Government must save outdoor education centres for the sake of our young people
Outdoor education centres have fantastic benefits for children’s physical and mental health. Their collapse would not only be devastating for the economy, but for the development and education of young people.
I am massively worried about the devastating effects of this pandemic on young people.
Firstly, there is the enormous toll it has taken on their mental wellbeing. An online survey I ran in my own constituency found that more than half of those aged between 10 and 19 described their own mental health as poor, and around 7 in 10 saying their mental health was worse than it was this time last year, with many mentioning the stress of exams, not being able to see their friends and struggling to plan for the future.
Then there is the impact on their education. Headteachers that I speak to tell me that many children haven’t just fallen 10 months behind in their learning, some have gone back by about two years. By taking children out of the classroom environment for such a long period of time, many have disengaged with learning, struggling with confidence and many in early years have lost key social skills as a result of being apart from classmates and friends for so long.
Thankfully, here in the Lake District and right across the country, a solution is right on our doorstep. Outdoor education centres have long played a massive role in the development of young people. They harness teambuilding skills, improve confidence and, crucially, can restore a child’s love of learning. They do this all whilst exploring the great outdoors, providing fantastic benefits for children’s physical and mental health.
Once lockdown is over, these centres will never have been needed more
Many centres, such as the brilliant Bendrigg Trust here in Cumbria, do an amazing job in catering for young people with learning difficulties and disabilities – a group that have tragically been forgotten about this entire crisis. Once lockdown is over, these centres will never have been needed more.
However, as a result of the pandemic, the very future of this sector is at stake. Out of the 15,000 teachers and instructors employed in the sector, we’ve already seen 6,000 lose their jobs over the past 10 months and many more could soon disappear unless action is taking urgently to save them. The impact of the collapse of the outdoor education sector would not only be devastating for the economy, but it would be even worse for the development of young people.
The overwhelming case for protecting outdoor education centres has now been recognised by the devolved administrations in both Scotland and Northern Ireland who have each announced millions of pounds of sector-specific support. As vice-chair of the new APPG for outdoor learning I’m working with MPs from across the political divide to persuade the UK government to follow suit.
When this pandemic is over, outdoor centres need to be fighting ready to be deployed to play a big role in the development and education of children up and down the country.
For the sake of our young people, the Government must immediately help outdoor education centres not only to survive but to thrive.
Tim Farron is the Liberal Democrat MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale and vice-chair of the APPG for outdoor learning.