STO speaks to Jonathan Dean, an education officer for South Down National Park about the PM's 25-year environment plan.
Announcing the 25-year environment plan at the WWT London Wetland Centre, Theresa May acknowledged the desperate need to get children closer to nature and to encourage outdoor learning.
Outlining the pledge to get children, particularly inner-city school pupils, out into green spaces, the PM said: “More than one in ten young people do not spend time in the countryside or in large urban green spaces, meaning they are denied the benefits which spending time outdoors in the natural environment brings.
Here, we speak to Jonathan Dean on the reaction from the National Park Authority.
Theresa May wants to double the number of pupils visiting your parks on school trips. What’s the reaction been like from the National Parks?
Obviously everyone is very pleased - we are a family of parks and each one is its own entity. We’re working together as a group of educational teams across all the parks to make it easier and encourage more schools to come and visit. We’re really happy to see the parks being recognised as fantastic environments for learning.
How will the 25YEP affect your work?
The South Downs has a wide network of providers across its 100 mile radius and we will certainly see them getting busier. Other national parks have centres with field work staff who deliver a huge variety of sessions, while the approach taken here at South Downs is to signpost schools to the many opportunities that there are across the park. We hope to increasingly direct school groups to all of these educational opportunities.
How does the National Park Authority plan to build on the Government strategy?
As a group of parks, the education teams are working to create new video resources to make it easier for teachers and pupils to find out more about us. We want to explain why we have National, what their purposes are, why they’re so special and what you can do in them. These videos are in production now, in the hope that they will be ready later this year or early next year.
Theresa May has put particular emphasis on inner city children having access to outdoor areas. How do you encourage children to visit from urban areas?
We’re able to support groups from our urban fringes with a travel grant scheme, which gives a school up to £300 to cover coach travel or transport that they might not be able to afford otherwise.
The grant goes out to all eligible schools in April each year and is usually fully allocated by the end of that month. It’s really popular – you might say over subscribed. We’re working across the parks to try and increase the budget for this grant.
How do you make sure you’re constantly engaging with schools?
The South Downs specifically runs a lot of targeted work. We’ll identify local cities or towns that perhaps aren’t visiting us as much as they could, so we’ll target them through a specific project. This year, for example, we’re targeting schools in Portsmouth with a cutting edge archaeology project funded by the Heritage Lottery. We hope to show these schools through activities and resources that the National Park is right on their doorstep, and give them the confidence to plan visits.
Where do you see the future of learning outside the classroom?
I hope it will certainly continue to grow. Forest Schools are being taken up in big numbers at the moment which is great to see. Schools are also becoming more confident in taking trips outside – in our area its gone up over the last few years from 57% to 68%. I hope that’s partly due to the support we offer and the resources we have. We’d like to see that number keep growing. In fact, there is no reason why we shouldn’t be able to achieve a target where every child has made a visit to a National Park by the time they’ve left Primary school.
More on the National Park Authority
The National Park Authority provides a number of opportunities for school groups, including free teaching resources, lesson plans and field trip ideas. Educational opportunities include guided walks and site visits with education guides, curriculum tailored visits and practical fieldwork trips.