Liz Smith MSP on why she’s championing the Save Your Outdoor Centres campaign in the Scottish Parliament #NeverMoreNeeded
If Covid-19 has taught us anything it is just how much we have come to rely on the voluntary sector. Its work – often unsung and as challenging as that undertaken by those who are on the frontline in our public services – has been a lifeline for many families, most especially those who have suffered the most.
I want to pay tribute to SCVO for the work it has done to support young people’s education and wellbeing during this very difficult time and, most especially, for initiating the Never More Needed campaign to support the sector. I think I was one of the first people to sign the Save Your Outdoor Centres petition following which I lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament and requested a member’s business slot from the presiding officer so that the whole issue can be properly debated. This was immediately granted and the debate will happen on 22 September. I am pleased to say it is already attracting a huge amount of interest.
I come to this debate with two very personal experiences in mind; the first, from my own teaching days in the 1980s and 1990s, when I was privileged to take charge of several outdoor education projects across Scotland and the second, as an MSP since 2007, when I have been privileged to be on the receiving end of many emails over the years which have told me just how much constituents value the opportunities which outdoor education affords.
As everyone knows, education debates are, too often these days, all about numbers; the number of teachers, the number of SQA passes, the percentage scores in literacy and numeracy, class sizes, to name just a few. What we should be doing, is to turn our attention to more of the qualitative aspects of education – aspects which can never be reduced to numbers but which, I would argue, are just as important when it comes to developing life skills.
I have no doubt whatsoever that education in an outdoor environment provides one of the most valuable and rewarding learning experiences for a wide range of pupils, no matter their backgrounds or abilities.
There is widespread evidence from educational research that these experiences enrich the lives of the young people involved, that they provide them with a knowledge and appreciation of environments and communities other than those with which they are most familiar, and that they help build confidence and self-esteem. In particular, these activities teach pupils leadership skills, the need for responsible behaviour and how to deal with new challenges and risk factors. Indeed, they often discover positive attributes they didn’t know they had.
In an age when there is growing concern about young people’s physical and mental health and lifestyles, and when there is also growing concern that many children from some of the more deprived areas do not get the same opportunities as their counterparts elsewhere, it is time to treasure our outdoor education centres in the same way that we treasure our schools.
Sadly, however, far too many of these centres now find themselves facing extremely challenging financial circumstances – so much so, that there is talk that around a third of them might have to close down. We simply can’t allow that to happen, otherwise we would be guilty of discriminating against a whole generation of young people whose education would be devoid of something very special which goes well beyond what can be learnt in any classroom.
Liz Smith is a Conservative MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife