Outdoor Learning Roundup

Andy Robinson CEO of the IOL reflects on some potential areas of common interest and developments in the past 6 months.

The Institute for Outdoor Learning works closely with AIM sharing our understanding of the developing adventurous activity sector and seeking to promote participation and standards. Though as a broader outdoor learning sector we have many different specialist groups, we have much more in common than that which differentiates us.

HSE’s review of the Adventurous Activity Licensing Scheme.

Back in the 1990’s there was some frustration when the sector had a legislation backed inspection regime and associated licensing thrust upon it. Two decades later I am clear that the sector has benefited hugely through the development of an intelligent approach to risk management and legislation compliance. As the HSE explores the future of AALA it is important we don’t lose the culture that it has brought to the sector and any new regime needs to continue to bring the same rigour and developmental benefits to the sector……on a UK wide basis !

At the moment one of the potential options for the future is a HSE endorsed and sector led inspection regime that encompasses and possibly goes beyond the scope of ALAA. If the HSE is to adopt a regime with a wider remit than AALA then there is a need for providers to have an opportunity to consider their options and understand the pros and cons of any potential change. Though a relatively small population of folk have already started on this journey I am clear that the majority of UK based providers have not. HSE’s review of AALA that started in 2016 was not a big surprise. A number of us have been working for a while to enable the UK wide sector to ‘pick up the pieces’ if the AALA were to be withdrawn. This sector wide group has become known as the UK Adventure Industry Group and is seeking to ensure that any new regime reflects the changing nature of adventurous activities and can be applied consistently across the UK.

I’m aware that there is some nervousness about expanding the reach of the current legislation or even withdrawing/changing the legislation and moving to a sector led inspection regime that is endorsed by the HSE. Whilst it is not possible to predict the outcome of the current review, I draw comfort from a number of factors. Firstly, the HSE has yet to bring a prosecution under the adventurous activity licensing legislation.

Instead any prosecutions involving adventurous activity provision have been brought under the Health &  Safety at Work Act, something that remains in force regardless of any changes to Licensing. Secondly, should we move from the legal requirement to hold a licence to a HSE endorsed licence that the sector expects a provider to hold, the legal implications of failure to comply should an incident occur remain prosecution under the HSWA. If that happens the  HSE will refer to the sector led scheme that they have formally endorsed.

Finally, I remain convinced that the majority of providers value the feedback provided by a regular external inspection; a source of objective management information.

We should know more about the HSE’s review by  the end of the year and if you wish to contribute to planning for a sector led regime you can contact me direct.

Developing new apprenticeships for The Outdoor sector

As described last year the Institute is working with the Department for Education to develop new apprenticeships for the sector in England. There have been wide levels of support for this work with a very healthy cross section of employers joining the group helping to produce new standards, a new approach to assessment as well as a new governance structure. The project has reached the stage of agreeing funding levels with DfE and expects to announce

the new ‘Outdoor Session Deliverer’, the first level apprenticeship standard, later this year. Further details of the standards can be found on the IOL website

or through contacting the Institute’s Professional Standards Manager, neal.anderson@outdoor- or the Employer’s Group chair [email protected]

Joining up Research, Policy & Practice

Any of you who have spent any time looking for research evidence to support the value proposition for what you do, will probably have experienced a degree of frustration in the level of co-ordination and clarity in research findings across the outdoor sector. Working with the Blagrave Trust the Institute commissioned a report in 2015, highlighting the need for better join- up between academics and practitioners and better co-ordination of research activity in the sector. As a result the Institute is supporting the establishment of regional research hubs through 2017 and funding a research co-ordinator role.

The regional hubs will draw together research that has been carried out to date and is ongoing, as well as identifying the current and future research needs of practitioners in Outdoor Learning. In addition to enabling more information to flow between academics and providers, the hubs will provide guidance to policy bodies such as Natural England and they are already working closely with NE’s Strategic Research Group and the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom.

Building a Chartered Body for outdoor learning

Finally in my round up of the past 6 month’s developments in the sector I should mention the movement towards the creation of a Chartered Body for the Outdoor Learning profession. I’m sure many of you recognise the under valuing of many aspects of outdoor learning and hopefully also recognise the increasing cohesion in the sector with activity such as the AALA review, new apprenticeships and co-ordinated research.

In 2016 at the Institute’s annual conference a commitment was made to set up a Chartered Body for the sector. In addition to the activity outlined in this article a range of bodies across the sector are planning to develop a campaign aimed at increasing every child’s access to a progression of outdoor learning experiences through their school years. If you’re interested in the campaign or influencing the establishment of a Chartered Body contact me [email protected]



Adventurous Activity Licensing

It is reasonable to reflect back 2 years to the announcement in Lord Young’s report ‘Common sense common safety’, that Licensing was going to be withdrawn and ask the question ‘so what’s changed?’  On the face of it, very little.  Providers of certain adventurous activities to young people are still required by law to hold a license, which they can obtain from the Adventurous Activity Licensing Authority (AALA) following an inspection.

Further to a statement by the Health & Safety Executive in July 2012, I’d like to take the opportunity to outline what I think is likely to happen in the near future and to reflect on what has actually changed in the past two years.

The statement from the HSE in July 2012 was pretty clear.

“We have decided to pause with the proposal to abolish the AALA while we consider further how we develop a regulatory regime that reflects the level of risk whilst taking part in adventure activities, yet ensuring that users are reassured about a provider’s safety management arrangements.” 

The HSE went on to say that they will be consulting further on the two issues; how to reassure users of providers’ safety standards and inconsistencies arising from some activities requiring a license and some not.  Encouragingly there was also a commitment to work with the Scottish and Welsh Governments in developing future arrangements, as the legislation behind licensing is a devolved matter.

So what are the immediate known and likely implications of the HSE statement ?  It is clear that legislation requiring a provider to hold a license will not be substantially changed or withdrawn in the next 12 months.  Given the commitment to a consultation, which is likely to take place in 2013 it is reasonable to assume that by the time a bill has passed through parliament and received royal assent we will be well into 2014, possibly 2015 and in danger of becoming entangled in a change of government.  On a positive note it seems the sector is more likely to have a consistent regime across the UK, though it is difficult to predict what shape that will take.  It could be new legislation or a sector specified approach with the backing of the HSE.

So is there any point in looking for alternatives to Licensing now?  The answer has to be yes.  Representatives of the adventure activity sector have been working with the HSE over the past 18 months seeking to influence the UK Government’s approach to developing a post AALA regime.  Those representatives made it clear that the vast majority of providers and users wished to retain some form of 3rd party accreditation of safe practice and recommended to the HSE that any new regime must be consistent across all home nations in the UK.  Prior to July’s HSE statement a UK Government solution looked unlikely to contain these features.  As a result earlier this year a temporary group was established (the UK Accreditation Transition Group / UKATG) to keep working on a sector based solution.

UKATG has broadened its representative base since the work with HSE and is recommending the establishment of a register of adventurous activity providers who hold a recognised form of 3rd party accreditation.  Such a register would be designed to be open to all (not just providers of activities to young people), recognise a wide range of adventurous activities and provide a single point of reference for users.  The register would need to accommodate the differing 3rd party accreditations that may exist in different home nations. SkillsActive, the sector skills council, have secured funding from the UK Commission for Employment & Skills to help set up a register, the aim of which would be to increase participation and maintain safety in adventurous activities.  An annual registration fee will probably apply.

UKATG is recommending that AAIAC (Adventures Activities Industry Advisory Committee) evolves to become an appropriate organisation to run the register.  It is recommended that such an evolution would involve the formation of a Congress of significant bodies in the adventurous activity community to provide strategic guidance and accountability for AAIAC.  It would also require the formation of a new Accreditation Managing Forum to oversee the register and the associated standards of provision.

So the last two years have not been a standstill for Health & Safety in adventurous activities.  It is my personal opinion, given the potential need for all young people’s providers to hold a License for the next 2 – 3 years, that sector based solutions like a register will need to incorporate the Licensing inspection regime if they are to be commercially viable.

Note: the UKATG is continuing to meet.  If you wish to contribute to its work please contact me at [email protected].