Outdoor Education

Education and Young People, Tourism, Culture and Sport – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:15 pm on 8th March 2007.

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Photo of Charlie Gordon Charlie Gordon Labour 2:15 pm, 8th March 2007

To ask the Scottish Executive whether it resources the provision of residential outdoor education courses for primary and secondary school pupils. (S2O-12281)

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

Outdoor education can make a valuable contribution to the broad educational experiences that we want young people to have. The Executive provides education authorities and others with a number of funding streams that they can use to provide residential outdoor education courses for their pupils.

Photo of Charlie Gordon Charlie Gordon Labour

I have seen many letters from pupils who have undertaken residential outdoor education courses at Glasgow City Council's outdoor education centre at Rhu. Those letters—and similar ones from teachers and parents—testify to the great contribution that such courses make to young people's social and personal development. The main means of funding placements on such courses is fundraising by schools. Given the courses' established value and the contribution that they make to tackling the problem of young people who are not in education, employment or training, will the minister consider funding such courses from grant-aided expenditure?

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

I fully support the idea of making opportunities available to young people, not least in outdoor education. As I said, there are a number of funding streams, and it is primarily for local authorities to take the matter forward within the broad gamut of their GAE and other funding.

We provide some funding from central sources—for example, to Scottish Centres and the YMCA, which make a valuable contribution. A number of local authorities have used the funding streams that are available from the Executive, such as the national priorities action fund and the out-of-school-hours learning fund, which preceded it. Quite a lot of local authorities—although not, I think, Glasgow City Council—have used that funding stream to support outdoor education. Money is also made available through community education.

Outdoor education is a matter for partnership between different levels of government, but local authorities are the primary organisers of activity because they are responsible for schools.

Photo of Dave Petrie Dave Petrie Conservative

In the spirit of encouraging outdoor activity for pupils, and following Patricia Ferguson's comments on the radio this morning, will the minister acknowledge the benefits that flow from schools dedicating, say, Friday afternoons to extra-curricular activities?

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

A number of authorities already do that. I think that I am right to say that it happens in Edinburgh and the Lothians. It is certainly one way of tackling the issue.

The approach is part of a gamut of policies that are designed not just to give people wider experiences in physical education, but to tackle obesity. Such policies should not be imposed from the centre; it is for local authorities to make the appropriate arrangements. However, the Scottish Executive strongly supports the widening of opportunities in physical education and wants to take the matter forward, for example through the funding streams that we operate.

Mr Petrie might be interested to hear that a Scottish outdoor learning festival is planned for 30 April, which will bring together a wide range of organisations and professionals and offer them opportunities to reflect on reports, share good practice and build partnerships that might well be vehicles for taking forward suggestions such as those that he and Charlie Gordon made.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat

In addition to council-operated centres, the national centres, to which the minister referred, could be funded much more generously. Their facilities are not much used. Given the great benefit that outdoor and residential education brings, will the minister consider Charlie Gordon's plea for a fund that could help more use to be made of all centres by people from all orders of life?

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

Donald Gorrie makes a good point. Throughout the country, full use needs to be made of the various capital resources that are available to local authorities and Scottish Centres. There has been a fair bit of co-operation between organisations that are involved in outdoor education, to ensure that organisations are aware of each other's facilities and that there are suitable booking arrangements, for example. We might well be able to do more.

The unified voluntary sector fund supports Scottish Centres and others in that connection.

Next week we will produce the Scottish youth work strategy, which will contain matters of relevance and interest to Mr Gorrie and others in the context of outdoor education.

Outdoor education is important and has been shown to make a valuable contribution to young people's educational experiences. We want to do everything in our power to support and extend provision.