Outdoor Learning Handbook

Somerset Natural Learning Academy

Outdoor Learning, Craft Skills, Gardening & Forest School Handbook

2014 – 2015

This Document is used in conjunction with the Code of PracticeStudent Protection Policy, Health & Safety Policy, SNLA Lesson Plans and all relevant Risk Assessments. The Code of Practice provides detailed information not contained in this handbook with regard to dealing with and reporting incidents and Student Protection issues. This Handbook is written for Forest School Leaders and other persons qualified to lead outdoor activities on behalf of SNLA. It aims to provide guidance both to those employed directly by SNLA, in either a paid or volunteer capacity, those sub-contracted by SNLA and those employed through payments made by SNLA to individual schools and on SCC payroll.

 Where SNLA is working in partnership with the Red Brick Building Centre Ltd. a separate manual has been produced that covers Work Experience and Health & Safety procedures in the built environment.

Disclaimer – This handbook is provided on the understanding that participating adults have the appropriate training, experience and qualifications to conduct the specific activities. All users must be satisfied with their own competence and the competence of the students in participating in the activity. At no time does this handbook supersede the leaders own professional judgement as to the safety of an activity, the current guidance provided by the governors and senior management of any participating school, Somerset County Council guidelines, relevant government legislation and guidelines provided by professional training bodies.

Aims – The aim of the SNLA programme of activities is to widen and enrich the student learning experiences, offer experiences that will promote self-reliance in the world of employment, support their spiritual growth and enjoyment of natural environments. A key component of this is raising their self-esteem through their successes, their relationships with adults and peers, and their strong sense of being a part of a group with a common purpose.

At the same time it is the aim of the activity programme to offer different aspects of the National Curriculum entitlement through the medium of outdoor learning and craft skills. As part of this approach written work for students will be kept to a minimum, with assessment carried out through observation and oral feedback. Students will have a written record of their work and outcomes, however, and will receive a Certificate of Experience at the end of any programme of activity exceeding four sessions.

Activities will be challenging but always accessible. Students should end each session feeling they have accomplished something worthwhile. At the same time the ratio of students to adults should enable a strong focus to be placed on individual needs, group relationships and conflict resolution.

Inclusion – All students, regardless of age, gender, ability or disabilities should, in principal, have access to all activities offered in this handbook. All students should be able to complete the activities regardless of age, gender or ability. At the same time, we understand that some students might attend these courses on the basis of specific educational needs and learning materials and approaches may need to be adapted.

The only grounds for excluding a student from any activity will be because their behaviour poses a significant threat to their own health and safety or the health and safety of others or is sufficiently challenging to make the continuance of the activity problematic.

Community Cohesion – In the planning of an Outdoor Learning provision SNLA will seek to grow the involvement of the wider community. This could involve staff and students from other local schools both secondary and infant, family members including parents and grandparents, and community volunteers.

Health & Safety Policies

Activity Leaders, staff and volunteers providing on or off-site outdoor learning must be familiar with the school’s own Safeguarding Policy, the Safeguarding Policy of SNLA, Code of Practice and relevant Health & Safety statements. Leaders must ensure that it informs that planning and conduct of all activities.

Students, Young Adults and Vulnerable Persons – Activity Leaders and teachers should regard their duty of care when working with young persons as of the first importance. To ensure all individuals (students, workers, volunteers) are safe and protected the following procedures must be followed

  • Schools must provide a designated Party Leader who will have overall responsibility for the behaviour, health and safety and first aid needs of the party. Exceptions may be agreed with schools with whom we have long term relationships and where groups of less than 9 are involved who are known to the Activity Leaders provided by SNLA.
  • Everyone involved in Forest School is fully briefed on health and safety, risk assessment of sites and activities. Staff and volunteers should be made aware of the relevant school policies and ensure that they adhere to the guidance contained in them.
  • Forest School Leaders delivering training will have an enhanced level D & B check. Any regular volunteer attending Forest School must be D & B cleared. Where a community volunteer or parent volunteer provides support on an occasional basis and does not hold a current D & B certificate they must not be left unsupervised with students.
  • Any concerns about a student’s physical or mental well-being should be shared with the schools named Student Protection Person, so that the school’s student protection procedures can be applied.
  • We regard safety and good practice as our highest priority and it is the responsibility of all staff and volunteers to ensure general safety during the activities.
  • Adults working on behalf of SNLA must identify themselves by their full legal names. When working with students where the identity of adults may not be known, approved ID badges will be worn by all adults working in the learning environment.

Information to Parents

Parents of participating students or potential participating students should have an opportunity to find out about the Activity Programmes offered by SNLA. Ideally, there should be an opportunity to attend a meeting to find out about Forest School / outdoor activities and to provide a forum for feedback. Participating parents will be invited to observe an SNLA activity session.

Parents will be kept informed of the activities of their students by way of an online newsletter. Where SNLA is working with schools on an extended basis it should offer content for newsletters etc. and ensure that the activities are appropriately and accurately reported.

Activity Leaders must confirm that schools have sent the following literature to parents: –

  • Parental Consent form for the specific SNLA Activity Programme providing clear information concerning the nature and extent of the activities. Consent form to include request for information of any significant health issues, dietary issues and details of medication.(required for off-site activities only, as information is already held within school).
  • Request for full parental contact details, both for home and place of work.(off-site visits)
  • A brief outline of the Activity Programme and what the students should expect to achieve. by completing the course.
  • A list of all the kit students are expected to provide for themselves. This should include advice on the purchase of appropriate waterproof clothing. (It must be made clear to parents that inappropriately clothed students may not be allowed to attend the activity.
  • A feedback form at the end of the course for completion by parents.
  • Information concerning ticks and Lime Disease, giving best current advice on dealing with them if found.

Staff Student Ratios

Low staff – student ratios and small groups are a vital aspect of Craft Skills & Outdoor Learning generally. This is not only important for safety, but also to enhance the quality of the experience both for staff and students. Students of all abilities enjoy the opportunity to forge new relationships with both adults and their peers and to ‘break the mould’ of expectations that normally arise in their usual classroom and playground environments.

It is the policy of SNLA to run off-site Forest School and related activities with ratios at the following maximum levels:-

Recommended Adult-Student ratios for planning Forest School Visits

Nursery = 1:3, Reception = 1:4, Years 1,2,3 = 1:6, Years 4,5,6 = 1:8, Year 7+ = 1:10, plus 1 extra adult in case of emergencies in all cases. For school site Forest Schools these ratios are not statutory but are recommended, as some activities require high adult ratios.

When working in school grounds with large numbers of students involved schools will be asked to provide a member of staff with sufficient seniority to manage any discipline issue that may arise. Where sharp metal tools are used the on-site ratio will be a maximum of 1:6 irrespective of age. Where students have been specifically identified as ‘at risk’, a 1:1 ratio may be necessary depending on the risk assessment. These ratios do not apply to the use of sharp tools or other higher risk activities, where the ratios indicated in the handbook must be applied. A 1:2 ratio is required, for example for each bill hook in use. (See ‘Tools’ section.)

Training & Qualifications of Staff

The current policy of Somerset County Council with regard to the required qualifications and experience of Leaders and assistant will be adhered to. Activities will normally be supervised by a qualified teacher with suitable outdoor qualifications, such as MLTB certificate, or Forest School Leader (Level 3). Those staff or contracted in persons supporting specified craft activities must have qualifications in their craft and/or verifiable and appropriate experience. Contracted in Craft Workers will be expected to have their own Public Liability Insurance specific to that activity.

For on-site activities LSAs or other ancillary staff with appropriate qualifications may lead activities once the appropriate experience has been gained and observed to be satisfactory. All off-site activities must be supervised by Activity Leaders with the appropriate qualification. All staff and volunteers involved should experience basic  ‘outdoor health & safety’ training to alert them to the risks of working in the school grounds and enhanced training for the additional risks posed by support outdoor learning off-site in woodland or other outdoor spaces.

Recruitment of paid trainers and Volunteers – It is the our policy that all volunteers, are DBS (enhanced) checked and a copy of the relevant documentation held at the SNLA office, alongside photocopies of identifying documentation and CV. The volunteer will usually be a member of the local community who has a proven career path and a relationship with a local school (such as a parent). SNLA will encourage volunteers to obtain qualifications. ( New volunteers who are  DBS checked must have a proven CV since the issue of the DBS clearance.)

Evaluation of Activities and Student Progress

Evaluation of both the success of the activity programme and student success is a continuous process. The strands set out below are to be implemented where a group of students are working with SNLA on a regular basis. All information is to be stored for research and publication purposes. Information is stored such that individual student identities are removed. Photographic evidence should be processed so that students in the images cannot be identified.

1. Case Studies. Two case studies to be carried out each term. Case study to consist of –

  • Details of I.E.P. and special needs
  • Monitoring of attendance and behaviour in school
  • Diary of student learning outcomes
  • Discussion with school professional to log any identified progress
  • Student feedback form
  • Parental feedback form

Where the activity is a ‘one-off’, such as a Forest School Taster Day, the Party Leader will be asked fill in an evaluation form.

2. Outdoor Session Report. A record of all activities run by Activity Leaders will be maintained and filed. The information provided for each event will be as follows: – Date, Trainers, Location, numbers of students attending, brief activity description (e.g., ‘Tree Spirit Faces’), weather, special notes. Information to be emailed to SNLA Office.

3. Formal Lesson Observation. Termly lesson observation by a peer or third party with overall outcome judged as Unsatisfactory, Satisfactory, Good or Outstanding, This responsibility will usually be carried out by SNLA’s Outdoor Learning co-ordinator.

Behaviour Policy

All the normal expectations of student behaviour within school, both towards staff and each other will apply. Forest School & Outdoor Learning is part of their normal school day. This must be made explicit to the students at the start of the session as part of the Health and Safety requirements. The teacher who is designated as Party Leader must also make themselves known to all students. Where the overall size of the group is small (15 or less) and the school has provided an experienced LSA, the Party Leader must be available at all times. This is at the discretion of the Activity Leader.

There are extended rules specifically with regard to Forest School, which must be made explicit to the students from the first session. The key safety rules must be rehearsed with the students at the start of each session.

Some students engaging in Forest School may have behavioural and learning difficulties. Behaviour must never be tolerated which puts themselves or other students at significant risk. In other areas, for example with regard to co-operative activities and general participation, or in the case of inappropriate language or verbal abuse of another student, targets for improvement will be set and monitored.

It is expected that students will benefit from their time with SNLA. Persistent unacceptable behaviour is an indicator that the student is not benefiting from the experience and withdrawal should be considered on the basis of the observed negative outcomes.

All sessions begin with a discussion of staying safe. These should be negotiated and agreed by all. Students should understand that the activities are only possible if they participate safely and abide by the key safety rules at all times.

Rewards and Sanctions Policy


  1. The best reward is meaningful and direct praise, which indicates precisely what it is the student has done well. The Activity Leader should make time at the end of each session to praise both the group and individuals as appropriate, as well as at the time of the activity.
  2. Where students are signed up for multi-session courses improvements and contributions will be logged and an email note to the school or parent generated.
  3. At the end of any extended course a certificate will be awarded. This should itemise the skills the student has demonstrated during the Forest School course.


  1. In all instances where SNLA is working alongside school staff the schools’ own sanctions procedures should be invoked in instances of unacceptable behaviour. The school Party Leader (see Code of Practice) remains responsible for the behaviour of the school party. In all other instances the following apply. –
  2. All significant incidents of unacceptable behaviour will be recorded.
  3. Leaders will talk through the issues raised by unacceptable behaviour with the student. In the first instance they should be given the opportunity to agree improved behaviour.
  4. Significant incidents of unacceptable behaviour are also to be reported to the appropriate member of the school staff or parent(s) as appropriate.
  5. Students attending an extended SNLA programme of study (multiple sessions) who exhibit poor behaviour should, in discussion with the parent or school, be withdrawn from the Activity Programme for 1 week in the first instance. Students who persist in unacceptable behaviour may be withdrawn completely on health and safety grounds or on the basis that the experience is not benefiting them.
  6. Students who fail to co-operate with activities but whose behaviour does not constitute a hazard should be counselled. Depending on their learning needs, emotional difficulties etc. a programme of reintegration should be agreed. If a student repeatedly states an unwillingness to be involved, complete withdrawal should be considered on the basis that benefits to the student have not been identified.

Managing Risk

No Activity Leader, whatever their qualification, should plan or supervise an activity outside of their competence and training. 

No Forest School, Craft, Garden or other outdoor activity can take place with students without those activities being risk assessed and the information logged with SNLA and the school on the appropriate form. An online risk assessment form can be obtained from the Outdoor Learning Co-ordinator and filed by email at learning@snla.co.uk. Risk assessments must have a named author and be dated.

Schools must be provided with all necessary information to complete their own risk assessment prior to working with SNLA.

All new activity sites require a new on-site risk assessment to ensure they are suitable for the intended activity.

Activity Leaders must be familiar with any current seasonal environment assessments, generic risk assessments and activity risk assessments.

In the case of pre-activity or site visit risk assessments, where no significant changes to the site have taken place (as with a long term programme of activity with the same school), the fact that a risk assessment has been carried out must be recorded and dated and state that there are no significant changes since the previous risk assessment. An activity risk assessment remains valid so long as there are no significant changes to the activity, such as location, type of tool used, procedures etc. Glastonbury Trust on-site risk assessments should be copied to the online form and emailed to learning@snla.co.uk for the attention of the executive officer.

Identifying on-site and off-site hazards – Every activity site, walking route and activity should be assessed on an ongoing basis and hazards identified and logged. Once identified the measures necessary to reduce the level of risk to ‘low’ will be logged.

Ongoing Risk Assessment is vital to ensure all adults are aware of any potential new hazard and what actions need to be implemented to make the risk small. Some actions may need to be preventative and be implemented before a session starts, such as removing trip hazards from a regular path or teaching students specific appropriate behaviours for planned activities. Other actions may responsive, for example, leaving a woodland if the weather conditions become dangerous. It is the Activity Leader’s role to ensure all new sites are appropriately risk assessed.

Activity Risk Assessment – Every new activity or change to an activity will generate new hazards, for example from sharp tools or heavy objects. In the planning of any activity these hazards should be logged in the lesson plan and the measures taken to reduce the risk to ‘low’ identified.

Site / Route Risk Assessment

There are 2 types of risk assessment that should be undertaken: Seasonal Risk Assessment and Site /Route Check. The Seasonal Risk Assessment will be undertaken every September, January and April and be thorough, looking at any major issues within the site, for example; trees needing surgery, fencing needing maintenance, abundance of poisonous plants growing. Some of the solutions to these identified risks may be fairly long term, such as tree surgery, replacing fencing and removing hazardous plants. However, some short term solutions can also be utilised, such as marking areas out of bounds, changing regular access routes etc until the longer term solution is in place. The daily site check is ideally carried out on the morning the site is to be used, before any groups arrive. This assessment is to check the more changeable features with a site and may include; recently fallen dead wood, litter, any new trip hazards or holes along main paths, poisonous plant growth, overgrown thorny plants, structural condition of semi-permanent shelters, seating, fire area etc. Most of the solutions to these risks can be done before the group arrives, such as clearing trip hazards from paths, pruning plants and taking down unsafe structures.

It is not necessary to remove all hazards for students who have received appropriate guidance and training are of sufficient maturity, or are appropriately supervised if very young. One of the main values of outdoor learning is to enable students to learn to manage risk and to report significant hazards to the appropriate adult and each other. The categorisation of such risks can be briefly explained as follows –

Subjective Hazards – These are hazards where the risk can be managed by appropriate knowledge, behaviour and training. E.g. “Fungi can be poisonous. We leave mushrooms alone. If you accidentally handle any mushrooms or other fungi make sure you wash your hands before eating.”

Objective Hazards – These are hazards that are unpredictable and cannot be reliably assessed. E.g. “The wind is very strong today and there are some dead and unstable trees in the wood.” The risk of trees coming down in high winds cannot be and therefore cannot be assessed. Forest School will not take place in a wood when there are high winds.

Hazards are given a 1 to 5 rating for seriousness. ‘1’ is very minor, such as midge bites or nettle stings. ‘5’ means the hazard has the potential to be lethal.

Calculating Risk – The risk is the likelihood of a particular type of accident occurring. In our numbering system ‘1’ is negligible and ‘5’ highly likely. Where the hazard is serious the risk has to be reduced to ‘negligible’.

The key questions are – “Can I manage the hazard so that the risk no longer applies? If not, ensure a written record of the hazard is generated via a risk assessment form, dated, and sent to SNLA office for action. If the hazard can’t be removed (e.g. toxic fungi)  “can I manage the risk so that it becomes ‘low’, both in terms of likelihood and seriousness of outcome. In the case of significant objective hazards, a woodland area might be avoided completely if the risk cannot be managed or contained. This might apply to an unstable tree or a pond with soft banks.

In the event of a daily pre-check not being possible, the Activity Leader must precede the party and check that the route is safe. Following any period of extreme weather, walking routes and woodland spaces must be thoroughly checked for new hazards prior to arrival.

Quality of mobile ‘phone reception must be an aspect of risk assessment in off-site activities, so that alternative plans can be made to deal with an emergency if signal reception is poor or non-existent.

If the signal is weak then dial 112 on the mobile and this will pick up the best possible signal from the available networks.

Steps in carrying out a site Risk Assessment

  1. Look for and identify the hazards. Remove and neutralise if possible. Make a written record.
  2. Decide who might be harmed and how.
  3. Calculate the risks and decide whether the existing precautions are adequate or whether more should be done.
  4. Record your findings. Document if advice is sought from a third party.
  5. Review the assessment and revise if necessary.
  6. Review risk assessments as part of the planning routine.
  7. The residual risk must be low. In the case of SNLA’s current risk assessment procedure, this means a score of 8 or less.


At present, public liability insurance is through Higos for training, craft and outdoor activities. Public Liability Insurance is provided on the basis that those leading activities have the necessary qualifications to do so.

Protocols for working with Students in Workplace Environments

Before commencing a unit of activities young persons shall receive training that will cover the following themes:

  1. Site Familiarisation, including location of canteen areas, toilets, emergency exits and ‘no go’ areas. Point of contact person and venue in the event of an incident.
  2. First Aid procedures and First Aid Station for minor injuries.
  3. Emergency and Fire Procedures.
  4. Signing in and Signing Out Procedures. (for security and fire safety)
  5. Reporting procedures in the event of a Health & Safety Incident.
  6. Appropriate Clothing Regulations (e.g. hard hats, toe-capped footwear and high viz as compulsory in areas designated as ‘building site’).
  7. Analysis and discussion of the hazards of the RBBC working environment and protocols to minimise the risk of accidents and injury.
  8. Safeguarding Procedures, including the reporting of behaviours perceived as unacceptable by employers, employees or other students.
  9. Training specific to the general risks associated with their Activity Programme.
  10. Protocols with regard to the standards and behaviour expected of them as employees.
  11. Sanctions in the event of inappropriate behaviour or behaviour likely to put themselves or others at risk of harm.

Risk Management Policies

Check that the following documentation is in place:

  • In the case of SNLA, the appropriate proof of qualification must be lodged at SNLA offices and SNLA’s EV4 form must be current (subject to annual renewal).
  • Consent from the headteacher and governors.
  • Educational Visit Approval Letter from the Outdoor Education Adviser for SCC. (the approval process can take several weeks).
  • Appropriate insurances.
  • Consent from parents, medical forms and emergency contact numbers.

1.1 – Transportation to and from Outdoor Activity Locations – Checks to be carried out prior to Departure

(Where the school provides transport and a School Party Leader is in attendance, registers, medical forms. emergency contact details & departure arrangements will be their responsibility.) 

Schools are expected to provide their own transport to and from any activity site. SNLA is unable to transport students. In the event that this policy should change the following will apply:

  • Any driver provided by SNLA must have completed the SCC minibus driver test and the certificate still be current.
  • The minibus must carry the driver permit issued by SCC to SNLA.
  • A school minibus or hire vehicle may not be able to wait after dropping students off at the activity site. Communication via mobile ‘phone must be checked to ensure that transport can be summoned if necessary.
  • Transport to and from activity locations shall always be in accordance with the latest guidelines issued by SCC and the school. If an Activity Leader or volunteer employed directly by SNLA or indirectly through the school arranges transport they must ensure these policies are complied with.

1.2. – For Health and Safety reasons and to ensure good communication with school or SNLA Office/ back-up staff, Activity Leaders must ensure that at least 2 mobile ‘phones are available. These should be checked as part of the departure procedure.

1.3 – Before Departure Leaders must visually confirm that all the required paperwork and the emergency kit is on board. (See ‘Paperwork’ &  ‘Emergency Kit’ below.

1.4 – An up to date weather report must be reviewed by the Activity Leader. No departure to woodland spaces in the event of high winds or electrical storms. Expectation of any severe weather should be taken into account in deciding whether or not to curtail or cancel activities.

1.5 – Schools are expected to have the following information to hand in case of emergency:

  • Parental Consent Forms. (unless checked and lodged at the school office)
  • Emergency Contact details for all students in the group
  • Student Medical Notes. (or an extract of the information provided by parents)
  • For overnight camps, there must be an emergency school liaison number carried i.e. The Head’s personal telephone number
  • Phone numbers of the minibus driver and an emergency contact at school
  • Contact number of local taxi firm that provides minibuses at short notice also to be carried

1.6 – Emergency Contact Information – Emergency Contact Information (to be carried at all times and a copy left at school with the register etc.)

Emergency contact details and information as of March 2008 are as follows:

  • St. John’s Infants School – 01458 832085
  • St. Benedict’s Junior School – 01458 831811
  • St. Dunstan’s Academy – 01458 832943
  • SNLA – 07582 233844
  • Red Brick Building Centre – 01458 899564
  • Paddington Farm – 01458 832752

Numbers of  local commercial minibus providers –

  • Chislett’s – 01458 832575
  • C.J.W. – 01458 833106
  • Mobile – 07814 544227

Main Locations for the Activities – 

  • The Red Brick Building Centre, Morland Road, Morlands Enterprise Park, Glastonbury BA6 9FT
  • Paddington Farm, Maidencroft Lane, Glastonbury, Somerset BA6 8JN

1.8 – Emergency Equipment Pack for working at a distance from shelter:

Activity Leaders must ensure that the following equipment is available for all off-site activities irrespective of weather or location. The only exception is Forest School activities at the school itself. The equipment is to be stored in a waterproof plastic bag within a rucksack and its contents checked fortnightly or after any use.

  • First Aid Kit (to be replenished and date re-sealed after each use.)
  • Bivvy bag
  • Compact sleeping bag
  • Kissu capable of holding 8 people
  • 2 spare sets of woolly hat and gloves
  • 2 sets of basic waterproofs (trousers & tops)
  • Compass
  • 1:25000 map of area being used
  • Pack of high energy long-life food, such as Mars Bars in sealed container
  • 1 litre of drinking water
  • Whistle
  • Pad and Pen
  • Emergency contact details, including transport, on a laminated card

With regard to school-based activities, the Activity Leader must satisfy himself/herself that First Aid back – up is available. A First Aid kit should be available to deal with very minor cuts and scrapes.

1.9. Registers:

The school or institution will have responsibility for registering their students on arrival at the activity site and when the party leaves. If SNLA is responsible for transportation or if this is a non institutional group the Activity Leader must maintain the register. A register must be taken before off-site departure and an accurate list of students left at the school office. In the case of non-institutional groups, the register must be lodged at the SNLA office.

1.10  – Clothing Check  – Leaders must satisfy themselves that the students have the appropriate clothing and that sufficient spares are carried to deal with any shortfall.

Students must carry or be wearing –

  • suitable footwear for the activity
  • long trousers and socks, to provide complete leg cover regardless of the weather
  • waterproof  trousers and top
  • long-sleeved top which must provide a join with the trousers such that the midriff is never exposed
  • extra layer in case of cold weather
  • suitable hat and gloves in winter or cold conditions

Students have small body mass and hypothermia can happen suddenly and with little warning. Students must remain appropriately dressed for the weather conditions. In hot conditions legs and arms must remain covered in woodland spaces. Check regularly to ensure they are well hydrated and comfortable, whatever the weather. 

1.11 – Transportation of Equipment

Any equipment carried must be secured in a pack and safely stowed under forward seats. Equipment must be stowed so as not to constitute a trip hazard in the event of minibus evacuation. Heavy items, such as metal tools, must be positioned in the vehicle so they cannot move in the event of a vehicle accident. Under no circumstances are loose tools or equipment to be carried in a minibus or any vehicle where students are present.

1.12 – Stowing of passenger property

Individual rucksacks belonging to students should be stowed underneath seats.

1.13 – Seatbelts

No vehicle is to be used which is not fully equipped with functional seat belts. All seatbelts must be checked as fastened and functional before the start of each journey. Refer to SCC requirements for vehicles transporting school students.

1.14Delays Returning to School – If there are significant delays in returning from Forest School the school must be contacted.

2. Site Arrival & Departure

2.1 – Activity Leaders will rehearse the key safety rules before an activity begins. These are responses to strangers, don’t wander off, always be in a pair or more, don’t approach dogs, horses, farm animals or any wildlife, don’t run without express consent, watch for trip hazards, stay within the boundaries, if lost stay put and shout for help in the agreed way, don’t ‘pick and eat’, report all cuts and injuries.

2.2 – Do a visual check of the bus to ensure that the students have removed all necessary kit from the bus. Do a count of students before moving away from the transport and continue to count at regular intervals throughout the activity period.

2.3. – If driven to site agree return times and exchange mobile ‘phone numbers before bus departs.

2.4. – If bus is departing check that all required equipment and paperwork, including contact numbers, are removed from the bus. Always check the First Aid kit and other emergency equipment is removed.

2.5 – A leader to walk ahead of the party into the activity area to check that nothing has changed since the pre-visit. When leading students there should be an adult to the front and an adult to the rear.

2.6– Make sure every student understands the ‘lost student’ procedure before commencing activities.

2.7 – If the students are new to the site, familiarisation activities must take place before they are allowed to move about the site. These include boundary walking, mapping landmarks, calling for help and locating adults.

2.8 – Ask each student to ensure they have all their possessions. Check site for litter.

2.9 – Do a tool count. Ensure that all tools – and particularly clasp knives – are accounted for.

2.10 – In the case of activities taking place after school hours log the arrangements for the collection of students. Have contact numbers to hand.

2.11 – Take a register of students at the end of the activity whether on or off site. This also applies to after – school activities. Count students on to the transport.

3. Lost Student Policy

3.1 – Students are counted regularly throughout the session by their nominated group leader. Count again before moving students between activities. Students should be counted in an obvious but informal way at least every 15 minutes (10 minutes for infants and students under 8)

3.2 – Students must be informed that they are only to leave the main group in pairs and to obtain consent for movement other than those which are a part of normal activities. Students must inform leaders if they need to make a toilet break or leave the group for any other reason. Students must be made familiar with boundaries, landmarks and location of the lead adult prior to commencing an activity.

3.3 – Students must be familiar with the ‘lost student’ procedure and rehearse it at the start of each session. Students must stay in sight of the agreed landmarks. If a student is satisfied they are lost they should stay put and call for help in the agreed manner every minute or so.

Lost Student Procedure – What the student must be told to do. (Chalkham Woods) ” You will be shown what the activity area is when you walk the boundary. Don’t go out of the activity area. If you go to the toilet always tell a teacher first. If you think you are lost don’t keep wandering around. Stay put in a location where you can be seen. Call out ‘Lost’ as loud as you can every 30 seconds. We will start looking for you 5 minutes after you were last seen, so don’t panic.”

3.4 – In any outdoor area, leaders are to designate the boundaries for student movement. These should be within the range where visual supervision is possible.

3.5 – In the event of a student being lost the remainder of the group is to be kept together under the supervision of a leader. All students must be questioned to obtain any information they may have as to the whereabouts of the missing student, or if a mobile number is available. A student shall be deemed missing if they have not been seen for five minutes by any member of the party.

3.6 – The remaining available leader(s) should instigate a search for the missing student. If the student is not located within twenty minutes the school is to be informed and the police alerted (25 minutes after last sighting). Students with ‘at risk’ behavioural profiles may require an immediate response to their noted absence.

3.7 – Precise information about the location of last siting should be noted down before communicating with school or the police. School to take responsibility for contacting parents and the authorities if good ‘phone communication with the school exists.

3.8 – Three short blasts on the whistle shall be reserved specifically for summoning an immediate emergency roll call.

3.9 – In the event of the party having to return to school without the missing student, at least one responsible adult must remain behind. That person must have contact details for the whole party to hand in case this information is needed by the authorities. Their contact number, location and grid reference must be noted down prior to the departure of the party. The remaining adult should remain in the same area and continue to call the student using the agreed words.

3.8Under no circumstances is the location where the student was last sited to be left without a suitable adult in attendance until the appropriate authorities have arrived and taken over the search. That adult must have a proven method of communication with the school whenever possible.

4. Risk Management Policy for Woodland Spaces

4.1 – The leader of the activity must be satisfied that the outdoor space to be used is safe for the intended activities.

4.2 – Woodland areas should be periodically checked for significant introduced hazards, such as broken glass or other man-made sharp objects and trip hazards.

4.3 – There will be termly checks of trees within the main woodland activity areas. Dead trees or dead large branches to be identified and removed as necessary by a qualified tree surgeon or woodsman. Where remedial measures cannot be taken immediately the area around the hazard is to be indicated to students as  ‘out of bounds’. Hazardous areas are to be identified with black/yellow ‘hazard’ tape.

4.4 – Dew ponds and other areas of open water are to be identified to the students and indicated as ‘out of bounds’. They are not to be played near and objects must not be thrown into them.

4.5 – If a pheasant shoot is taking place in neighbouring woods leaders must satisfy themselves that it is too distant to pose a hazard. If students hear activity they are to shout ‘hello’ 3 times loudly to alert beaters to their presence. If nearby shooting is identified the emergency roll call (three long blasts on a whistle) should take place and students held at the central meeting point until a Leader has liased with the shooting party.

4.6 -. The area for Forest School should be strictly defined. Students new to the area are to ‘walk the boundaries’ as a first activity and leaders must satisfy themselves that students can navigate back to the central meeting point.

4.7 – Students are not to pick mushrooms, fungi, berries or flowers. Under no circumstances are students to consume anything picked in the woods.

4.8 – Students should move through the woods using paths wherever possible. Students are not to be allowed to run where there are significant trip hazards or where protruding branches, particularly low-lying branch stumps on pine trees, may cause injuries to the face and eyes. Main pathways and the central area around the fire to be cleared of trip hazards at the start of each session.

4.9 – In the event of unexpected high winds or electrical storms, woodland activities must cease immediately and shelter sought in the nearest safe location pending the arrival of transport.

4.10 – Tree-climbing is not allowed under normal circumstances. It may be permitted as a planned and supervised activity following an appropriate risk assessment of a suitable tree or trees. As a general principal, students should not climb above 2 metres.

5. Fire Activities

5.1 – Fire – lighting activities and making hot drinks etc. with fire must be supervised by an appropriately qualified and experienced adult.

5.2 – The Fire area is a defined area must be kept free of all trip hazards, including bags and firewood. Students are not to walk across the fire area when the fire is lit.

5.3 – Lighting procedures. An experienced adult must supervise all fire-lighting and fire management.

5.4 – Students lighting a fire must first be instructed in safe fire construction and use of the means of ignition. Wherever possible fires will be lit with ‘strike-a-lights’ and gathered tinder.

5.5 – Students are to be instructed before the first fire-lighting session not to remove burning sticks or embers and not to ‘play’ with the fire. Leaders must demonstrate safe ways to add fuel to the fire that does not put anyone at risk of injury.

5.6 – Hot liquids must be removed from the fireplace by adults. Adults must then pour drinks in to cups placed on the ground. Hot liquids should never be poured in to a cup help by a student.

5.7 – A water butt containing a minimum of 20 litres of water must be available in case of accident. A fire blanket must also be available and positioned at a conspicuous point.

5.7 – In the event of a burn injury leaders must follow the procedures set out in their First Aid training – currently to cool the burn for a minimum of 10 minutes in cold water and to wrap in cling film as appropriate. Emergency services to be contacted or immediate professional treatment sought in the event of all but minor localised burns. Parents are to be informed in all cases, even for the most minor of burn injuries. (N.B. If calling emergency services provide GRID REFERENCE, NEAREST ROAD DETAILS.)

5.8 – Students are to be instructed not to throw waste materials into the fire, including waste food and plastics.

5.9 – At the end of fire use the fire must be put out and the hearth damped with water. This must only be carried out by an adult. In dry weather, particular care must be taken that the fire is out.

5.10. – With care, guidance and experience, students should be allowed to make and feed the fire. They must not be allowed to remove burning sticks.

6. Tool Safety

6.1 – No student is to be trained in the use of tools or equipment unless the leader is satisfied with their own competence and training in supervising the use of the equipment and the appropriate ratio of supervision can be provided. Tools should be numbered. Knife issue (round-headed clasp knife or hook knife) must be logged against a name on issue.

6.2 – Regular checks of the condition of the tools will be carried out, both to confirm that the list of tools held remains accurate and that the equipment is in good condition and safe to use. It should be stowed in a robust rucksack for carrying, with all sharp edges covered.

6.3 – No student is to retrieve a tool for themselves. A member of staff must issue all tools directly to the student.

6.4 – The range of tools the students are currently permitted to use after training and with the correct supervision ratio are as follows – potato peelers, bow saw, bill hook, spade, round- ended clasp knife, mallet, loppers, wheelbrace, hoe, rake.

6.5 – Before issue, tools should be checked to ensure they are fully serviceable.

6.6 – Tools only to be issued by a leader and must be counted out and counted back. When clasp knives are used particular care must be taken to ensure they are all accounted for at the end of the session.

6.7 – No student is to use a tool unless they have been fully instructed in its safe use.

6.8 – In all instances tools can only be used where the student is under close supervision. This means within the proximity that would be achieved in a typical classroom. Individual activity sheets should specify the appropriate ration. With round-ended clasp knives it would be 1:6 with an experienced group, with bill hook 1:2 (KS3 upwards).

6.9 – Students must wear the appropriate safety clothing. In particular this means:

  • Gloves are to be worn at all times when sawing or supporting others who are sawing.
  • Hard hats must be worn where the activity creates any risk of head injury. (E.g. where there is a risk from falling branches or a heavy object, such as a mallet, is raised to head height, or when coppicing.
  • Students to be visually checked before using tools for loose clothing that may cause a hazard.
  • Goggles to be worn when there is a risk from flying splinters or other particles.
  • Steel toe cap wellies or boots to be worn when digging.

6.10 – Leaders must position the First Aid Kit where it is visible and in proximity of the activity.

6.11 – All injuries, however minor, to be logged and reported to those who require it – usually the school or parent.

6.12 – Specific Tool Safety Instructions

Clasp Knife

  • Only round -ended safety knives to be used.
  • Knife use to be restricted to KS2 and above with Year 5 the youngest.
  • Blade must be locked closed when not in use. Blade must be locked open when in use.
  • Blade must be locked closed before being carried or handed to another person.
  • All cutting movements to be away from the body.
  • Student to be sat down on stable seating  when using a knife.
  • 1:3 maximum permissible ratio of supervision.
  • Free hand to be gloved with leather garden glove.
  • Students must work far enough away from each other to ensure that injury of one student by another is not possible.

Bow Saw

  • 1:3 maximum permissible ratio of supervision (KS3 upwards) 1:2 at KS2.
  • Protective gloves to be worn on hand not holding saw.
  • Saw horse must be used for small log sections (less than 7cm thick and shorter than 1 ½ metres. (small logs are difficult to stabilise for sawing purposes).
  • All timber must be stable and well supported before sawing commences.
  • Under no circumstances are students to saw branches off trees, except for coppicing width (maximum 3cm).
  • Coppicing to be carried out with 1:1 supervision.
  • No sawing is to take place above chest height.
  • Saw blade to be covered when not in use or when carried.
  • Saw to be stored in the designated place or on sawhorse so as not to become a trip hazard when not in immediate use.


  • 1:1 only permissible ratio of supervision.
  • Always carry locked closed with blades pointing downwards.
  • Maximum 2cm branch thickness for lopper use by students. Loppers not to be used above head height.
  • Students not engaged in cutting to be at a safe distance from the activity.

Post Hole Driver

  • Only to be used by adults unless students are in year 6 or above and of suitable build and strength. In this instance the post must be ‘started’ by adults until secure in the ground and at a height appropriate to the student. Post driver to be placed over the post by an adult. 1 adult to supervise the 2 students using the post-hole driver.
  • Steel toe-cap wellies or boots must be worn.
  • Hard hats must be worn.

7. Toilet Policy for the Outdoors

7.1 – The Activity Leader should be satisfied as to the availability of toilet provision prior to a visit. Where none  can be provided this information should be communicated to students and parents prior to the visit. Where facilities are provided they should be checked on the day of the visit by the appropriate adult prior to first use.

7.2 – Where toilets are not provided, students must be reminded of this prior to departure so that they can make use of school toilets as necessary.

7.3 – Toilet paper and other sanitary materials will be provided by SNLA when working away from schools.

7.4 – Use compost toilets where provided.

7.5 – Students needing the toilet must inform a member of staff they are going.

7.6 – Students should take a companion of the same gender for safety and to act as lookout.

7.7 – If necessary a spade will be provided to dig a hole. Solid waste must be buried.

7.8 – Students must wash hands in running water or use antiseptic wet-wipes after going to the toilet.

7.9 – If necessary KS1 parties will be provided with a screened off portaloo at activity area.

7.10. – If a student requires toilet assistance this must be designated to the appropriate approved member of school staff only.

8. Eating

8.1 – Students must use antiseptic wet-wipes or wash their hands in running water prior to consuming food.

8.2 – Students will be encouraged to eat at designated mealtimes only, for reasons of hygiene and as part of encouraging social skills. Where possible, food preparation will be a communal activity. Students will be encouraged to bring food to share and to bring a healthy variety.

8.3 – Students will not be allowed to eat anything gathered in the wood.

8.4 – Students will be encouraged to use minimal packaging in their own food preparation.

8.5 – No meat products will be cooked on the open fire. The only exception is commercially prepared cooked meat, such as frankfurters, taken straight from a sealed jar or tin. NO PREVIOUSLY OPENED PREPARED FOOD PRODUCTS OF ANY KIND TO BE CONSUMED.

8.6 – Students will only experience cooking on an open fire after the necessary safety training in cooking and Fire Use (see Fire Safety section).

8.7 – With the exception of overnight camps it is strongly recommended that only the following food products are cooked by students – Toast, Crumpets, Marshmallows. The main exception are pizza-making sessions where adequate supervision can be provided by Leaders with Food Hygiene Certificates.

8.8 – Any activity involving food preparation – such as a barbecue requires the supervision of an Activity Leader or other competent adult with a Food Hygiene Certificate.

8.9.Ensure the immediate availability of basic fire-fighting kit. Basic kit is 2 buckets of water and a fire-blanket.

9. Overnight Camps

9.1 – Overnight camps will only take place on sites where the Party Leader has been able to carry out all the necessary site visits and risk assessments. In most instances they will be at local sites. The possible sites for future camps are Chalkham Woods and Paddington Farm Wood. The advantage of a local site is that parents can be called up in the event of a distressed student or an emergency.

9.2 – Forest School Camps are different in nature and purpose from other camps. Numbers would not normally exceed 12 students. The local sites available would suffer environmentally from larger camps. If larger camps are planned these should be supported by the appropriate professional organisations offering the necessary facilities and expertise.

9.3 – For Forest School a minimum staff / DBS cleared volunteer ratio of 1:3 is required or as set out by the Governors of the school and Somerset County Council. Two adults must be qualified Forest School Leaders or possess alternative qualifications approved by Somerset County Council. All participating adults will be DBS cleared. There must be at least one male and one female adult present irrespective of the gender mix of the students. SNLA has not listed overnight camps in its range of outdoor activities currently on offer to schools. Seek guidance from the director before commencing planning any such activity involving students and young people.

9.4 – An account of all the activities for the camp should be included in any consent form in order to ensure that the Governors and SCC are satisfied with the qualifications held by the leaders.

9.5– The visit must not be advertised to students or parents prior to consents being obtained from the School Governors and Somerset County Council for the specified date(s).

9.6 – Leaders must satisfy themselves as to the availability of all necessary kit prior to advertising a future overnight camp. If they plan to utilise kit provided by parents they must satisfy themselves as to the adequacy of the kit ahead of the departure date.

9.7For overnight camps there will always be a ‘meeting for parents’ for those whose students wish to participate. At these meetings the required kit will be specified. Of particular concern is the provision of adequate thermal mats and sleeping bags that are at least ‘3 season’. Thermal liners can be added to sleeping bags to bring them up to standard. Leaders must also be satisfied that the clothing provision is fully adequate, both in terms of layers, hat and gloves, footwear, waterproof trousers and tops.

9.8 – Camps that are planned well in advance are vulnerable to adverse weather. Overnight camps, particularly in woodland spaces, will be cancelled or curtailed when the weather is sufficiently adverse. Alternatively, if the camp is arranged at a site where bunkhouse facilities exist, such as Paddington Farm, wet weather alternative accommodation could be arranged. Parents should be informed of any cancellation risk in the initial communications and at parent’s meetings.

9.9 – On site transport must remain available. If this is not possible, as at Chalkham Woods, the Activity Leader must satisfy himself/herself of the speedy availability of transport – for example by parking a minibus or other suitable vehicle in Great Breach Wood. Emergency evacuation drills must be rehearsed, tested and understood by all participants.

9.9 – Catering on Camp – This is potentially one of the most hazardous activities for an overnight camp. All participating adults must be clear about their policies and procedures prior to a camp involving students. Cooking procedures must be rehearsed and the ‘do’s and don’ts fully agreed by all present. Burns and scalds cause some of the most difficult injuries to treat.

At Key Stage 2 cooking will be fully monitored by adults for health & safety reasons. A member of staff or volunteer must hold a Food Hygiene Certificate. Under no circumstances are staff, students or volunteers to bring individual gas, petrol or solid fuel cookers.

Cooking areas will be clearly designated, with one or two fires. If tripods are used they must be made of iron and firmly set into the ground. Improvised tripods must not be used as they are inclined to tip over. Please refer to Section 5 for more detailed guidance on fire safety. 

It is anticipated that students will have experienced all aspects of cooking health and safety prior to the visit.

Ideally, cooking will take place using the heat from open fires. Students will have ‘planned’ their meals as part of the activity and may provide or request the provision of food depending on how the activity is organised. Cooking will be carried out by an adult who will supervise the students in their designated tasks. Students can make toast etc. as set out elsewhere. Students can stir food but must not lift or handle hot liquids or remove vessels containing hot liquids from the fire. All cooking procedures involving students must be fully supervised at all times. Kelly kettles may be used with kettle or pan attachments by adults who have been trained in their use. Students may tend the fires under direct supervision but at no time are to remove hot pans / kettle etc. Meths burning Trangias may be used by adults and students at KS3 and older, following appropriate training.

Under supervision, students can transfer food from a cooking vessel to another vessel or plate once it is removed from the heat provided a spoon etc. is used. Both cooking vessel and plate must be on the ground or other suitable surface whilst the transfer is made. Students must not hold plate, cup or cooking vessel during the transfer of scalding liquids or foods.

9.10 – Part of the activities may be building shelters and sleeping in them. Full alternative provision must be made in case of inclement weather, shelters not being completed or other adverse conditions.

9.11 – Any outdoor site used for an overnight camp will be left as it was found. This includes the removal of any shelters built. This particularly applies to the removal of man-made materials.

9.12 – All other Forest School and Garden Activity policies apply.

10. This handbook does not preclude any planned activity provided the appropriate risk assessments have been carried out and the activity approved by the director of Somerset Natural Learning Academy. In approving new activities reference will be made to best practice elsewhere and the educational merits of the activity. Any new activity will be subject to the required planning, risk assessments and training, qualifications and competence of the adult leading the activity.

11. Activity Leaders are required to prepare an outline programme of activities to submit to the school, together with any Risk Assessments as part of our obligations under the Code of Practice to be submitted with the contract.

Somerset Natural Learning Academy
Forest School Mandatory Safety Practice

Departing from School

  1. Arrive at school at least 15 mins prior to departure to do all checks including kit.
  2. Check you have Emergency Location Cards for each adult.
  3. Request a register from the Party Leader, including accompanying adults.
  4. Ask – Who is the designated First Aider from the school?
  5. Check – Who has First Aid Kits?
  6. Ask – Who has mobile phones?
  7. Do -Take a Register, INCLUDING names of accompanying adults.

YOU MUST TAKE WITH YOU (not kept in storage)

Emergency Equipment Pack:

  • first aid kit (to be replenished and date re-sealed after each use of contents)
    bivvy bag
  • compact sleeping bag
  • kissu or means of providing a quick shelter for 4 people
  • 2 spare sets of woolly hat and gloves
  • 2 sets of basic waterproofs (trousers & tops)
  • compass
  • 1:25000 map of area being used
  • pack of high energy long-life food, such as Mars Bars in sealed container
  • 1 litre of drinking water
  • whistle
  • pad and pen
  • emergency contact details, including transport, on a laminated card



Site Arrival

  • GIVE MANDATORY SAFETY TALK TO COVER – Stay with the group, Lost Person Procedure, Watch for Trip Hazards (only run with permission), Don’t Approach Animals, Stranger Danger, Nil by Mouth once hands are dirty, don’t ‘pick and eat’, Stay Covered (ticks), Report all injuries however minor, toileting routines.
  • Ask Party Leader to check Minibus for ‘left’ gear
  • Adults wear High Vis Jackets at all times on roads and forest tracks
  • When walking ensure there is an adult to front and rear of party at all times
  • If the group is new to site there MUST be a site familiarisation walk
  • Practice Head Count procedure. COUNT KS3/4 EVERY 15 MINS. KS1/2 every 10 MINS THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE DAY. COUNT ON TO BUS AT END

Activity Safety

  • Do not engage in any task yourself that prevents you from monitoring the safety of the party as a whole. BE VIGILANT AT ALL TIMES. Delegate individual monitoring to other adults.
  • Satisfy yourself that the outdoor space to be used is safe for the intended activities. Warn Party of  hazards old and new e.g. muddy ground, fallen trees, ponds, felling.
  • No tool use without full safety brief. This applies even to experienced groups.
  • Use a glove on the free hand (none tool holding) for all uses of sharp tools.

A tool using activity MUST CEASE if the supervision ratios cannot be maintained.

Fire Safety

A full FIRE SAFETY BRIEFING must be given prior to all fire activities. (entering & leaving fire area, don’t remove burning embers, trip hazards, fire supervision, emergency procedure, feeding the fire, hot liquids rules.)


Fire area MUST be supervised by an adult at all times if children are present.

Fire MUST be fully doused when leaving the site.

Tool Safety

No unsupervised tool use of any kind.

No child is to use a tool unless they have been instructed in its safe use.

No use of clasp knife, bill hook or post rammer on a first visit.

Clasp Knife 1:4 maximum ratio with unbroken supervision by attentive adult. Clasp Knife must be round-ended safety knife. Train to lock blade before use & carry closed.

One:one supervision of bow saw on a first visit. Loppers only to be used by an adult or experienced child with 1:1 supervision.

No child is to carry or retrieve a tool. A member of staff must issue all tools directly to the child.

Students must wear the appropriate safety clothing.

  • Gloves are to be worn at all times when sawing or supporting others who are sawing.
  • Hard hats must be worn where the activity creates any risk of head injury. (E.g. where there is a risk from falling branches or a heavy object, such as a mallet, is raised to head height, or when coppicing.
  • Students to be visually checked before using tools for loose clothing that may cause a hazard.
  • Goggles to be worn when there is a risk from flying splinters or other particles.
  • Steel toe cap wellies or hard boots to be worn when digging or using post rammer.

All injuries, however minor, to be logged and reported on return to school.