Green Flag Award and Ulster in Bloom
The Forest School Awards contribute positively to "The Green Flag Award" and "Ulster in Bloom" Awards. Both Awards have the potential to score more highly if local communities take on an ownership of their local Council Park. The Green Flag Award scheme is the benchmark national standard for parks and green spaces in the UK.
"Park management authorities should actively pursue the involvement of members of the community"
The NI Local Government Agency (NILGA) organise the Ulster in Bloom Awards. "NILGA welcomes the development of the Forest School Awards across Northern Ireland. The project provides significant opportunities for practical education, learning and skills development, as well as encouraging a wider appreciation of our local environments and natural habitats while also harnessing a sense of local pride and community spirit."
Community Ownership and Civic Responsibility
Winning organisations identify an area within their local Council Park. This will become their Forest School site. They will visit their Forest School site on a regular basis every year. Here they will learn about civic responsibility and help manage the site. This will include regular litter lifting, opportunities to help improve its biodiversity, for example, wildflower planting, tree planting and so on.
People Engagement and Ripple Effect
The winning organisations will regularly visit the local Council Park. During their training winning organisations will visit their local Council Park on at least six different occasions for between 1-2 hours. Evaluations have also shown that pupils continue to use their local Council Park outside of school and they frequently bring their friends and family to show them what they have been doing in their Forest School.
The Forest School Awards are about empowering and giving local schools and organisations the skills and confidence to continue using their local Council Park every year for Forest School activity. Teachers and youth leaders train to become Forest School Leaders in their first year. Every year after that they are encouraged to continue using the local Council Park with free entry into the NI Forest School Association - Nature Ranger Scheme. This ensures at least six visits to their local Council Park every year. NIFSA undertook evaluations from existing Forest School organisations that have been through the training. Over 80% of them are still continuing with their Forest School activities every year.
Selected Parks will have 8ftx3ft Official Forest School Site banners, with the Council's logo, put up within them. Councils will also be presented with a metal plaque recognising the local Council Park as a NIFSA recognised Forest School site. The Council's logo will be on the plaque. Finally, there will be an opportunity to present the winning organisations with their NIFSA Forest School Certificate and hand out the NIFSA Nature Ranger Certificates to all of the pupils involved in the Forest School Awards. All branded with the Council's logo.
Reduction in anti-social behaviour
The winning organisations will regularly visit their local Council Park. The pupils become familiar with their Forest School site within the local Council Park. It is here that they begin to develop an understanding of their natural environment and through this understanding a healthy respect for the community and environment is nurtured. This in turn leads to a reduction in anti-social behaviour within the local Council Park because it is being used regularly by friends and family.
Contributes towards Play Strategies and children's mental and physical health
Report after report highlights how children nowadays do not get enough time outside. This leads to Vitamin D deficiency, poor eyesight and immune system and generally a lack of good mental and physical health. Forest School encourages children to explore their natural surroundings, work collaboratively to achieve simple goals and think for themselves. Research undertaken by national organisations show that children participating in Forest School have improved mental and physical health, improved communication skills, greater developed fine motor skills and mush more.
Detailed Activity Reports
The Forest School Awards has an in-built management information system that encourage winning organisations to record their Forest School activity. This will enable reports to be produced for Councils showing Forest School activity within winning local Council Parks. Winning organisations will have to record how often they visited their Forest School site, what activities they did, how many people were involved and for how long. The MIS will also contain qualitative reports. Winning organisations will have to evaluate their Forest School Award experiences.
Promotion of Council flagship centres or resources
A Directory of Forest Schools will be built up over the years. All of those involved will be keen outdoor enthusiasts looking for opportunities to visit new sites and undertake new outdoor activities. This Directory can be used to promote any centre or resource that your Council wants to promote with a simple click of a button.
A petition was sent out to all Primary Schools across Northern Ireland in June 2016. This was a general petition and not sent to anyone in particular within the school. Over 100 replies came back from the Primary Schools. All of them wanted to undertake the training to become a recognised Forest School, with an estimated 20,000 pupils being engaged during the training. This highlights a strong demand from local schools which would contribute to the success of the Forest School Awards.
... and more
These are only the main benefits for local Councils getting involved in the Forest School Awards. To find out how your Council can get involved click on the Register your interest in the Forest School Awards and somebody will get in touch with you.