Outdoor education centres hope to reopen to school trips after Easter
- Credit: Aylmerton Outdoor Education Centre
Outdoor education centres in Norfolk forced to close for almost a year hope to welcome back school trips before the summer.
Small centres that normally provide outdoor learning for thousands of school children but which have been unable to welcome trips due to coronavirus restrictions have seen income fall to almost zero.
According to recent UK Outdoors data, over 30 centres have closed since the beginning of the pandemic, with a further 20 under immediate threat of closure.
The School Travel Sector Stakeholder Group, convened by the Department for Education but representing outdoor education and school travel businesses, has now published a ‘Roadmap to Reopening’ that proposes a phased restart in the summer term.
The Government said guidance on residential school trips is to be reviewed later this month.
Mark Holroyd, operations manager at residential school trips provider Aylmerton Outdoor Education Centre, said he hoped to reopen in the summer term but expressed concern small centres could be limited by new rules designed for bigger operators.
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He said: “We are concerned about the term ‘phased restart’. For many larger centres with up to 1,000 children on site at any time, from a dozen or more schools, the need for phasing as they reopen is obvious.
“However, for the many smaller centres across the UK – our capacity is 90 – there is no need for phasing. Aylmerton can take one school, in their existing bubble, eliminating any need for phasing or significantly reduced capacities.”
North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker has been among MPs that have so far unsuccessfully lobbied culture secretary Oliver Dowden for outdoor education centres to be able to access the Culture Recovery Fund.
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Mr Holroyd said they had seen a 98pc drop in income but still had overheads of £10,000 a month.
“Twelve months without any income has been exceptionally challenging and we need to get back to welcoming our loyal schools, many of whom have been coming to Aylmerton for 20-30 years,” he said.
Outdoor learning leaders say educational visits bring students closer to nature and could play a vital role in the education catch-up for pupils.
Jim Whittaker, chairman of the Association of Heads of Outdoor Centres, said: “This is particularly true for disadvantaged children and the thousands of inner-city schools, students and parents for whom outdoor education is a unique and life changing experience."