There are lots of reasons why people join the Forest School Association (FSA). Perhaps as many reasons as there are members. However, members usually have a handful of key interests when they join. How much importance they give to each depends on the member.
These interests may be viewed as a hierarchy in terms of how they are addressed by the FSA. We can draw parallels with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs; these being fulfilment of ‘basic needs’, ‘psychological needs’, and ‘self-actualisation’. As a model it’s not a perfect fit but let’s go with it.
The charitable purpose of the FSA is to promote ‘Quality Forest School for All’. If and when we get to the point of everyone having access to quality Forest School the FSA will have, quite literally, self-actualised. Some members have joined the FSA solely to support this worthy ultimate goal because of their keen interest in quality Forest School.
At the other end of the pyramid we have members who view membership as an entirely transactional relationship. What can the FSA do for me? How are my basic needs going to be met? These are not unreasonable questions and the FSA certainly does attempt to offer individual members direct tangible benefits that are at least equivalent to the annual membership fee.
The centre ground, addressing psychological needs (professional support and development), is probably where the majority of members focus their interests and expectations of the FSA.
The purpose of this article is to help communicate the value of the FSA to members with multiple interests and expectations.
Self-actualisation (Working towards ‘Quality Forest School for All’)
This area of work is partly political (small p) and the relationship building and communication involved is always a work in progress. It is not easy to explain this side of what we do, even though it heavily influences our primary purpose, because the links between actions and outcomes are not always clear. Nevertheless, the FSA board have agreed that we need to be much better at communicating this to our members. The FSA directors will produce regular updates on our representation and lobbying at a national level.
The FSA is represented on various national committees and strategic groups involved with education and the environment. These include, the Council for Learning outside the Classroom (CLoTC) natural environment group, the Forest Skills Forum, the Forest Education Network, liaison with HMIs in the Department for Education, and liaison with the Outdoor Education Advisory Panel.
Along with a number of interested parties, the FSA’s advocacy was partly responsible for Forest School being specifically named in the DEFRA white paper ‘A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment’ as a means to ‘connect people with the environment to improve health and wellbeing’. The FSA is working with other organisations in this sector to unlock funding for Forest School delivery in general.
The FSA hosts an Awarding Organisations forum. Through the FSA Endorsed Trainers Group we are the gatekeeper organisation for Forest School qualifications and work with 6 Awarding Organisations to maintain standards, which include raising barriers to entry for under qualified and inexperienced Forest School trainers.
The FSA has a key role in signposting the public toward quality Forest School provision and quality Forest School Training. The FSA, as the professional body for Forest School in the UK, is in a unique position to be able to do this.
FSA members believe in promoting quality Forest School for All; in training, in practice, in reflection, in CPD. With direct support from the Institute of Outdoor Learning, as the umbrella body for outdoor learning in the UK, and in partnership with other interested national bodies, the FSA endeavours to achieve this outcome.
The FSA offers a unified voice for Forest School that is based on a common understanding of the ethos and values of Forest School through the 6 Forest School principles. Through our collective efforts we are better able to influence decision makers.
Addressing Psychological needs (Professional support and development)
Members join the FSA for recognition of their practice. This point isn’t necessarily about building self-esteem, rather about how our members are viewed by wider society.
All FSA members agree to follow the member’s code of conduct, which includes promoting the 6 principles of Forest School. When you are talking to an FSA member you can be sure that they know about the 6 Forest School principles, and support them, even if they are not yet in a position to follow all 6 principles.
There are opportunities to have your Forest School provision recognised by the FSA through the ‘FSA Recognised Forest School Provider’ scheme. Forest School Trainers have the opportunity to pass through the Forest School Trainers Quality Assurance scheme and join a community of their peers with the remit to develop national professional standards in Forest School practice and training.
The FSA is presently developing employment opportunities that will only be available to FSA members. These opportunities have come about because of the esteem in which the FSA is held by our partners, both national and international.
Love and belonging
To be a member of the FSA is to be part of something bigger than any one individual’s practice. The FSA has a diverse membership and represents an equally wide range of Forest School interests. We are a community and we are stronger when we stick together.
Many of our members have working environments that may not ‘get’ Forest School. The FSA community gets you and values you. In addition, the FSA offers numerous ways that you can give back to your community. Essentially, the FSA IS the community.
Recent conversations with members tell us what they value about the FSA. These include:
- opportunities to share skills and knowledge;
- sharing the joy of the work that we do;
- meeting people and avoiding either isolation or the echo chambers of special interest groups;
- giving hope to those feeling like they are constantly struggling in the education sector;
- feeing united, valued and validated;
- being part of and involved with the FSA work streams;
- being part of a supportive community where relationships are made and there is a sense of belonging.
There are many ways in which members support and develop the FSA through their voluntary effort. These include:
- working on the board as an FSA director;
- acting on committees of local affiliated FSA groups;
- acting as a local affiliated group representative to the FSA;
- contributing to FSA working groups;
- working on the national Forest School events;
- offering workshops, skill share and other CPD opportunities to members;
- writing articles, book reviews and product reviews;
- contributing to discussions and queries raised by others;
- participating in surveys and FSA elections.
The FSA is exploring ways to support practitioners more directly. In addition to the networking opportunities offered by the local affiliated groups and the annual national conference/festival, we are considering other types of FSA gathering. In addition, we would like to develop a more personal mentoring scheme for members and are looking into developing appropriate FSA endorsed CPD in the future.
Addressing Basic Needs (Personal benefits offered by the FSA)
Safety and Security (protecting members’ interest in business and professional practice)
The FSA offers members certain things that directly strengthen their hand as practitioners. These may not be possible through other means.
For instance, the problem of insurers not covering rope swings and tree climbing at Forest School was resolved by the FSA, in collaboration with the Forestry Commission and Play London, and resulted in keeping the premiums the same for activities ‘under 2 meters from the ground’.
The FSA is encouraging research into Forest School. This is expected to support the community in terms of helping to change policy and practice. We are working with partners to unlock future funding and communicating the benefits of Forest School.
Where Forest School is being brought into disrepute by poor quality practice, or simply misrepresented through incorrect use of the term ‘Forest School’, the FSA is there to highlight the national professional standards. This allows the public to differentiate, with advocacy by FSA members, between what is and is not Forest School.
Where the Forest School community is experiencing an erosion or impingement of its rights the FSA is there to advocate on its behalf. All practitioners will benefit regardless whether or not they are members. As an example, the FSA has historically worked with other organisations to prevent the terms ‘Forest School Kindergarten’ and 'Forest Schools kindergarten’ from being trademarked. This action ensured that the terms were kept available to our community to use freely.
FSA members are able to keep up to date with current trends that relate to the broadly related industries of education, mental health, outdoors learning. They are able to maintain their professional knowledge through the FSA signposting to key literature. This is done through weekly emails, member only articles posted on the website, and CPD events.
The FSA has entered into a memorandum of understanding with the UK’s largest union, UNISON that agrees ‘common cause’. It is possible that, in the future, members who do not otherwise have union membership may be able to access certain benefits, including representation, through the FSA and UNISON.
The FSA is exploring how additional market information may be gathered and provided to our members to help inform their business decisions.
Specific discounts available to individual members
In addition to the benefits, such as the weekly bulletin, mentioned above individual members may also add themselves to a public facing map and have access to the members only parts of the FSA website with access to the FSA resources such as specific guidance notes, social network, on-line local groups, and latest members news, case studies and articles.
There are a growing number of discounts available to FSA members.
- NEW: Kozi Kidz clothing – FSA members are entitled to a discount of between 30-60% depending on volume.
- Enhanced DBS checks - discount for FSA members through Adventure Plus
- Discounted advertising of Forest School jobs on our publicly accessible jobs board. FSA Members you get a 50% discount when advertising Forest School jobs.
- 10% discount on all products from either Greenman Bushcraft or Forest School Shop .
- 5% discount on all Muddy Faces products.
- 10% discount on Wild Canvas products .
- Discounts on events run by FSA affiliated local groups and other FSA supported events ... publicised as they come
- Cheaper insurance rate for practitioners and trainers. The FSA has negotiated a discounted insurance rate for practitioners and trainers with Birnbeck Insurance Services.
- Individual FSA members and Trainee Members – Liability Insurance: No admin fee charged in first year (£15 saving), £10 discount on annual policy. £168 for individual practitioners. For organisations this will depend on the type of organisation.
- FSA Recognised Forest School Provider Organisations – Liability Insurance: No admin fee charged in first year (£15 saving), 5% discount on annual policy or £10 discount on annual policy, whichever is greater. Therefore, anything over £200 will represent an increased saving. The larger the organisation the greater the saving.
- FSA Registered / Endorsed Forest School Trainers – In addition to the above benefits (if required). Professional Indemnity Insurance: 10% discount on annual policy. The underwriters have agreed to this on the basis that FSA Trainer members have lowered their risk by demonstrating their good practice through the Quality Assurance scheme run by the FSA.
- Discounted advertising of Forest School events on our events board.
As a member you get an 83% discount when advertising an event on our events board.
What do you think? Does this help to answer the question 'why should I join the FSA?'. Does it help to communicate the scope of that we do? Have I missed something? What do you value the most about the FSA?
Gareth Wyn Davies