The County Council is seeking to review its outdoor residential education for pupils, as the financial impact of the pandemic and cost of maintaining two residential sites at Bewerley Park and East Barnby mean the current service has become unviable.
Following the onset of the pandemic, the Outdoor Learning Service was forced to close to school residential trips and other groups in March 2020, in line with Department for Education guidance. The Government guidance remains in place and visits to Bewerley Park in Nidderdale and East Barnby near Whitby are still unable to take place. It has resulted in the service losing the majority of its £2.25m annual income.
The buildings which make up the Bewerley Park estate in Nidderdale were built as temporary structures in 1939 with an expected life span of ten to twenty years. Created mainly from wood, the estate buildings have become increasingly expensive to maintain, requiring frequent repairs.
Now the service is forecast a deficit of £984,000 by the end of the financial year for 2020-21. The situation is unlikely to improve in the near future, as school residential trips require a long lead-in time while funding and permissions are requested from parents, which means visits would be unlikely to resume in the short-term.
With the current budget pressures already faced by the council, and the large sums of money already being spent patching up the estate, a new model of outdoor education may be needed. The County Council is now seeking to undertake a review of outdoor learning provision.
The service currently employs about 40 staff, many of whom have been redeployed to other roles throughout the pandemic. They will be consulted on future plans for the service.
As part of the review, a consultation will be launched with schools, local communities and other stakeholder organisations on what outdoor learning provision should look like.
Amanda Newbold, Assistant Director of Children and Young People’s Services said: “We know that many generations in North Yorkshire have fond memories of visiting Bewerley Park and East Barnby during their schools years. Many thousands of students has passed through the doors of these centres over the last few decades to take part in outdoor adventures and it has a special place in many people’s hearts.
“Unfortunately the estate, including dormitory huts, dining hall and other buildings are in urgent need of updating and modernising and we need to create a more suitable model of outdoor education provision for future generations of children.
“If the buildings at Bewerley Park were old stone structures there wouldn’t be a problem, but the material estate has worn out and we’re spending a significant sum of money trying to patch it up. Unfortunately the buildings aren’t fit for purpose or for the future.
“We need to launch a full review of outdoor learning services and potentially come up with a more sustainable model of delivering the service.
“At this stage nothing is off the table and we would like to work with our existing outdoor learning staff and other stakeholders to see if we to make sure we fully meet the future needs of schools and young people for outdoor education and have a sustainable, long-lasting model for the service in place.”
The next steps involve identifying the stakeholders, establishing what the core objectives and benefits of the service are, reviewing different models of outdoor learning, costing different options for improving or replacing current properties and infrastructure and providing a proposal for the future of the service.
While the provision is suspended, the school improvement and early years service will be working with schools to help them access other education opportunities outside of the classroom and in their local area, to ensure children and young people continue to have access to the outdoors and outdoor learning.