Outdoor education left out in the cold

Government proposals to delegate education spending to schools, leaving local authorities with a purely strategic role, could deal a devastating blow to outdoor education, leading to the closure of some residential centres. So argues the Association of Heads of Outdoor Education Centres (AHOEC) in its response to the Government's proposals. The association wants oudoor education to continue to be funded centrally.

"Every outdoor centre run by a local authority is at risk," says Phil Simpson, chair of AHOEC, which represents more than 50 such centres. The Government's Fair Funding consultation paper recognises that music is one area of provision which needs to be funded centrally, and goes on:

"Arguments for treating music as a special case could be extended to a number of other LEA-controlled budgets that widen the range of pupils' educational experience." Examples given include dance, drama and outdoor education.

"Throughout the paper," says Phil Simpson, "the word 'music' could be replaced with the words 'outdoor education' and the argument would remain sound. "

Britain leads the world in outdoor education and schemes such as the Duke of Edinburgh's award have grown out of a long tradition of personal and social development in an oudoor environment.

Centres also have an in-service training role, for Duke of Edinburgh Award leaders and for schools offering their own outdoor activities.

"The Government doesn't seem to realise what a gem it is about to throw away," said Bill Taylor, head of Worcester's Llanrug Centre in North Wales.AHOEC argues that past delegation of funding through local management of schools resulted in a loss of revenue for centres.

"Delegation leads to it being spent on other things," argues Bill Taylor."Invariably the costs have been passed straight on to parents. In a world with no general subsidy, the only people getting the benefits will be those who can afford it."

Centres point out that demand for outdoor activities is high and most would survive the upheaval, but there would be changes. Centres would have to water down the educational experience offered.

"It would become too expensive to employ teachers to lead the activities," says Andy Hall, head of the Shropshire Outdoor Centre in Arthog, Wales. "It would be a recreational rather than an educational experience."

"The irony of the timing," says Phil Simpson, "Is that the Government is very concerned at the moment with values, education and citizenship, yet these are often best delivered in a challenging residential setting."

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