SAPOE is a network of Scottish local authority advisors of outdoor education and learning. It exists to identify and disseminate good and safe practice across the country.
Over 35 years SAPOE have observed a substantial reduction in local authorities’ ability to sustain their own residential outdoor education facilities; confirmed by Stirling University’s 2018 research- Residential Outdoor Education in Scotland: Change over time and the impacts of socio-economic deprivation on access. Despite the number of centres halving from 123 in 1982 to 64 in 2018, the total number of beds did not reduce relative to the reduction in the 4-16 year old population in the same period. The need for residential outdoor education has been filled by additional capacity in commercial and third sector activity centres.
This transfer of asset is not unique in local government restructuring; for example, facilities for sport, the arts and early years education have also developed in a similar trend. However residential Outdoor Education differs in that regardless of local democratic leisure priorities, mainstream schooling ensures universal provision for Physical Education, Expressive Arts and 3-5 learning for all children and young people regardless of socio-economic circumstances. Despite the Scottish Government’s 2010 “Curriculum for Excellence Through Outdoor Learning” emphasising the importance of residential experiences, very few state schools have been able to establish staff competence and capacity to provide this without additional specialist expertise. As this residential expertise and capacity is increasingly sourced out-with local government ownership, the educational quality, employment standards and equitable access to universal provision have often decreased.
During this time research has also demonstrated the importance of the connection between outdoor learning and the positive benefits to mental and physical health and wellbeing, improved attainment and raised awareness of the natural world.
Without urgent national leadership and investment, it is SAPOE Executives opinion this trend seems likely to continue. Further increasing the poverty related opportunity gap, by denying access for the children and young people who stand to gain most from a residential educational experience. The undeniable life enhancing impact of residentials has been thoroughly researched and documented, most recently by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation: https://learningaway.org.uk/ and is clearly visible in recent social media campaigns.
SAPOE are grateful to national and local government, voluntary and commercial organisations, schools and individual passionate teachers who have given tirelessly over the decades to support life changing residential outdoor education experiences for Scotland’s young people.