How to tell your Forest School from your Bushcraft


5 minutes with the Institute for Outdoor Learning

Cumbria is known as the adventure capital of the UK. Home to the deepest lake and the highest mountain in England. We who live here don’t need to be told how much the county holds for those who enjoy walking, climbing or scrambling, road or mountain biking, sailing or any other outdoor activity, even if we’re not actually doing all of them, well not every weekend. If we said that it was also home to a UK wide membership organisation that supports outdoor professionals, I expect everyone would think that made perfect sense. Which is good, because it is!

The Warwick Mill based Institute for Outdoor Learning aims to increase participation in Outdoor Learning in the UK and to recognise and improve the quality of Outdoor Learning in the four home nations. By representing and lobbying, giving guidance and providing opportunities for professional development the Institute aims to ensure the development and progression of outdoor learning across the UK. A key part of this is the IOL Accreditation which recognises and encourages good practice in Outdoor Learning. Its three levels Registered Practitioner, Accredited Practitioner and Leading Practitioner are designed for everyone who provides outdoor learning including instructors, youth workers, teachers, lecturers, teaching assistants, development trainers, therapists, facilitators, centre managers, advisors, etc.

Membership for the IOL is now in the thousands and includes organisations such as the Scouts and Outward Bound but its roots were formed in the 1970’s when the National Association for Outdoor Education was formed. By 2001 a number of outdoor organisations decided to merge creating a network of 11 active regions, North West England being the largest, as well as Special Interest Groups such as Bushcraft, Field Studies, and Adventure for All and more. It is testament both to the growth and scope of the industry as well as the success and relevance of the Institute that its membership now numbers thousands and includes organisational members such as the Outward Bound Trust and the Scouts as well as individuals. Members look to the Institute to provide an outlet for specialist books, its acclaimed Horizons magazine, the international peer reviewed academic Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, and perhaps most notably the biggest website for outdoor employment with around 60,000 hits a month. Adverts are free for Organisational members on the IOL Jobsite which is known for gaining a high number and high standard of applicants. IOLs on-going support for the development of standards and expertise in the sector sees them conduct research; for example their current ground breaking work exploring leadership and gender in outdoor learning.

For a team of just 4 based in their Warwick Mill offices and a further 3 in the field, their offices are extremely busy managing 3 different lines from a bank of 6 phones in the office that also handles admin for the Forest School Association (FSA) and the Association of Heads of Outdoor Education Centres (AHOEC).  As well as the well supported regional training and development, they are already gearing up for the their bi-annual conference. With over 250 people expected to attend the 3 day conference, finding a venue that can hold 36 workshops, 22 masterclasses and theory and practical sessions that cover everything from bushcraft to watersports is often not easy. One struggles to imagine what all the variables would be for such a meeting, but the team work to to ensure that the Conference is the epitomy of professionalism and standard setting in the industry.

For more details contact or 01228 564580

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