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Leaders of outdoor learning wary of backlash from red tape

Influential figures in outdoor education fear that the introduction of new rules covering adventure sports will reduce the range of activities experienced by pupils.

On the one hand, highly bureaucratic regulation could make schools decide that certain activities were not worth the effort, they say. On the other, a more laissez-faire approach risks losing parents' confidence in the safety of their children.

The concerns emerged as the Scottish government started consultation on a new "safety system" for adventure activities last week.

It was prompted by the UK government's plan to replace the statutory Adventure Activities Licensing Authority (AALA) with a new voluntary code of practice.

The authority was established in 1995 to license caving, climbing, trekking and watersports operators after four young people died while kayaking at Lyme Bay in Dorset, in 1993. But many say its system is too complex and prohibitively expensive for smaller organisations.

"Schools need to be released from the bureaucracy that surrounds everyday low-risk activities, but they and parents will still want the comfort of higher-risk activities, where necessary, being subject to external accreditation," said Bruce Robertson, the former Highland and Aberdeenshire education director who chairs a national group on outdoor learning.

Mr Robertson acknowledged that the introduction of legislation had led to improvements. He added: "I am not convinced that there is a strong case for change, and any change that is mooted must not diminish the excellent progress that has been made.

"We certainly do not want any changes made that could inhibit outdoor learning activity and diminish confidence in parents."

Barry Fisher, director of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award in Scotland, said: "For me, the overwhelming issue regarding the future for AALA is maintaining the confidence of both parents and establishments in providing outdoor learning experiences. My view is that AALA has provided this confidence."

Shona Robison, the minister for commonwealth games and sport, stressed that Scotland would not necessarily follow the route taken by the UK government and has not ruled out maintaining the status quo.

During the consultation, which runs until 30 March, a number of regional events will be held across Scotland.

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