return all monies to schools and parents. Whilst we have been able to refund all along, there have been many providers that have not been able to offer this support and their parents have been left footing the bill, and I don’t think that’s fair. The financial risk is certainly a major concern for all schools and parents and our sector needs to restore confidence today if the industry has any chance of surviving this pandemic. Therefore, Active Learning Group and all of its brands – Bushcraft, Ardmore, SuperCamps, and Cuffley Active Learning Centre – will continue to promise a full refund to our schools and, in turn, their parents in the event of a course being cancelled due to COVID- 19.

Outdoor learning is not a new thing. For

decades, our teachers, parents and guardians have agreed that getting children outdoors is a good thing, a view corroborated within the Learning Away Final Evaluation Report from 2015 (York Consulting), that stated ‘a residential learning experience provides opportunities and benefits/impacts that cannot be achieved in any other educational context or setting’. Fresh air, exercise, physical challenges and social interaction/engagement are all necessary components for a young person’s physical and mental health and wellbeing However, as teachers of the digital age we

have a constant battle extolling the virtues of the great outdoors as opposed to the immediacy of their phones and pull of their Play Stations, but this is a battle we must win. This isn’t just an observation about general behavior or peaky complexions – this is about their resilience, their mental and physical strength and their future health.

Mental health Today, we know that one in nine primary school children suffer from mental health issues, and one in five are clinically obese. This has certainly been exacerbated during lockdown months, with a fraction of the time spent outside. According to a recent report, just 47% of children and young people currently meet the Chief Medical Officer’s Physical Activity Guidelines and participate in an average of 60 minutes or more of physical activity a day, with boys being more likely than girls to meet the recommended levels. Figures within the report suggest there has been a sharp rise in anxiety, sleep problems, eating disorders and self- harming. These are all prime examples of why outdoor extracurricular activities are essential to our children’s mental and physical development and why they are needed now more than ever. C onfidence, Curiosity and Character I would suggest that anyone that is truly entwined in education would agree that the three C’s of extra-curricular activity – Confidence, Curiosity and Character (possibly with a fourth C, Compassion), are just as important in our young peoples’ development as the three ‘Rs’. We must look at how we develop the whole person with age-appropriate outdoor, as well as indoor, experiences outside of the classroom. Without doubt, there are some children who may not do

January 2021

well in a traditional classroom setting, that truly excel and come completely out of their shell when taking part in an outdoor activity – it’s so important we create learning environments that provide opportunities for every young person. Indeed, as the noted Swiss child development psychologist Jean Piaget once said, “Play is the answer to how everything new comes about”. Regardless of COVID-19, it’s imperative that

we stay focussed on the areas we need to improve upon to ensure we are creating the next generation of comfortable, resilient, creative and curious people enabled to pick up the gauntlet of leadership in any set of circumstances.

Safety and sustainability Whilst it’s understandable that we have all had to reassess how we live our lives throughout COVID, it’s been so frustrating to be denied the opportunity to deliver the experiences we so believe in, but also for us to continue to exist under huge uncertainties and a lack of focus given to the outdoor education industry. Without doubt, we are one of the most safety-

conscious sectors – every year we are responsible for the safety and welfare of over 100,000 4-18- year-olds. Obviously, COVID-19 has heightened everyone’s awareness of safety and of course we have gone to extensive lengths to ensure our environments are COVID-secure. However, we also need to take on board the alarming rise of mental health issues and childhood obesity, hindered by the lack of current opportunities, when looking at the overall welfare of our young people.

Wealth of talent I hope – no, I believe - there will be a resurgence of extra-curricular education in 2021 and beyond that this will include a full board of quality outdoor learning experiences, where children are actively encouraged to move away from their screens and get out into the fresh air to explore the wonders of their environments with established and trusted providers that harbour such a wealth of talent. One of the things we have had to look at

during lockdown is ensuring our parents and schools are not left out of pocket should the trip be cancelled. As part of our commitment to ensuring schools feel safe to book future trips – which is what the industry requires if we are to survive long term – we have made a promise to 29

Let’s go safely It goes without saying that while we fully support the measures and guidelines that have been put in place to protect our children, it is critical that we get our industry back delivering outdoor education experiences to young people once again. To that end, we have just launched this academic year (2020-2021) our ‘Let’s Go Safely’ campaign, which is a combination of giving an assurance of the COVID security of our operating environments together with the financial protection outlined above. There is a considerable number of reputable

smaller companies that have been completely wiped out during these unprecedented times and that is a disaster for our sector, our schools and, most importantly, our children long term. This is a worrying trajectory. Our staff are highly skilled individuals and trained to the highest levels of safety. We want to be able to deliver these unforgettable student experiences and highlight that it is critical we keep staff members in employment else, we will lose such a valuable pool of experience. Post COVID-19, economies will recover in time

and important lessons will be learned but let us not forget a generation will have missed out on vital elements of ‘coming of age’, and healthy transitions from early years to primary, to secondary and further education. We must not underestimate the strain this will place on our already stretched to capacity services for the rest of their lives and we hope that our Active Learning Promise: to ensure absolute safety to our children and our staff, and providing financial security for parents, will help to get extracurricular education back on its feet as soon as possible in 2021.

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