Written evidence submitted by The Country Trust
“The poorest children, the most disadvantaged children, the children who do not always have support they need at home, will be the ones who will fall furthest behind if we keep school gates closed. They are the ones who will miss out on the opportunities and chances in life that we want all children to benefit from what teachers and schools deliver for them.” The Rt Hon Gavin Williamson CBE MP Education Secretary’s statement on coronavirus 16 May 2020
Written Evidence to the Impact of COVID-19 on Education and Children’s Services submitted by The Country Trust
The Country Trust welcomes the opportunity to submit written evidence to this inquiry and would be pleased to provide further information, oral evidence, or to meet with Committee members to elaborate on any points. Our evidence focuses on the following Terms of Reference:
The Country Trust is a small, dynamic national education charity dedicated to bringing alive food, farming and the countryside for children who are least able to access it, helping them to gain the skills, knowledge and experiences that will mean they are better able to thrive. The Country Trust is a member of Countryside Classroom, LEAF and Access to Farms, and through this membership are represented on the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom.
Since 1978, The Country Trust has made it possible for over half a million disadvantaged young children to experience high quality farm visits, and for farmers and landowners to share with them their passion for food, farming and the countryside. We have taken more than 11,500 children on a journey of Food Discovery - learning how to grow and cook and develop food confidence – vital life skills.
The Country Trust’s work focusses on primary schools with a greater than average percentage of children from low income families and therefore eligible for Free School Meals (FSM), as well as schools and groups supporting children with special educational needs, disabled children, young carers, looked after children, vulnerable and refugee children and their families.
These are the children who are now being disproportionately affected by CV-19. We share the view of government and experts in education, psychology and child development that they will need urgent help to deal with trauma they may have experienced, to reengage with learning, with their peers and to thrive.
It is increasingly well documented that the negative consequences of school closures are wide ranging and are being experienced disproportionately by vulnerable children who rely on school for educational, nutritional, and health needs due to their socioeconomic disadvantages or disabilities .
Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield recently wrote:
‘It is our teachers who will have to re-engage all of these children and get them back into the groove of learning. I know teachers will rise brilliantly to the challenge but we should also recognise that the job will be harder than ever, and for those teachers in areas that are already disadvantaged, it will be harder still. They will need the Government to give them the support and resources they need, not just to catch up but to help them tackle the generational, wide-ranging problems that were there before this crisis, and will be there – in some cases worsened – after it.’
Our view is that although teachers will be on the frontline of re-engagement, they will not be alone. Home-learning is widening gaps between disadvantaged children and their better off peers but classroom learning will only be part of the answer to trying to close that gap. Care must be taken to nurture children to learn, grow and thrive through a multi-faceted recovery programme. There is a strong and wide-ranging outdoor learning sector, including expert providers like The Country Trust which stands ready to help.
Ofsted was already looking for schools to provide ‘a rich and diverse school experience.’ This is ‘particularly important for children from disadvantaged backgrounds because children from more advantaged backgrounds are more likely to have such exposure elsewhere’ . The EIF clarifies why this richness is so vital, identifying the importance of ‘supporting learners to develop their character – including their resilience, confidence and independence – and help them know how to keep physically and mentally healthy.’
Covid-19 has shown that these truly are life-skills, the difference between children thriving and failing to thrive. One in three (4.1 million) children live in poverty in the UK, with an estimated 2.5 million living in food insecure households
There is extensive evidence for the potential of learning outside the classroom, and particularly learning outdoors, to enhance curriculum learning and promote emotional, physical and social development. In fact, the two are interdependent, social and emotional learning has been shown to be linked to school success. Coincidentally, as the virus persists, being outdoors also offers a safer environment.
To quote Professor Helen Bilton from the Institute of Education at the University of Reading:
"As schools begin to plan how to manage a return to some form of wider return of pupils, the outdoors can be a hugely beneficial asset as both a teaching and learning environment. Teaching and learning are not only the sole prerogative of the indoor environment, and the latest advice from the Government outlines how transmission of the coronavirus is significantly lower in outdoor spaces.”
The Country Trust believes that outdoor learning centred on food, farming and the countryside has a particularly important role to play in addressing the impact of COVID-19 on disadvantaged children.
In 2018-19 evaluation of Country Trust activities found that following engagement with our programmes:
Farms offer an amazing window on a cornucopia of possibilities for encounters with irresistible learning, from hands on encounters with fresh produce, to energy, wildlife and forestry, to climate change and employment. Expert providers can support teachers to bring about encounters with opportunities that meet the needs of their children precisely and powerfully. These might be immediate needs for reengagement with the core skills of maths and literacy, support for emotional and physical wellbeing, the need to strengthen social skills and language, but may also be longer term needs for greater control over their health and wellbeing and their social mobility in the future.
The opportunity to seize all the benefits of outdoor learning must not be missed. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:
“I will do everything I can to make sure that no child, whatever their background, falls behind in their education as a result of coronavirus.”
With proper provision and a shared sense of urgency, organisations such as The Country Trust can help address the impact of the pandemic. We can offer children access to the skills, knowledge and experiences that will not only aid recovery and help to repair damage but will build in future resilience, supporting children to actively engage with learning, to grow as individuals and to thrive as part of the wider world.
The Country Trust has five years of evidence supporting this in relation to visits to real working farms, countryside residentials and year-long Food Discovery programmes for children experiencing disadvantage .
We believe that expertly guided outdoor learning therefore has a vital role to play in addressing the impact of COVID-19 for these children and that there is an urgent need to:
Jill Attenborough and Nina Bell
 Speech by Amanda Spielman, Chief Inspector, Ofsted, 11 October 2018, https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/ amanda-spielman-speech-to-the-schools-northeast-summit
 The Children’s Future Food Inquiry (Debate Pack Number CDP 2019/0110, 7 May 2019)
 The scientific base linking social and emotional learning to school success.
J Educ Psychol Consult. 2007; 17: 191-210