How to choose a FS trainer
The first thing to ask when searching for a Forest School trainer is whether Forest School training is what you're really looking for. Have a look at What is Forest School? if you need more information about what Forest School is. You can find links to other forms of outdoor learning here. Some Forest School trainers also offer other forms of outdoor learning training, as well as CPD for Forest School practitioners.
Forest School training, particularly at level 3, is a large investment in time and money so we advise you to do your research so you know you are getting a quality qualification. The FSA is working towards endorsing training providers, which will help guide those looking for quality training long term (see database of FSA registered and endorsed Forest School Trainers). We would still encourage you to ask the questions outlined below.
There are a number of training providers for Forest School in the UK. Most provide a Forest School accredited award through one of the recognised awarding bodies. There are some that provide shorter courses that may support Forest School but may not be the full award.
So before looking at how to choose a trainer you may want to look at what the different qualifications cover and qualify you for.
When making your decision about which trainer to go with, one of the things you may go on is recommendations from colleagues – it is worth clarifying what it was that made the training worthwhile. As the reputable philosopher and educator, John Dewey, said 'did you take pleasure in the learning?'. How empowering was the training? Many an inspiring trainer there has been, but did the training:
- really give a deep connection and understanding of Forest School;
- help trainees deeply reflect on the learning;
- equip and inspire trainees to continue learning about Forest School;
- challenge and even change perspectives
- equip trainees to start confidently helping at Forest School (levels 1 & 2) or start being the main practitioner (Level 3).
What to ask a prospective trainer
What does the training cover? We know this is an obvious question but from this question you will get a feel for what they know, their ethos and what they cover – do ask for the detail.
Do I get a recognised certificated award and from which awarding body? This should not just be a certificate of attendance.
How much experience has the trainer of delivering Forest School programmes? The Forest School trainers network requires trainers to have a minimum of two years' experience with at least one long term programme, preferably covering a whole year with one group regularly attending on a weekly basis.
How much experience does the trainer have of working with learners of various ages in the practical elements of Forest School?
What is the breadth of outdoor learning experience and do they have experience of delivering Forest School to your type of client group?
How recent is their Forest School practice?
Is the trainer connected to local Forest Schools and local networks that can support you in your training and practice?
Is the trainer connected to any national support and local support? This includes support other than practitioners and settings eg FSA, FEN, FSW, FEI, resources, other networks.
Is the trainer up to date with the challenges and/or initiatives you may have in your type of setting?
What training experience does the trainer have? We would recommend you check out their own training experience (by this we mean training others to educate) and not just Forest School training – do they have a breadth of training experience to pull on?
What recent CPD and training has the trainer had?
This could include the most recent books they have read through to courses attended or mentoring from other trainers.
What is their own Forest School philosophy and is there an ethos that runs through their Forest School training practice? Do refer to the Forest School principles.
What does the training look like, how does it reflect the learner centred, community-building pedagogy of Forest School?
What experience and/or qualifications does the trainer have in ecological management of sites, in particular woodlands?
How does the trainer assess the competencies required of a Forest School practitioner?
Training providers should be using a variety of assessment processes to check their trainees are meeting the assessment criteria/competencies outlined in the qualification. Assessment methods need to be fair and accessible to trainees and appropriate for the criteria they are assessing. Trainees should be supported in doing the assessment methods chosen by the trainer.
Here are some of the common assessment methods used by Forest School trainers;
· Written assessments; which includes anything from writing up simple instructions on how to make Forest School artefacts, policy and procedures, risk assessments through to essay style writing that often relates the pedagogy of Forest School to established educational theory.
· Trainer observation of trainees practical skills undertaken during the course delivery
· Trainer observation of delivery of Forest School in the trainees own settings
· Trainer observation of trainees discussions
· Oral question and answer sessions between trainer and trainee
· Scenario based assessments observed by the trainer and/or peers
· Peer based assessments on delivery of Forest School and practical skills (this is particularly applicable to level 1 and 2 qualifications.)
Not all trainers use all these methods, what's important is - are they appropriate. It is worth asking of prospective training providers which ones are used and how they relate to the criteria. We also recommend asking how trainees are supported in the different assessment methods used by the trainer.
For more information on assessment methods see http://www.ocnwmr.org.uk/centres/assessment-and-evidence
What sort of ongoing support is available?
For example does it include supporting handouts, downloadable materials, e-mail contact, telephone contact, tutorials, site visits?
Are expectations of the trainees made clear?
For example how much time on each element is required/needed. How much contact time with the trainer (35% is normally a minimum). What equipment is required. Are terms and conditions and entry criteria spelled out?
What type of venue is used?
Does it demonstrate Forest School practice?
Does the training take care of your basic needs?
Food, warmth, access etc.
Does the Level 3 training include first aid?
Or does the trainer work with a recognised first aid provider whose course covers outdoor first aid for Forest School practitioners? Does any first aid training include paediatrics for those working with early years groups? First aid training should use a hands-on real life approach and works outside in the woods with real Forest School scenarios. What sort of experience does the first aid provider have in first aid?
What type of insurance does the trainer hold?
They should have at least public and personal liability.
What standardisation and/or quality review processes does the trainer have in place?
This is normally monitored by the awarding body however it is worth asking the question so you know the qualification you are getting is robust and up to date with practise.
What qualifications does the trainer have?
In order to deliver any accredited qualification (in England and Wales) the trainer is required to have a minimum of a level 4. This is the case for all the levels of Forest School awards. This may be a PTTLs level 4, or a secondary teaching qualification, going up to masters level.
What is their completion rate and what is their pass rate?
Completion does not necessarily mean pass!
And finally how do they sound and what is the cost?
You will need to match this to what is offered as there are varying costs between providers. They will relate to what you are getting – for example some courses have more contact time than others, some include food and some don’t etc. Do you have to pay for anything extra? Are the costs transparent?