Prime Minister Theresa May has pledged to double the number of pupils visiting national parks on school trips as part of a 25-year environment strategy.
As she unveiled the Government strategy at the London Wetland Centre in Barnes on Thursday, May 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.
“These young people are disproportionately from more deprived backgrounds and their effective exclusion from our countryside represents a social injustice I am determined to tackle.”
The centre the PM visited is one of many under the umbrella of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Centre Trust (WWT), which has welcomed the new Environment Plan as a clear signpost toward a greener UK and a major positive for learning outside the classroom.
Pictured: Theresa May speaking at the London Wetland Centre. (Photo credit: Ben Cherry and WWT).
Richard Benwell, WWT’s head of government affairs, told School Travel Organiser: “The great social and geographical divide in access to a quality outdoor learning environment is a modern day injustice. Every school child should be able to learn and play in a high quality natural environment, with clean air to breathe and safe wild spaces to explore.
“Proposals in the 25-year plan have the potential to improve the quality of urban greenspace and to facilitate outdoor learning, improving wellbeing and education around the country. Now we are looking for a clear implementation plan from Government to ensure its policy proposals are put into practice.”
There are nine WWT centres in the UK, and 50,000 schoolchildren learn about water and the natural environment at the Wetland Centres every year, including 15,000 from disadvantaged areas through a free school visits scheme. Workshops, suitable for all ages, range from pond dipping to bird watching.
The 25-year plan also puts fresh impetus on the National Park Authority to widen access for school children from 60,000 young visitors a year to 120,000.
The National Parks Authority provides a number of opportunities for school groups, including free teaching resources, lesson plans and field trip ideas. Educational opportunities at park locations from the Brecon Beacons to Cairngorms in Scotland, include guided walks and site visits with qualified and experienced education guides, curriculum tailored visits, practical fieldwork trips, and ‘help the ranger work’.
Amanda Elmes, who leads on learning and outreach in the South Downs National Park said: “Getting young people out and experiencing nature in the National Park is really important so it’s good to see this being prioritised in the 25-year-plan. We’re ready for the challenge!
“In 2017 we supported almost 70% of schools in and around the National Park used the South Downs for outdoor learning – that’s around 139,000 pupil days – and our school travel grant allowed 2,000 pupils who wouldn’t otherwise have been able to, get into the National Park.”
Elaine Skates, chief executive for the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom, also commented on the news: “We welcome the commitment with the 25 year plan to encourage children to be close to nature in and out of school. We know the enormous impact playing and learning outside can have on wellbeing, learning and development, but we also know schools need support to build their confidence in using their grounds and local natural spaces more regularly.”
More information about the 25-year plan and its impact on LOtC can be found at www.gov.uk/government.
(Lead image photo credit: WWT).