New Scheme Aims to help Connect children with Nature

Schoolchildren across the South East are set to benefit from a new learning programme and two grant schemes to help connect them with nature.

The South Downs National Park Education Network is launching a new set of initiatives to help schools deliver more learning outside the classroom.

The network, made up of more than 100 education providers that offer learning experiences for young people, has developed an extensive online teacher training programme to support teachers as they return to school under difficult circumstances.

Meanwhile, two new grants have been launched that will help schools to benefit from a visit from an expert, or a field trip visit to a site in the National Park.

It comes as the Department for Education has recommended schools use outdoor spaces for learning and school trips have been given the go-ahead. Research has consistently shown that outdoor learning and connection with nature increases attainment and improves the health and wellbeing of both pupils and staff.

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Jonathan Dean, Education Officer for the South Downs National Park Authority, said: “We want teachers and young people to have positive experiences as they settle back into school this Autumn Term.

“When we held our education network meeting in June this year – our first virtual meeting –  a lot of the network members were reporting a huge decrease in their summer business. Many schools were closed and outdoor education officers, museum guides and bushcraft teachers alike were left with empty diaries when they would normally have been engaging thousands of young people with the incredible landscape, history, biodiversity and cultural heritage of the South Downs National Park.

“We knew that when schools returned in September we would have to find new and innovative ways to share our passion and knowledge with others. We hope this new programme of online teacher training and two new grants will help schools make the most of outdoor learning opportunities and create positive memories in these challenging times.”

The education network, county council outdoor education advisors and headteachers fed into the development of the new programme of online teacher training. Online teacher training sessions, delivered virtually by the Education Network, will support teachers across one or more of six key themes, which were developed following consultation with around 80 schools. The themes are: using learning outside the classroom to deliver specific curriculum subjects, specific curriculum topics, school ground development, using woodland effectively, fieldwork skills, and health and wellbeing. All sessions will be linked to the special qualities of the South Downs National Park.

Interested schools are now being encouraged to book places on the online teacher training programme and apply for the grants. The sessions and visits are linked to the special qualities of the South Downs and they will be of greatest benefit to schools within the National Park or within an approximate 10km radius of the National Park, e.g. Portsmouth, Winchester, Farnham, Chichester, Brighton and Eastbourne.

The new initiatives will support:

• Over 250 teachers to feel more confident about delivering their curriculum in the outdoors.

• Over 1,000 pupils to benefit from high-quality learning experiences delivered by experts in their schools grounds or in local green space.

• Over 500 pupils, especially those experiencing the highest levels of deprivation with the least access to high-quality green space, to benefit from fully-funded trips to sites within the National Park.

All schools will be eligible for free teacher training provided by the network.

All schools will be eligible to apply for a grant to cover the costs of in-school visits from an expert.

Secondary Schools, Special Schools and any school with over 25% pupil premium funding will be eligible to apply for a grant to cover the full costs (transport and activities) to a site in the National Park.

All the training has been put together taking into account the latest COVID-19 guidance on keeping children and staff safe.

Full details can be found by visiting