Forest School is relatively new in the UK though it has increasingly gained awareness and popularity over the last few years. The idea of Forest Schools originated in Scandinavia, an apt beginning in a country where an active outdoor life is embedded.
Forest School was introduced to the UK in 1993 by a group of nursery nurses from Bridgewater College, Somerset. They had visited a Danish Forest School and were so impressed with the ethos and approach that they were keen to develop their own programme. Forest School has been rapidly developing since.
From around 2000 Wales and some local authorities in England began to support Forest School with local colleges beginning to deliver training for Forest School programme leaders. Other private training providers also began to offer courses. With the support of the Forestry Commission in Wales the Open College Network developed an accredited Forest School leadership qualification.
The Forestry Commissions Forest Education Initiative (FEI) provided the main networking and support to practitioners. The FEI was replaced in 2012 by the Forest Education Network (FEN). The FEN “provides an information, signposting and support service for members that are themselves directly involved with providing or promoting forest education opportunities” and is hosted by the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom (CLOtC).
Forest School is increasingly recognised and supported as a valid tool to support the development of children and young people and continues to receive support from household names such as the Forestry Commission and the Wildlife Trusts.
In a society where the education system is inflexible and built on, and tested against, the idea that retention of facts and figures as a measurement of intelligence and development the rising popularity of forest school is refreshing. A worrying recent trend though is for schools to put a member of staff through a Forest School leadership training programme and then proclaim themselves to be a ‘Forest School’. Whilst awareness of forest schools has grown recently the key principle of children visiting the woodland regularly and over a long period of time appears to sometimes be lost. When children are left with a watered down version of forest school visiting the woods only once a term or less they are going to get little benefit and it presents a risk of jeopardising the reputation of forest school having a unique and profound impact on children’s development.