About Us

SWLfSC [the Coalition] is a Community Interest Company that is a network of over 130 organisations and individuals across the South West of England. Coalition members share expertise in sustainable development, education and learning, and understand that learning, viewed broadly, is crucial to the development of a sustainable South West.

The Coalition, which was established in 2004 and has grown through the voluntary efforts of members and supportive institutions, exists to champion education for sustainable development [ESD] in the region. The glue that binds SWLfSC together is, firstly, a shared conviction that sustainable development is a priority, and that learning is the key to this; and, secondly, commonly-held values around the importance of education, the need to promote systems thinking and active citizenship, and the central importance of co-operation across interests and communities.

For further information...
It is free to join. Please email swlfsc@gmail.com to become a member.

If you would like to advertise a regional event through our network please email Paul Vare (learning4l@aol.com) and he will add it to the monthly update.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Plymouth Seminar 13th of February 2014

The Natural Connections Project

Over a dozen people were able to attend the Natural Connections project despite the lack of rail connections. Rupert Bannister was among them and here he shares his personal reflections (appeared in February 2014 Update).

The project has big ambition and great potential to inform on appropriate technique and practice in outdoor learning. The scope is wide, engaging 200 schools across the South West and the methods appear to be sound. I do however fear that the project has anacademic bias with a strong focus on research and data analysis.

Could the project have benefited from a two stage approach, firstly looking at current practice & research and secondly looking at the future and putting infrastructure in place before yet another pot of funding runs out? I wonder if the project had been awarded to a non-academicbody whether the emphasis would be less academic and more connection making and long-term focused. As was pointed out by another participant in the room, hasn’t this been done before, pulling together and analysis of best practice to get a snap shot of where we are. Once we know what to do and how best to do it, then there is no money left to actually implement that ‘best practice’! It all feels a bit random, let it go, see what happens, then write about it! I guess this is a question that will rumble on and on, but this is only my personal opinion!

Seminar reflections response  – appeared in March 2014 update
Ian Blackwell, Natural Connections project manager, University of Plymouth
I am writing in response to Rupert Bannister’s personal reflections on the Coalition’s Natural Connections project seminar that appeared in the February Update. I need to clarify the aims of the project and to remind everyone what we are doing to support outdoor learning in the South West region. As Natural England is our main partner, and with Sue Waite on our team, we are not new to the field, and the project is based on an understanding of previous research and activity. As such, we benefit from a two-stage approach: firstly, looking at current practice and research – for example, see the pre-project insight reports and just some of the research on the subject on the website [1]; and, second, looking to the future putting a sustainable, well-resourced infrastructure in place.

We are working with experienced 'brokerage' teams ('Hub Leaders') in the target areas who know the education sector particularly well. They work closely with each school, sharing their knowledge of how outdoor learning can be embedded across the curriculum, funding improvements, supporting the professional development needs of teachers, and bringing providers into every school. Natural Connections is, therefore, about making things happen– we are aiming to work with over 200 schools, dozens of providers and hundreds of volunteers – and about a rigorous evaluation process to track and understand change and impact. Although this sort of balance is not always easy, a demonstration project such as this cannot operate successfully without both action and reflection.

The Coalition seminar was one of many meetings we attend to share our approach and our analyses, as well as inviting partners to get involved. Natural Connections wants to support people who believe schools, teachers, pupils, communities and society as a whole can benefit if more learning takes place in the natural environment. We are very much focused on making a difference long-term, something that previous short-term interventions have failed to do. For example, two of our long-term plans are to support other areas of the region who want to help schools take their learning outside more often, and to influence national policy.

I hope that this reassures readers and the hundreds of people who are actively engaged in supporting outdoor learning through Natural Connections that this major initiative is not 'all a bit random' but actually a thoughtful response to transform how teachers teach. Like Rupert and others at the meeting, having worked in 'outside the classroom' settings for 25 years, I have seen many projects come and go, but I believe Natural Connections offers the sector, finally, a refreshing, meaningful and strategic approach. Of course, Natural Connections is not the be-all-and-end-all – there are many, many great projects in the region and I would encourage the sector to work together to achieve our shared objectives.
Note 1

Members of the Board of Directors

Paul Vare - Executive Director
Professor William Scott - Chair
Mairi Kershaw - Treasurer
Elsa Lee - Secretary
Helen Adams
Rupert Bannister
Sarah Chave
Lynn Cutler
Jo Matthews
Professor Stephen Sterling