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Forest schools turn a new leaf

Pupils in north Wales could be spending more time outdoors following the launch of a pound;300,000 forest school. Delegates meeting last week at the annual Woodlands for Learning conference, in Mold, Flintshire, heard how the school's four sites should be up and running by early next year.

The North East Wales Forest School (Newfs) is the work of local authorities, the environmental charity Groundwork, and the Forest Education Initiative, which includes the Forestry Commission, various educational groups and representatives from the timber industry.

One of the aims of the initiative is to create more opportunities for pupils to do lessons in the countryside. Topics studied in the forest include ponds and streams, woodland habitats and creatures, plants and the environment, tree identification, mapping and sustainable forestry, arts and crafts, and maths.

Supporters also claim the forest school approach helps get learners ready to learn by building confidence and self-esteem.

Sue Williams, the Forestry Commission's woodlands for learning manager for north and mid-Wales, said: "We want teachers to use the countryside.

"But it doesn't just mean a coach trip once a year - they can do more with it, and the children tend to remember more than they do when they're sitting at desks."

Ms Williams said that such trips are currently "ad hoc and short term" and are often limited by funding. Some teachers are also discouraged by safety issues, but managers of the Newfs project hope to address such worries through training, insurance and risk assessments.

North-east Wales is the second region to take on paid staff to run a forest school. The first was Monmouthshire.

National lottery and other funding has been used to recruit and train four full-time staff to manage the four main sites in Denbighshire, Flintshire and Wrexham. The forest school will be free of charge during a two-year pilot scheme. Thereafter, it will cost pound;6 per day, per pupil.

Vanessa Cooke, Denbighshire county council's countryside officer for education, said: "There is huge support for this sort of outdoor activity."


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