I love outdoor learning, be it on the school field, in the woods or even at the beach.

If you want to be a Forest School or Coastal School Leader, Jobs of the Wild has all the information about the job and how to find the right course at a location near you, including useful links and background facts.

I’m thrilled to welcome Hannah Ridgeway, who has recently qualified as a Forest School Level 3 Leader and kindly told us about her training and work.

Hannah is also a Primary School Teacher (though you don’t need to be a teacher to be a Forest School Leader).

What is Forest School?

The concept of forest schools, or ‘fresh air learning’, originated in Scandinavia, becoming a huge part of their standard education system, particularly in Denmark. In 1993 a group of British nurses visited Danish forest schools researching pre-school learning for the UK. Their ideas translated to a BTech in Forest School in 1995 and by 2000 the first Welsh and English local authorities adopted the scheme, notably Oxfordshire and Worcestershire initially. The movement is fast becoming a well known and much sought after educational tool throughout the British Isles with courses now available in beach school leadership too.

Hannah says:
Forest School offers children opportunities to develop self confidence, meet new people and learn new skills through hands on, practical experiences in a woodland – basically having fun in the woods! Sessions might include den building, having fun in a mud kitchen, using tools to whittle or saw wood, making arts and crafts from natural materials, or simply having fun with friends around the campfire.

Job Description

Forest School Leader: planning sessions, thinking of fun games and activities. They are also responsible for looking after tools, such as saws and pen knifes, and maintaining the site that the Forest School uses. They look after the children involved in the session, making sure that they are safe and happy, and chat to parents and carers, reporting on what fun things the children have been up to! They may also work with schools to promote outdoor learning, and link sessions to curriculum activities taking place in the classroom.

Income

Variable. Most forest school leaders are directly employed by schools, some are freelance, setting up their own business to run groups. Some may start by working as a volunteer to gain experience.

Qualifications

  • Forest School Level 3 Practitioner award
  • Outdoor or Peadiatric First Aid certificate
  • Security check

Character Traits

  • A love of the outdoors is essential, as sessions take place in all weathers!
  • Resilience
  • A good sense of humour
  • Enthusiasm
  • Imaginiation
  • Willingness to have a go

Job Training

Forest School Leadership requires a Level 3 qualification. There are many Forest School training providers so research well to ensure you provider is professional and legitimate. The Forest School Association (FSA) provides an online database for accredited trainers in the UK though this is a new facility under construction (see links below). Level 1 and 2 courses build up to the Level 3 award and also enable you to be a Forest School Assistant if working alongside a fully qualified leader.
Some schools pay for staff members to gain Forest School qualifications. However, if you want to go freelance, you will need to fund the training course yourself.
See links below for training options.

Top Tips for Interview

No interviews! Anyone can apply to attend Forest School leader training!

Top Tip for Doing the Job

Have an open mind. Sessions go wherever the children’s imagination goes, so don’t feel you have to stick to a plan. Enjoy seeing what ideas the children run with.

Pros

  • Working outside
  • Having fun outside of the classroom
  • Being creative
  • Seeing children develop and grow in a setting different to what they may be used to
  • Being surprised by what the children come up with

Cons

Being cold! Bring plenty of layers.

Working Hours

Variable. Usually school hours though some freelance forest schools run at weekends and during school holidays.

Travel

Variable. It depends where your forest school site is.

Anything Else To Consider?

Forest School qualifications level 2 and 3 involve completion of a work portfolio.

You also need to obtain either an Outdoor or Paediatric First Aid qualification (link below), sometimes included in the training depending on the provider.

You will also need an enhanced DBS check (link below).

Public Liability Insurance (link below) is required if setting up your own business and not already provided by the school or workplace.

In order to provide food to attendees at Forest School sessions a Food Hygiene Certificate may be needed. This can be a basic online course or a specific outdoor learning course, depending on your public liability insurance requirements (links below)

Why I Love The Job

Hannah says she loves her job “because every session is different and you are never forcing children to take part in something they don’t want to do. Unlike school, during Forest School children can pursue their own interests and gain confidence from this. I also love being outside, it is so much more relaxing than the classroom.”

Image of woman cooking on trivet on camp fire in woods

Image of woman whittling a stick in woods with large knife

Hannah at work cooking and whittling in the woods, her Forest School classroom!

Useful Links

More information about Forest School at Forest Schools Association

How to choose your Forest School Trainer details

Forest School Leader Training with Cambium

Forest School Leader Training with Archimedes Course Information

Forest School Training Co-operative Course Information

Apply for a DBS check here

Obtain Forest School Public Liability Insurance with Birnbeck here

Online Basic Food Hygiene course information

Outdoor Food Hygiene Course with Ignite here

Also search online for the Annual Festival of Outdoor Learning – details usually on Facebook.

Distance Learning

A Forest School Level 3 online course was recently introduced by Archimedes though they have not yet run a full course. I would include a link once the programme has been evaluated by the FSA but in the meantime I advise caution on participating in this course. Given the practical nature of Forest School I am intrigued as to how an online course would be assessed. I can see potential for leaders who already have a huge amount of outdoor experience and just need the practising qualification for Forest School but my first impression was that you could do the Level 3 course without prior training which seems pretty irresponsible practice. Watch this space for more info, but whatever course you choose, research well and read the Choose your Forest School Trainer link first!

To browse ALL our outdoor jobs in one place click on Jobs of the Wild.