The Outdoor Education Council is lobbying for all schoolchildren to be given at least one residential experience. Phil Revell reports
This is the Year of Outdoor Education, but in many ways the aims of outdoor educators have not changed since the turn of the century, when Baden-Powell launched the Scouting movement, in the belief that contact with the outdoors would benefit the personal development of young people.
Today's young people may not be expected to dress up in funny hats and the standard of accommodation has moved up a notch, but the benefits are still the same.
Teachers who have taken pupils on residential trips emphasise the potential for personal development, the way that relationships improve and the increase in maturity of young people who have had to face a challenge as part of a team. Many see the experiences that underpin the trips as secondary to the trip itself.
"It's not the canoeing or the climbing or whatever," one instructor said. "It's the need to work co-operatively with others in unfamiliar surroundings, where everyone is unsure of their ability."
With that in mind the English Council for Outdoor Education is lobbying hard for all children to have a residential experience as part of their school education.
The idea is not new. Quite apart from the Scout and Guide movement, there has been long been a belief that such experiences are worthwhile.
The 1963 Newsom Report argued that inner-city children in particular need the chance to respond to "the challenge of adventure". The report anticipated the phraseology of the Nineties when it said: "The whole community needs to have a stake in something more than the streets in which they live."
More recently, under the last Conservative government, the draft national curriculum for physical education argued for "at least one" residential experience, a plea that Kenneth Clarke, then Education Secretary, vetoed - "for practical reasons".
Randall Williams, vice-chair of the English Outdoor Council, believes that those practical reasons may not now be so persuasive. He says a series of changes have put the issue back on the agenda.
"The time is ripe. Pre-election statements by the Labour party putting education forward as a priority, allied to changes in the ways that such a scheme could be funded, have encouraged us to look at this again."
The Council is proposing that Lottery money, perhaps channelled through the New Opportunities Fund, could be used to fund the scheme. It estimates that to fund a residential experience for an entire age cohort would cost Pounds 130 million.
Mr William's contrasts this with the Pounds 720 million that has been allocated by the Millennium Commission in only its first two years of operation. "This would be a popular way of returning Lottery funds to the people," he says. "It will promote widespread educational and social benefits in a very cost-effective way."
The proposal has the support of David Jameson MP and the Council was encouraged by the reaction of one schools minister, Estelle Morris, when the issue was broached earlier in the year.
Residential experience would not have to involve ropes, canoes and hiking boots. Mr Williams points out that music, drama and the arts could also be promoted.
The Council recognises that many parents are perfectly prepared to pay for school trips and suggests that any money should be targeted at those children who, for one reason or another, do not at the moment get the opportunity to go.
"It is exactly those children whose parents cannot afford a residential experience who should concern us most," Mr Williams says.
Residential Experience for All, a policy proposal from the English Outdoor Council is available from the Council. Tel: 01892 663888