Pupils return to outdoor education as charity bounces back from the pandemic

Thousands of schoolchildren are to benefit from learning outdoors this autumn as a Shropshire-based environmental education charity bounces back from the pandemic.

The Field Studies Council, which has its headquarters located at Montford Bridge near Shrewsbury as well as a network of residential centres across the UK, will open its doors to the first school visitors in England and Wales in the next couple of weeks.

With back-to-back bookings for the rest of the term, tutors are expecting the outdoor fun to return to pre-Covid levels.

“We are gearing up for an extremely busy term and we are all excited to get back to delivering our outdoor learning courses properly after so much disruption,” said FSC commercial director Ian Wainwright.

“There was a gradual reopening of centres from May onwards and we welcomed 35,000 learners across our centres in the run up to the school holidays but now we’re looking forward to getting back to delivering our full range of outdoor learning courses.

“We’ve already welcomed some Scottish students who returned to school in August and we have in the region of 284 schools, colleges and universities booked in between now and December, which means we are expecting around 10,690 learners to visit our sites.

“What this demonstrates is that teachers are very much on the lookout for ways to take learning outside the classroom and connect pupils with nature, which is just brilliant.

“There are so many benefits to learning outdoors – from the positive impact it has on academic learning to improved mental and physical wellbeing, and of course all the other things too like building confidence in younger learners and supporting children to build positive relationships with their peers and teachers.

“It’s been such a challenging 18 months for everyone and all of us at FSC are very much looking forward to welcoming learners back to our sites and exploring a range of natural environments with them.

"We’re also looking forward to working with schools and helping them plan their summer 2022 visits.”

When the pandemic first struck in March 2020, outdoor education centres were forced to close their doors to residential visitors and, unlike other industry sectors, they were not permitted to get back to business as usual due to significant restrictions on residential activities remaining in place.

The pro-longed closure of centres resulted in FSC losing in the region of £13 million in core revenue income.

However, despite the ongoing financial and operational challenges brought about by the pandemic, the charity continued to find ways to provide environmental learning to students and inspire a love of nature and fieldwork.

With very little warning or time, senior leaders and expert tutors devised a series of free online lessons which engaged almost 400,000 primary and secondary-school aged pupils in 32 different countries across the globe.

FSC’s wildlife publications were also distributed to thousands of families and individuals so people could continue to connect with their local wildlife habitats.

Adult learning courses in biodiversity also moved online to help support adults at home who were shielding or forced to isolate.

Switching to virtual learning was not the only way in which FSC’s charity leaders adapted to survive the pandemic. When guidelines allowed, it also opened up its properties for Covid-secure ‘Stay With Us’ family holidays, giving people the opportunity to enjoy space and freedom in nature away from home.

Mr Wainwright added: “Without doubt, Covid-19 has been the biggest challenge we have had to face in our entire 75 years of existence. Its impact on us and our beneficiaries has been profound.

"But, as FSC bounces back and the nation rebuilds, we know that the opportunities that we offer are needed more than ever before.”

For more information on the Field Studies Council and its courses, visit field-studies-council.org

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