teamwork and resilience) have been well evidenced. This is particularly true for disadvantaged children and the thousands of inner-city schools for whom outdoor education is often a unique experience.

As we recover from this pandemic, we need to help children across the UK regain these valuable learning experiences and outdoor education has a unique role to play in helping to restore and rebuild their confidence and mental health.

However, the pandemic has been catastrophic for outdoor education and, unless urgent action is taken, the sector will be decimated, with £600m of sector revenue already lost, resulting in 6,000 jobs gone and a further 10,000 jobs at risk.

We can still save this valuable sector, activate its huge resources to play a role in schoolchildren’s recovery from the pandemic, and protect its vital educational experiences for future generations.

To do that, outdoor education has to be part of the Government’s wider reopening of education, with both day and overnight visits allowed to operate, while following the sector’s COVID Safe Charter, in the summer term.

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