We’ve got it covered – boost for Somerset pupils’ great outdoor lessons

Children back in education in Somerset are enjoying an innovative and rewarding outdoor curriculum with a little help from our friends.

Working with Somerset County Council, local residents, charities, businesses and partners pulled together brilliantly to help staff deliver outdoor lessons whatever the great British weather by providing gazebos and expertise.

So far 65  gazebos have been delivered to schools in the Taunton area with the help of volunteers – many provided by local businesses and residents while partners like Somerset Activity Sports Partnership (SASP), Exmoor National Park and Avon Wildlife Trust are providing advice and support on activities.

This supports how lessons are delivered during the ongoing coronavirus crisis while ensuring social distancing and management strategies are in place.

Schools and early years settings have remained open throughout the crisis to support children of essential workers and children classed as vulnerable. From 1 June, provision began to be increased for early years children and some primary school years.*

Class sizes are up to half the size they would normally be and groups of the same pupils stay together, being taught in ‘bubbles’, taking it in turns between indoor and outdoor lessons either in the morning or afternoon.

So far over 200 staff have attended online live training sessions on outdoor learning and 600 have used video training on delivering the outdoor curriculum, co-ordinated by Somerset Support Services for Education. *

The focus is on simple activities – environmental, health and wellbeing and physical activities which require no or minimal materials, to reduce the risk of sharing equipment and the cost.

Councillor Faye Purbrick, Somerset County Council’s Cabinet Member for Education said: “Our fantastic staff and education leaders across the county have been working flat-out for months to ensure vulnerable children and children of key workers have had provision throughout the crisis.

“Extending provision to more children has presented fresh challenges when it comes to social distancing and minimising contact. Making the most of outdoor spaces is a vital part of achieving this – not only that, but it’s an opportunity for children to make the most of being outside and enjoy new experiences and different ways of learning.

“As has happened so often during the last few months our volunteers, business and partners have joined together magnificently to support this.”

Natalie Dyson is Chair of Coronavirus Community Help Taunton, as well as 40 local COVID-19 support groups across Somerset West and Taunton. She said the Taunton group was initially approached by one school wanting gazebos.

She said: “It was for shade when teaching outdoors, and the appeal spiralled from there. We asked other schools to come forward and were overwhelmed. So we put a shout-out on social media and we were absolutely inundated with offers. Some kind people donated them as gifts, others on loan. Some went out and bought them to donate. And we also raised money online so our own group was able to go out and buy 16.

“I would like to say a huge thank you to all the kind individuals, charities and businesses who supported the appeal. It is incredibly heart-warming to see the community pulling together during this crisis. They’ve played an important part in the schools being able to re-open safely.”

Daniel Moncrieff from Support Services for Education leads on putting together the outdoor curriculum for Somerset.

“The health and wellbeing benefits of being in nature, coupled with the well-researched learning gains young people make when undertaking curriculum learning outside has meant many schools in Somerset have developed imaginative outdoor programmes over recent years,” he said.

“The current Covid19 pandemic is encouraging us all to think even more creatively about using school grounds and outdoor spaces as it allows for greater social distancing and the flow of air and helps to mitigate this risk”.