We have put together a selection of frequently asked questions which we hope will answer some of the questions you may have about the proposed Nature Schools, the involvement of the Wildlife Trust, plus general questions about Nature Schools and more specific questions about how each school will operate.
Greener school environments (such as the presence of natural features in the playground) have been linked with better motor skills , psychological restoration , and rates of physical activity 
We believe that using a schools 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.
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.
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.
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 and in 2014 we worked with 4,406 different local schools and education establishments, arranging 5,009 visits or events at nature reserves and education centres. Typically 84% of this contact was with primary age children.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We will have no operational role whatsoever: children will be cared for and taught by a head teacher and his/her staff. If a school decides to establish a relationship with its local Wildlife Trust then that will be similar to the role which Wildlife Trusts already have with thousands of schools all over the country.
No. We are trying to provide all our children with a better education and regardless of whether they end up being butchers, bakers or candlestick makers, a better appreciation of their personal role within nature. We believe the best place to start both is within a child’s own local environment.
There are examples of free schools in many environments, from leafy suburbs to deprived urban environments. The location of each school will be based on the need for school places, in consultation with the Local Authority and the Regional Schools Commissioner. According to some statistics free schools are ten times more likely to be located in the most deprived communities than the least deprived.
No. We will be opening schools in areas where there is an established need for school places. The new schools’ budgets 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.
We don’t believe so as there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that more time learning outdoors improves children’s well-being and educational performance. Our schools will be inspected by Ofsted in the same manner as any other school. Before their first Ofsted inspection the new schools will also receive a number of post-opening visits from Education Advisors working for the Department of Education.
Sample sizes are smaller for free schools (there are 400 open or in the process of opening) but underperformance has been identified in less than 2% of free schools: 71% have been judged as good or outstanding, which is a higher proportion than for other state schools.
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.
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.
Children at these schools 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Each 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.
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 and the answer may be different for each of the schools we are proposing to open.