Outdoor pursuits is a subject in its own right, but jobs are hard to find once you've trained. Phil Revell finds out what it takes to qualify
Joby Davis likes to relax by throwing somersaults in a plastic kayak. "I've always been into outdoor pursuits, especially kayaking," he says. The Bangor University PGCE student is just one of the thousands of people whose vision of sport stretches beyond a ball and a stadium. But the difference between him and the other paddlers at their favourite playspot in Anglesey's Menai Straits is that Joby has ambitions to be paid for his kayaking skills. He's about to qualify as a teacher in outdoor education.
Bangor offers a one-year course to about 16 students leading to qualified teacher status in outdoor pursuits. Since Liverpool John Moores University pulled out of the field two years ago, the north Wales PGCE is the only teacher training course for outdoor education in the country.
Outdoor activities have been a part of the PE curriculum for many years; about 60 local education authority centres employ outdoor education teachers. And most schools offer some adventurous activities; nearly all run Duke of Edinburgh award courses and a few sports colleges even specialise in outdoor pursuits. Increasing safety awareness has also reminded schools of the need for properly qualified leaders. But, despite all this - and the boom in outdoor pursuits as a younger generation has discovered new ways to play (for example, rodeo kayaking, snowboarding, freestyle climbing, windsurfing) - jobs in teaching for outdoor education specialists are rare, as Tim Jepson, Bangor's course leader, reminds students when they apply.
"It's a narrow field," he says. "Most people here do it alongside another subject."
Joby, however, will qualify with no subsidiary subject. He's an experienced instructor with time at several outdoor centres under his belt. He qualified as a kayak instructor while still at university and, since then, has added qualifications in mountain leadership, dinghy sailing and climbing to his portfolio.
His PGCE involved time in mainstream schools as well as additional experience in outdoor centres. He worked at St David's college in Llandudno and at Birmingham's Ogwen Cottage outdoor education centre at the foot of Snowdon.
"A mint job for me would be to work at an LEA centre, somewhere like Ogwen Cottage," he says, but he may have to settle for work as an instructor, at a considerably lower level of pay.
Sarah Chamberlain already has a job, but it's not in outdoor education. Her Bangor PGCE was an outdoor activitiesscience combination and in September she'll start as an NQT science teacher at Colbayns high school, in Clacton, Essex, where she hopes to be able to use some of her outdoor education training in extra-curricular activities.
"The science was an insurance policy," she says. "I knew I could get a job as an instructor, but positions in schools are rare."
Sarah's sport is sailing, and she's qualified as a dinghy instructor and has powerboat qualifications. Before the Bangor PGCE she had seasonal jobs as a ski representative and as a sailing supervisor for a holiday company in the Greek islands.
"I originally had no intention of teaching," she says, "but the instructing sparked an interest." Her PGCE involved time at a school for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties, an area she would like to return to.
"It's a personal challenge," she says, and her outdoor education qualification could be an entree into a sector where outdoor pursuits have been seen to have a demonstrable effect.
Both students are enthusiastic about the Bangor course, but it's important to remember that, for those interested in outdoor education, a teaching qualification is only part of the story. Nobody can expect to work in the field, either as a teacher or as an instructor, without appropriate qualifications from a national governing body (NGB). The principal NGBs are the British Canoe Union (BCU), the Mountain Leader Training Board (MLTB) and the Royal Yachting Association (RYA).
Typically, instructors need to have a senior instructor level qualification in at least one of these disciplines, and the Bangor course does not include any NGB qualifications.
"All my NGB qualifications have been self-funded," says Joby. "I was a BCU coach while I was at university and I'm now going for MLTB qualifications."
It's an important point. Tim Jepson stresses that the PGCE is enough of a challenge on its own and NGB qualifications can take years to acquire. Prospective outdoor education teachers would need to have made a head start at least before they applied to Bangor.
The prize is a job where they can introduce children to experiences they will remember for the rest of their lives. And the scenery's pretty good as well.
Bangor offers the outdoor activities PGCE alongside a number of other subjects. For a full list see the Graduate Teacher Training Registry website at www.gttr.ac.uk or apply for a prospectus www.bangor.ac.ukBritish Canoe Union www.bcu.org.ukRoyal Yachting Association www.rya.org.ukMountain Leader Training Board http:freespace.virgin.netml.tb