Forest Schools can offer a vital alternative to young people who are struggling, allowing them to develop self-esteem and confidence through hands-on learning, writes James Rogerson
Joe corrick is not what you’d expect of a teacher – he is well-built and has longish blond hair that reminds me of surfers I’ve met in the West of England. He wears a green rugby shirt, dirty jeans and sturdy workman’s boots. His look is more that of a tree surgeon than educator, but that’s because Otterhead Forest School (OFS) – the school he manages and runs along with his team in Somerset – is no ordinary school.
There are Forest Schools all over the UK, categorised as an alternative provision provider: in other words, a place that can offer training for children outside of a mainstream school. According to the Forest School Association: “Forest School … offers all learners regular opportunities to achieve and develop confidence and self-esteem through hands-on learning experiences in a woodland or natural environment with trees.”
Although all Forest Schools focus on working with children in an outdoor setting, each school is free to decide what approach to take. At OFS, there is a strong focus on developing social and emotional well-being, which means the majority of those who attend here have needs that can range from low confidence to complex behaviour as a result of trauma earlier in the student’s life.