The Field Studies Council’s (FSC) chief executive has written to the Prime Minister asking him to rethink school guidance for the autumn term and to consider allowing overnight residential trips.

FSC primary pupils explore nature outdoors

The charity’s CEO Mark Castle highlighted the vital role that residentials will play in helping children to catch-up on lost learning. 

The FSC, which welcomes 150,000 school pupils each year to its network of residential centres, said it lost £9.7 million of business when it was forced to close all of its sites in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Mark Castle

Mark Castle.

Like many residential centres and attractions, the charity has made sure all of its sites and accommodation are Covid-secure, but still faces the prospect of not being able to open for the autumn term. 

The charity has said its revenue stream remains under threat because the Government is yet to provide a clear signal on when it might be able to resume overnight school trips.

Chief executive Mark Castle, said: “We have worked extremely hard to make all the changes needed to make our centres Covid-secure because the safety of our staff and visitors is our top priority.

“We have been round with the tape measure and reconfigured dormitories to take account of social distancing, we have carried out rigorous risk assessments at all centres and drawn up new protocols so we know we can open up and operate safely but at the moment we are not being given the chance to do so.”

In his letter titled ‘Cut the Gordian Knot so this charity can get on with levelling up’, Mark Castle explained that ‘residential trips play a vital role in levelling up and catching up’ and that the staff will know how to ‘enthuse and motivate students disengaged from school, by reconnecting them with the real world and engaging all their senses after weeks of lockdown and digital learning’.

He continued that the proposals set out by the Government are ‘clumsy’ and they risk ‘letting down disadvantaged learners’. He also added that the core of the FSC’s business, which is delivering curriculum-based courses where GCSE and A-Level students go to develop their environmental and fieldwork skills, is ‘dead and in the water’.

“There is no substitute for the real thing. By providing extended time with their own teachers as well as our tutors the most disadvantaged learners can start to level up. Currently the guidance prevents these opportunities, even though we at the FSC can offer Covid-secure accommodation.”

FSC’s chief executive Mark Castle in his letter to the Prime Minister

A double blow

The Government stated in its new school guidance, released in early July, that domestic trips could go ahead from the autumn, but only if they didn’t involve an overnight stay. The FSC has pointed out that on the same day the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) announced proposals to remove chunks of fieldwork and practical science from the 2021 summer exams and assessments.

Mark Castle added: “In many ways the Government is actively encouraging outdoor education because it’s easier to maintain social distancing, reduces the risk of infection and improves wellbeing but if the current restriction on overnight stays continues throughout the autumn and into next year, it will severely limit opportunities for young people to learn the practical science they need to develop skills for further study and employment.”

The Field Studies Council has been providing outdoor learning opportunities for 75 years and during lockdown provided free digital fieldwork lessons to more than 400,000 school children.