Devon Wildlife Trust hopes to open ‘Nature School’

Friday 27th January 2017

Children examine nature out of doorsDevon's first Nature School will maximise children's time learning out of doors. Photo, Charlie Tyjas

Devon Wildlife Trust has announced that it hopes to open Devon’s first ‘Nature School’.

Devon Wildlife Trust wants to open the Nature School as a combined nursery and primary school aimed at children aged 3 to 11 years using the free school model widely adopted elsewhere. The Nature School would be a ‘mainstream’ school, open to all, following the National Curriculum, but one which the charity says would put outdoor learning and the natural environment at the heart of a high quality education for local children.

Open to all

Okehampton has been put forward as the proposed location for the school. The town has been identified by Devon County Council as an area where there is an urgent need for more primary school places to be provided. If the Trust’s proposals are successful the Nature School would occupy new premises to be built on the north-east outskirts of the town close to Crediton Road .

Devon Wildlife Trust is now talking to local authorities, people and schools in the West Devon market town to gauge their support for the proposal. The Trust’s Chief Executive Harry Barton said:

“We are seeking support from members of the community across Okehampton, in particular from parents whose children would be eligible to attend primary school in 2018 or 2019 and who live in the Okehampton area or nearby.”

Public meeting

As part of this conversation the charity is holding a Nature School consultation day. Staff from Devon Wildlife Trust will be on hand at the Ockment Centre, North Street, Okehampton between 2pm and 7pm on Friday 24th February to discuss the proposals and answer questions. Everyone is welcome to attend.

Devon Wildlife Trust has established a long track record of working with young people since its foundation in 1962. Now the charity is keen to extend this work deepening the positive link between young people the natural world. Harry Barton explained:

“Each year Devon Wildlife Trust supports many thousands of school children to learn through nature. Our plan to open a Nature School is rooted in our experience that children thrive, are happier and their attainment improves when their learning is linked closely to the natural world around them. The positive feedback we receive from the teachers, students and parents we work with is supported by an impressive body of independent research. Ofsted has also reported that learning outside the classroom contributes significantly to raising standards and improving pupils’ personal, social and emotional development.”

Working with local people

Harry Barton added:

“We hope that Okehampton will become the first community in Devon to benefit from a Nature School. The town has a fascinating history and is surrounded by wonderful countryside, with rivers, parklands and woodlands, and all within a stone’s throw of Dartmoor National Park. I can’t think of a better place for a Nature School, and I really look forward to working with teachers and the local community to make it a success.”

“Our intention is not to compete with other schools. At Okehampton there is a need for more primary school places which we can help address. We want to work alongside existing local schools and become part of a thriving school community delivering high quality education.”

Devon Wildlife Trust’s plan for a Nature School is one of four being proposed by Wildlife Trust’s in England. The others include schools at Chippenham in Wiltshire, Nuneaton in Warwickshire and Smethwick in Birmingham.

The Okehampton Nature School is still at the planning stage and success will be subject to an application to the Department of Education (DofE). This application is planned for spring 2017 with a scheduled school opening estimated as early as 2018.

Have your say

However, plans for the Nature School will only proceed if Devon Wildlife Trust can demonstrate strong local support. So, as part of its application process, the charity is now asking the public for its backing.

People who wish to register their support for plans to establish Devon’s first Nature School can do so at a dedicated website

People with questions about Devon Wildlife Trust’s Nature School plans are being urged to email using the message title ‘Nature Schools’

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Tagged with: Outdoor learning, Devon, Devon Wildlife Trust, Harry Barton, Nature school, Okehampton