Penrith and the Border MP Neil Hudson has written to Chancellor Rishi Sunak and the Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson urging the Government to look at restrictions on residential outdoor education centres and consider additional support for the sector.
Residential centres have not been able to open for school groups since March, when the national lockdown came into force.
The most recent Government guidelines impose a complete ban on school residentials for 2020, and no further information for 2021 season will be provided until November. Many centres are facing imminent closure, which could lead to job losses, according to Dr Hudson.
Following a visit to the Outward Bound Centre, Ullswater, to discuss these issues with chief executive officer Nick Barrett and head of centre Steve Farthing, he decided to take the case to the Government.
Dr Hudson said: “Outdoor residential visits are much more than just having fun; they provide life affirming opportunities for a young person to learn about themselves which can really influence that person’s life.
“For instance, teaching them resilience, teamwork, compassion and personal growth. Centres work closely with the schools and help achieve important learning objectives.
“In the current crisis, this is needed more than ever to ensure learners can develop.
“We are asking whether some allowance could be made for school pupils to still be able to enjoy this vital form of education, for instance with bubbles of pupils that they are already bubbled with in daytime education in schools.
“I was impressed at the protocols they have in place to make this a COVID- secure setting for our young people should they be permitted to return for these invaluable residential visits.”
Tim Foster, head of group (north) at the Field Studies Council added: “We want to play our part in helping learners catch up and teachers to cover the curriculum.
“We have the COVID-19 secure locations and experienced staff ready to go, but we need the guidance to change to allow schools to make an informed decision.
“With schools now open and even able to hire out their buildings and facilities to external organisations for extracurricular activities, it seems incongruous that they are not yet able to allow the learners to stay in other buildings that have the same rigorous standards.
“Schools should be able to stay in their year groups and enjoy the outdoor residential experience.
“There is a real threat to jobs in the Cumbrian outdoor sector, substantial loss of revenue in the local economy and the potential to lose outdoor educational capacity permanently.”
Mr Barrett said after the meeting with Dr Hudson: “The Outward Bound Trust has been working with young people for 79 years.
“Before the pandemic, we were a thriving, growing charity with a highly skilled and committed workforce doing fantastic work with more than 25,000 young people every year, irrespective of their background and circumstances.
“All of this is now at risk and at a time when our services are needed as never before.”
Dr Hudson said: “I really do hope that the Government will work with the centres to find a way to reopen as soon as possible, and in the meantime, targeted financial support is a must for this vital sector.
“We must not allow any of these centres to close – we have to protect our young people’s education and personal development opportunities.”