Schools across Lancashire are to be reminded that outdoor education can improve their pupils’ wellbeing and keep them fit – but councils cannot tell individual schools how they should be run.
That was the message from Lancashire County Council’s cabinet member for young people after she was asked to express “concern” over the proposed closure of the outdoor education department at the former Morecambe High School, within weeks of it becoming an academy.
READ MORE >>> Pupil petition to stop the closure of outdoor education department
County Cllr Phillippa Williamson told a meeting of the full council that schools were autonomous and “best placed to design a curriculum which meets the needs of the young people in their area and [reflects] the resources they have available to them”.
She was responding to a motion put by Labour opposition member Margaret Pattison which called for council officers to write to the academy over the issue. The closure plan was announced after the Dallam Avenue school joined the Bay Academy Trust back in May – it is now called Morecambe Bay Academy.
“I’m proud of our vision in Lancashire to keep [children] healthy and well – something which can start at the school gates, with outdoor education for every child,” said County Cllr Pattison, who represents Morecambe Central.
“[It] gives children skills for life – team-building, sharing and supporting each other – and improves mood, helps behaviour and increases environmental awareness. It is far better than having an inactive lifestyle.”
County Cllr Williamson said she agreed that there were benefits to outdoor education, but said that there were many other ways of accessing such provision across the county – including at three council-run facilities.
“In house provision could narrow down rather than open up the possibilities and choices [for] young people.
“It is very unlikely that a single school would have the facilities…knowledge and resources available at some outdoor centres. It is these varied factors that the leaders of all schools must consider, alongside their local knowledge, to develop their curriculum,” County Cllr Williamson said.
The announcement that the centre was to close prompted one pupil to launch a petition which has so far gathered almost 1,800 signatures.
But Charlie Edwards, the Conservative county councillor for Morecambe South and a former Morecambe High governor, said the leadership was doing its best to improve the school following an “inadequate” rating by OFSTED eighteen months ago.
“I have seen the work that [the leadership team] have had to do to turn that school around. We shouldn’t be making political points out of it, we should be supporting people to do their best for the children of Lancashire.”
Morecambe Bay Academy and the Bay Academy Trust were both approached for comment.