Education committee urged to launch outdoor learning inquiry

Joe Lepper
Thursday, October 8, 2020

More than 30 youth and environmental groups are calling on MPs to investigate the "vital" health and education benefits of outdoor learning for children in disadvantaged areas.

The inquiry must look at the benefits for disadvantaged children, campaigners have said. Picture: Adobe Stock
The inquiry must look at the benefits for disadvantaged children, campaigners have said. Picture: Adobe Stock

The coalition is calling on MPs to hold an inquiry into the role of outdoor learning in offsetting inequalities among disadvantaged children amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Online education and school closures sparked by the crisis are impacting the mental and physical health of disdvantaged children in particular, according to campaigners.

Disadvantaged children are also at risk of falling behind their more affluent peers academically, the group warns.

It is urging the House of Commons education select committee to stage an inquiry into the “vital role of outdoor learning in boosting children’s attainment, resilience and wellbeing”.

Outdoor learning is especially important in urban disadvantaged areas where access to green space is more difficult, according to a CYP Now special report on the issue.

In a letter to education committee chair Robert Halfon the groups state that lockdown and remote learning has resulted in “isolation for pupils from their support network of friends and trusted adults”.

This “has had a profound impact on their physical and mental wellbeing with a marked disproportional impact shown on children from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with mental health needs”, says the letter.

It adds: “This sudden loss of the safe and inspiring places where children could spend their time learning and playing, and the shift to new ways of schooling is exacerbating inequalities in children's health.

“In addition, exposing the educational disadvantage gap, with many more children at further risk of falling behind academically as well as developmentally.”

Advantages of outdoor learning include “the immeasurable comfort” of nature and its role in helping children be more resilient amid the pandemic. Outdoor learning also boosts educational attainment, according to research from earlier this year cited by the group.

Among those to sign the letter are National Youth Agency chief executive Leigh Middleton, The Garden Classroom founder Marnie Rose and Marc Whitmore, chief executive of youth leadership organisation UpRising.

Their letter adds that an inquiry would also “help identify any barriers which stop children connecting with nature during school time, and the steps the government can take to ensure every child can learn within, about and from nature”.

In 2018 the government pledged £10m in funding, in its 25-year environmental strategy A Green Future, to encourage and support outdoor activities among children.

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