Frequently Asked Questions
We have put together a selection of frequently asked questions which we hope will answer some of the questions you may have about Nature Schools, the involvement of the Wildlife Trust, plus more specific questions about how Nuneaton Nature School will operate.
1: How have you chosen the location for the Nuneaton school?
Local Authorities and Regional Schools Commissioners have been consulted on the location. We intend to set up a school in an area where new schools are needed.
2: Will you employ unqualified teachers?
All teachers will have Qualified Teacher Status.
3: Will you write your own curriculum?
We will teach the national curriculum for England and Wales, using the natural world as a vehicle to learn.
4: As there is still a selective exam for 11 year olds in my area might children going to your school be at a disadvantage?
We will teach the National Curriculum in common with other schools in in your area, so children at our schools will not be disadvantaged but they will gain the additional benefits of our approach.
5: How will school governors be selected?
The exact process for governing each school is under consideration and has not yet been set. There will very likely be a role for community representatives, parents and staff on bodies associated with schools.
6: Will you take children with SEN?
7: What will the maximum class size be? What will the staff to pupil ratio be?
Class size/teacher ratio will change as the school evolves and fills up with pupils. The maximum class size will be determined ultimately by the legislation which applies to primary schools in England.
8: Will you be Ofsted assessed and rated?
Yes. Our school will be no different from any other state school in its regulation. Indeed during its early life it will be subject to much more scrutiny.
9: What will be different about the way the national curriculum is delivered in your school?
The school’s local environment (including its building and immediate footprint) will be used as a place for learning and a medium for learning. For example maths might be learned by working out the age of a local tree and history by linking stages of its life to past events.
10: How much time will children spend outdoors?
As much as possible and certainly some time every day. We aim for pupils to spend at least 20% of their school time in meaningful, high quality outdoor learning.
11: If the school is in an urban area how will the children have access to natural space?
Wherever pupils live, they will be able to use the outdoors and the natural environment for learning. No school is an island: schools will use whatever is available in their local community, such as street trees and small green spaces. Some urban schools may have relatively easy access to city parks and nature reserves; whereas rural schools may have access to a different range of environments, including hedgerows and agricultural fields.
Within the school itself, we will make full use of window sills, walls and hard-standing – all of which can provide opportunities for learning in natural environments.
12: Will children wear school uniform?
No decision has been taken yet, but children are likely to have a uniform.
13: Will children need extra clothing and boots?
If they do then this will be factored into the budget so no child is specifically disadvantaged.
14: Will lunches be locally, ethically sourced, organic and free range?
It is unlikely that every ingredient will be, but the consumption of food will be an important way of teaching children about their role within the natural environment.
15: Will the school aim to be carbon neutral?
It would be our aspiration but major elements related to the building are beyond our control and rest with the Department for Education so this cannot be guaranteed.
16: What are your school’s environmental policies?
No specific policies have been created yet as the application process does not require them at this stage.
17: Will your school expand into secondary education?
This is a possible long term option, several years down the line.
18: Will your school accept year two entrants when it opens?
This depends on the demand in the local area and the financial implications of doing this. At the moment it is impossible to say for sure.
Learning outside the classroom ‘contributed significantly to raising standards and improving pupils’ personal, social and emotional development and can also help to combat underachievement.
1: Why are you doing this?
We believe that using a school's local natural environment as a medium for education will improve children’s learning, and be good for them too. Their relationship with their local environment will also be more intimate and relevant to their daily lives.
2: Free schools have had a lot of press, not all of it positive – why are you using such a controversial policy?
The Wildlife Trusts note the range of opinion both in favour and against the free school policy, but have not adopted a position on it themselves. It is a matter of fact that the nation needs hundreds of new schools by 2020 and the government has decided that these will be free schools. This is therefore an opportunity to bring the benefits of learning through the natural environment to thousands of children.
3: What does a Wildlife Trust know about running a school?
We won’t run the school. The team running the school will be what anyone would expect: a head teacher supported by a deputy, business manager, teachers and a Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Coordinator (SENDCo), held to account by a governing body.
4: Wildlife Trusts don’t do education do they, they just manage nature reserves?
Most Wildlife Trusts exist to have a role in education about the natural world as well as to care for nature reserves (it is very common for one or more of our charitable objectives to relate specifically to education). The Wildlife Trusts have a proud record of delivering on this purpose - our education work reaches over 400,000 children and young people every year.
5: This is outside the operations of a Wildlife Trust
There are no restrictions as to how we go about delivering our charitable objectives – as pragmatic organisations we will use the means available to us to get the best results. This initiative has been considered in detail and will help us meet our educational objectives.
6: You are supporting a political concept – Free Schools
Education is a political arena as much as many other aspects of our daily lives – e.g. transport, energy and yes, even the environment. True there seems to be a lot of change within education at the moment but one decision has been taken – that the new primary schools the country needs will be free schools. We are exploring this opportunity to address the problem of children’s learning and their relationship with their natural environment. We could be criticised for doing the reverse: that to turn down this opportunity because we are in principle against Free Schools would be a political decision rather than one based on reasoned evidence or the interest of our mission.
7: Is this is a risky and costly distraction away from nature conservation?
Any new venture carries risk. Any new venture comes with a cost to get it up and running. However we believe that educating the next generation in general and about wildlife in particular is crucial. We believe that the current system is failing to maximise the proven educational benefits of learning outdoors. If we didn’t do this then we might equally be criticised for being irresponsible in failing to explore the opportunity provided by Free Schools.
8: Does this mean we will stop our existing work with schools?
No it doesn’t. This is as well as, not instead of our existing work with schools.
9: How much of members’ subscriptions and/or supporters’ donations have been used to set up this project?
The direct costs of the project have been covered by funds belonging collectively to all Wildlife Trusts and administered by our central office (the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts). Staff from the Wildlife Trusts have spent some of their time on developing the project, and some of this is covered by subscriptions and donations – this is no different from any other new venture we embark upon.
10: Would children of members of a Wildlife Trust get special preference for entry?
No. The school will adhere to an admissions code which will be designed to ensure the school meets standard obligations and contributes to the wider education of its community.
11: Will this divert resources from state schools?
No. We are planning to open the Nuneaton school in an area where there is an established need for school places. The new school's budget will be set by the government using their funding formula and will vary depending on the location of a school, the number of children and on the pupil’s circumstances.
12: Are you taking a risk with the education of children?
No – children will be educated by qualified teachers and there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that more time learning outdoors improves children’s well-being and educational performance. Our school will be inspected by Ofsted in the same manner as any other school. Before the first Ofsted inspection the new school will also receive a number of post-opening visits from Education Advisors working for the Department of Education.
13: How free is a free school?
Free schools have the same freedoms as any academy. These include running an extended day, offering a longer school year. They are required to offer a broad and balanced curriculum, with a focus on the core subjects of English, Maths and science, but they can depart from the National Curriculum. They also have greater independence regarding their budgets.
14: How accountable are free schools?
Free schools have a more rigorous financial reporting responsibility. They are required to publish externally audited accounts (unlike state schools) and the Secretary of State has powers to intervene if necessary.
15: What are the differences between your school and an 'ordinary' primary school?
Children at the school will spend much more time outdoors in the school’s local environment because teachers will be using it as a place for learning as much as the classroom, and a medium for learning as much as indoor lessons. As a result children will grow to have a much deeper understanding of their own natural environment and their personal role within it.
16: How does this idea relate to Forest Schools which have been in existence for some time?
It takes many of the approaches and benefits of Forest Schools, which tend to be short term interventions into the education of children. We will make them an integral and daily part of every child’s learning.
17: What might the admission policies be? Would it relate to catchment areas?
Our admissions policy will be compliant with all relevant legislation and will be approved by the Department for Education if we are successful with the application. We will seek to discuss the detail of our policy with the Local Authority to ensure our school meets local need.
18: Will teachers have additional qualifications / experience relevant to nature or the environment?
Some will, but a commitment to the educational philosophy is more important.
On average, children now spend less time outdoors than prison inmates.
The Times, 26 March 2016