Your directors and I have been working hard over the past six months to develop a strategy for the future development of the FSA. Our starting point was an acknowledgement that our current membership model does not address the specific needs of a large proportion of our membership. While the FSA is fulfilling its charitable objects in terms of promoting and representing Forest School at a national level many of our members do not feel personally connected to this side of what we do. We have tried to develop a long list of member benefits such as member discounts, opportunities to join locally affiliated groups, guidance notes, the bulletin, WIKI content etc. However, these benefits should simply be the icing on the cake. It is the substance of the cake that needs developing.
At the heart of the FSA is a desire to promote best practice, cohesion and ‘quality Forest School for all’. We presently have an open membership policy. This is inclusive and very much in line with Forest School philosophy. However, there is an appetite for the FSA to recognise those of our members who are following good practice. The board have agreed to add additional membership types within our organisation.
The first is ‘Organisational Member’. It will be for FSA recognised organisations that are providing Forest School in line with the six principles of Forest School. Organisations such as pre-schools/nurseries, primary schools, secondary schools, sole trader freelancers and others that demonstrate that they meet the necessary criteria will be eligible to join. These new organisation members will be able to demonstrate that they meet the six principles of Forest School and market themselves as being recognised by the FSA. The initiative is being tested with a number of different organisations around the country at the moment. Once we have received feedback we will be in a position to develop policies and procedures to support this initiative. Further details about the criteria, process, benefits etc will be published in August in expectation that the membership type will be launched in September.
The second additional membership type is the long awaited ‘Forest School Trainer Member’. A working group has developed a 3 stage process for the FSA to endorse Trainers. This has been agreed in principle by the FSA board. It now requires further policy and procedures to be developed to support it. The time scale on this is harder to pin down because we want the agreement and engagement of the Forest School Trainers Network before we launch.
The Trainee Membership type will change as free membership for trainees will be linked to the membership of FSA endorsed Trainers. Other trainees will still be able to join the FSA at a reduced rate.
These new membership types will be further developed and supported by a Development Officer. The FSA will start open recruitment for this person very soon in the expectation of appointing in August. The board and I will take steps to progress these initiatives in the interim.
There is an expectation that the Development Officer role will start as part time but build up to full time when possible. The CEO role will remain on two days per week. Having this additional paid member of staff will allow me, as acting CEO, to concentrate on running the organisation (meeting statutory responsibilities, reporting – to directors, members, the Charity Commission, funders etc – strategy development, development of work plans, writing funding proposals, arranging meetings, elections, contract management, handling enquiries, communicating with members, building partnership etc). It will also allow the directors to step back from operational matters, something that is consuming a large amount of their voluntary time at present, and concentrate on the more traditional director/trustee role of oversight and legal responsibility for the good running of the organisation. The sheer time commitment involved at present can make it difficult to retain some excellent FSA directors.