MP backs calls to support crisis-hit outdoor education centres
A Norfolk MP is among those leading calls for financial support for outdoor education residential centres that are facing a financial crisis due to a ban on school trips.
Small centres that normally provide outdoor adventures for thousands of school children have been forced to make staff redundant amid a crisis that could be the “death knell” for many if they do not receive extra support.
North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker has joined the All Party Parliamentary Group for outdoor learning to help support the sector in parliament.
The Department for Education says since the start of term, schools have been able to run one-day trips but it is still advising them not to run residential trips due to concerns around coronavirus.
Last week Gavin Williamson announced continued advice to schools not to take residential visits until at least Easter. This will be reviewed in February.
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Mark Holroyd, operations manager at residential school trips provider Aylmerton Outdoor Education Centre, said: “That will mean at least 12 months without income. This was a hugely disappointing announcement and one with long-term repercussions for the industry.
“Unlike hospitality industries, that can open one day and have bookings and customers the next, outdoor educational residential visits often require months of preparation by schools. The industry needs a definitive opening date and financial assistance to get to centres to that date and beyond.”
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The plight of smaller independent outdoor centres echoes the uncertain future of Holt Hall, used by generations of schoolchildren for outdoor learning, which Norfolk County Council says it could no longer afford to keep open.
With no hope of residential visits in the next four months a national Save Outdoor Education campaign is encouraging Mr Williamson to provide sector support similar to that announced by the Scottish government.
Mr Baker, who highlighted the issue by joining local outdoor centre staff on Cromer beach, said: “As the Member of Parliament for North Norfolk with some wonderful outdoor learning centres in my constituency, I have constantly lobbied the government to provide support for this vital sector.
“Working with the All Party Parliamentary group, it would be entirely sensible for a sector deal such as the Scottish government has done to come forward.
"Our outdoor Learning centres have effectively had no income for approaching a year and they must be further supported.”