Call to guarantee access to residential outdoor education for every child in Wales

Senedd <i>(Image: File)</i>
Senedd (Image: File)

A CONSERVATIVE MS has introduced a backbench bill calling for residential outdoor education opportunities to be more accessible.

Sam Rowlands told the Senedd that his bill would see Wales lead the way on ensuring all children experience high-quality residential outdoor education.

He told the chamber: “The activities are often challenging and adventurous, providing opportunities for physical activity, engagement with the natural environment and development of the competencies at the heart of the Curriculum for Wales.”

Mr Rowlands said for many young people, particularly in poorer communities, outdoor education is their first opportunity to experience many activities.

The former leader of Conwy Council told MSs: “Not only are these times great for the people participating, with all of the known benefits, we know that the outdoor activity sector is an economic catalyst in Wales, currently worth around £1.5 billion.”

Mr Rowlands, who won a random ballot to propose a new law in July 2022, explained that the bill would establish an entitlement to residential outdoor education in the curriculum.

He argued the proposed law is necessary so every young person can participate without charge and regardless of the family’s financial circumstances.

“These experiences can be life changing for so many,” he said. “Why should a child from a poorer background be denied this important educational opportunity and milestone that so many children from wealthier backgrounds can easily access?”

Jeremy Miles acknowledged the contribution that residential outdoor learning can bring to the development and wellbeing of young people.

The education minister said the Welsh Government will continue to emphasise the role of outdoor education across the curriculum.

He highlighted that ministers provided a £2 million support package to the sector during the pandemic in recognition of its value.

However, Mr Miles warned that support must be developed within the confines of the real-world financial constraints on public services.

He claimed the Welsh Government's budget for 2024-25 is £3 billion lower than it would have been if it had grown in line with the economy since 2010.

Mr Miles pointed out that the bill’s explanatory note says it would create an additional cost to the taxpayer of £20 million a year.

“I’m afraid I’m simply not willing to cut front-line school budgets to fund that,” he told MSs, urging the Conservatives to explain which services they would cut to pay for the proposals.

Mr Rowlands argued a preventative approach could save the public money in the long run.

Laura Anne Jones, the Conservatives’ shadow education minister, said the proposals could have a life-changing impact on young people with additional learning needs.

MSs heard only nine of Wales’ 37 special schools organised outdoor experiences last year.

Without support from the Welsh Government, the bill could fall at the first hurdle.

An opposition-proposed law has not been passed by the Welsh Parliament since the Nurse Staffing Levels Act, which was first tabled about a decade ago.

The Senedd has been criticised over a limited scope for backbench legislative proposals.