Environment, Food and Rural Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the Field Studies Council


The Field Studies Council (FSC) is delighted that the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee have chosen to undertake an inquiry into the recently published Natural Environment White Paper. The FSC was pleased by the commitment in the White Paper to remove barriers to learning outdoors and increase schools’ abilities to teach outdoors. However despite all the benefits, fieldwork provision, particularly in the science disciplines is declining in British secondary schools. A review of 13 published surveys—including FSC published data—highlights a decline in fieldwork provision in the UK between 1963 and 2009.1 We would, therefore, like to see the Government set out in more detail the measures which will ensure that fieldwork plays a greater role in the education of children and young people. This will ensure that there are sufficient numbers of people with the skills and interests to support the White Paper’s implementation in the future.

Background to the FSC

Established in 1943, the FSC has become internationally respected for its national network of education centres and is the UK’s leading provider of field courses. We know that fieldwork is a great way to increase students’ enthusiasm for the environmental sciences, geography and general natural history, thus helping them on their way to becoming the new scientists and natural historians of the future. In recent years the FSC, the UK’s leading provider of field courses working every year with 125,000 individuals and nearly 3,000 schools. The charity also publishes over 150,000 natural history and field education resources, and has led a campaign to champion the rights and opportunities for people of all ages and interests to experience their environment at first hand.

The FSC provides opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to discover, explore, be inspired by, and understand the natural environment. We believe that the more we know about the environment, the more we can appreciate its needs and protect its diversity and beauty for future generations. We feel that fieldwork should be a vital element of an imaginative and contemporary science and geography education. The FSC also run a programme of subsidised courses for postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE) student and newly qualified teachers (NQTs), providing effective and meaningful training to deliver learning outside the classroom. These courses provide training in basic fieldwork skills such as group management and site risk assessment. The courses are open to all PGCE Geography, Science and Biology students, and are subsidised by the FSC reducing the cost for the applicant.

Pupil Premium

The FSC welcomes the commitment set out in the Natural Environment White Paper to a Pupil Premium to provide additional funding for more disadvantaged pupils to ensure they benefit from the same opportunities as pupils from more affluent families. We specifically endorse Schools Minister Nick Gibb MP’s recent Parliamentary Written Answer which states that “school may in future wish to consider using the pupil premium funding to enable such children to benefit from out of school educational activities.” We are aware that the Department for Education is exploring options for supporting disadvantaged pupils and we would like to highlight our concerns about the access that pupils from low income families have to school trips and visits; for these children school provision may be the only opportunity they have to experience different environments from their immediate locality.

The FSC recommends that guidance accompanying the pupil premium should state clearly that this can be used to support fieldwork, including in more remote localities which provide an opportunity to explore the UK’s diverse natural heritage.

Teacher Teaching and Outdoor Learning

The FSC believes that any reversal in the decline in fieldwork will have to be led by teachers. We note the Government’s desire for teachers to be free to decide how to teach effectively but are disappointed that there is no consideration in detail of the importance of teacher training and professional development in this process.

Recently published evidence has shown that the quantity of fieldwork training and development within science ITT is highly variable: a significant proportion of providers offer no, or very little, training in fieldwork; and levels of fieldwork training during placements in schools are often unknown.2 Furthermore, the Government currently holds limited evidence on how best to prepare teachers for fieldwork has no measure of the status of fieldwork within ITT and “has made no assessment of whether the encouragement of fieldwork as a teaching method is adequately supported by teacher training courses”.3

The FSC was delighted that the Government asked Sally Coates to lead the Teachers’ Standards Review Group which will consider the future of the Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) Standards. Early drafts of the suggested standards for teachers make no reference to the need for trainee teachers to make effective use of teaching opportunities outside the classroom. It represents a further weakening of training needed to lead fieldwork. We are very concerned that this will further reduce numbers of teachers with the 3Cs (competence, confidence and commitment) to lead fieldwork

The FSC recommends that standards for achieving Qualified Teacher Status should include a requirement for all trainee teachers (including chemists and physicists, as well as biologists, earth scientists and geographers ) to have prepared and taught at least one fieldwork lesson as part of their training.

21 June 2011

1 Lock, R. (2010). Biology fieldwork in schools and colleges in the UK: an analysis of empirical research from 1963-2009. Journal for Biological Education 2: 58-34.

2 School Science Review, Association for Science Education, 2009

3 House of Commons Hansard Written Answers, 22 January 2009

Prepared 16th July 2012