Forest School Awards
The outreach programme for Learning Without Walls

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Distance Learning Forest School Programme


The Northern Ireland Forest School Association (NIFSA) is a registered charity established in 2008.

Its Founder and General Manager, Brian Poots, has over 30 years of conservation and education experience.

NIFSA has developed its own nationally recognised Forest School Leader Level 3 qualification. This Level 3 qualification is accredited by the Open College Network, Northern Ireland and sits in the Government's Register of Recognised Qualifications. NIFSA has supported over 20,000 children learning and exploring outside and trained over 30 schools and youth groups in becoming Forest Schools.

In 2016, NIFSA began lobbying local Councils in Northern Ireland to engage in the Forest School Awards. Local Councils support Forest School training in their local Parks and green spaces. This has proved a huge success, with over half of Northern Ireland Councils supporting the Forest School Awards in its first year. However, NIFSA still cannot satisfy the massive demand for Forest School training.

NIFSA wants to be able to support any school or youth group in becoming a Forest School. As a result, NIFSA has developed the Distance Learning Forest School Programme.

The Distance Learning Forest School Programme will be a mixture of on-site training and assessment at your school or youth group and independent study with all the relevant materials and resources provided.

What do you get?

Once your organisation has taken the decision to become a Forest School, NIFSA will organise an initial half day visit to begin your journey.

  • You will be given an induction about the qualification, the process and resources and support that will be provided.
  • NIFSA will take a Forest School session on your site to demonstrate a typical Forest School session.
  • After the practical Forest School session NIFSA will set up your dedicated Management Information System on the Forest School Awards website to support your involvement in Forest Schools.

Following this initial induction meeting then you will have access to all the resources you need to complete the following tasks for your portfolio -

  • Undertake 6 Forest School sessions with completed lesson plans. One of the sessions must be observed by a NIFSA assessor and they must be confident that it has been successfully undertaken.
  • Undertake four 1,000 word assignments
  • The Benefits of Forest Schools
  • The History of Forest Schools
  • How do Forest Schools fit with National Strategies?
  • A Personal Evaluation of your Forest School Experience.
  • Produce a Forest School Handbook for your organisation.

During your training period, you will have access to the Forest School Members Zone in the Forest School Awards website. Here you will have access to everything to help you become a Forest School -

  • Dedicated Management Information System to record all your activities, produce reports etc. This area has been created for members and will be shaped by members in the future.
  • Links to social media sites that are discussing Forest School activity
  • Dozens of ideas for outdoor lessons
  • Links and discounts for Forest School equipment and books
  • Links to other useful websites
  • Special offers for Members - discounted First Aid courses etc.

NIFSA is available at any time throughout the whole process to support you in achieving your accredited Forest School status.

On successful completion of your training your organisation will receive -

  • The Forest School Leader Trainee will receive their Forest School Leader Award Level 3 Certificate.
  • Your organisation will receive a Certificate of Forest School Recognition.
  • Each participating pupil will receive a personalised NIFSA Nature Ranger Certificate.
  • Your organisation will have an entry in the Forest School Awards Directory.
  • Your organisation will receive an Official Forest School metal plaque (optional).

Special Bonus

The Northern Ireland Forest School Association has been chosen as the delivery partner for Learning About Forests (LEAF) in Northern Ireland. LEAF is a complimentary programme to Eco-Schools. Both programmes are co-ordinated by the Foundation for Environmental Education.

Your organisation will also receive the internationally accredited LEAF Award as part of the Distance Learning Forest School Programme.

Annual Membership

NIFSA Forest School Programmes are designed to continue to support your organisation in developing its Forest School. By subscribing to the Annual Membership organisations receive -

  • Continued dedicated MIS section on the Forest School Awards website.
  • Annual Forest School accreditation via the NIFSA Nature Ranger Scheme.
  • Annual LEAF assessment.
  • Annual CPD day at Champion Forest School in your Council area.
  • Special offers for members e.g. discounts, free resources etc.
  • Heavily discounted additional Forest School Leader assessment and certification for others in your organisation (£100 per person).
  • Learning Without Walls Newsletter produced every month during term time

Forest School Awards versus Distance Learning Forest School Programme

If you are eligible, please apply to the Forest School Awards as well. We want to encourage the proactive enjoyment of local Council Parks. This will bring an added dimension to your Forest School.

If you are successful in being awarded a Forest School Award you will be reimbursed any costs you may have incurred from the Distance Learning Forest School Programme.

Costs involved

Distance Learning Forest School Programme - £300
Open College Network registration and certification - £30

Official Forest School Metal Plaque - £30
NIFSA Starter Forest School Kit Bag - £110
(65 litre ruck sack with everything you need to begin your Forest School experience - First Aid kit, tarpaulins, potato peelers, wool, junior hacksaws, whistle etc.)
Annual NIFSA Membership - £100

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