Background to Forest School in Europe and across the UK

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Background to Forest School in Europe and across the UK

Forest Schools originated in Europe in the early 20th century as a way of teaching about the natural world. By the 1980s it became part of the Danish early years programme.

The Forest School model originates in Scandinavia and involves participants journeying by foot (if possible) to a local woodland environment to learn outdoors on a regular sustained basis. It is a long-term client/child-led, educational process that promotes, observes and explicitly supports the social, emotional and physical development of children, young people and adults in an outdoor, preferably woodland, environment.

In 1993 a group of childcare students visiting Denmark witnessed the benefits of Forest School for themselves and brought the idea back to Bridgewater College. Here, lecturers that accompanied the students considered how they could apply what they had seen to the childcare provision in their own Early Years Excellence Centre. Since then the idea has grown and Forest Schools are spreading throughout Britain.


FEI has played a lead role in developing Forest School in Wales since 2000. Forest School Leaders in Wales include woodland owners, teachers, craftspeople, early years specialists and youth workers. The resulting Forest Schools are very diverse and use a range of woodland settings to meet the needs of different client groups. Forestry Commission Wales (FCW) produced a DVD in 2007 celebrating the range of different Forest Schools. A copy can be requested here [link to be added].

A Forestry Commission Wales Guide to Forest School in Wales is available.

Forest School Wales (FSW) is a charity representing Forest School Leaders. FSW can be contacted at


Forest School is growing exponentially in Scotland with FEI taking the lead in the development of Forest School from 2003 when there were only about four trained Forest School Leaders in Scotland. From 2003 to 2005, four initial training programmes, supported by Forestry Commission Scotland, created a core group of trained Forest School leaders in Scotland.  A small number of these people became active Level 3 Forest School practitioners and trainers, with a wider range of individuals and organisations able to deliver training in Scotland.  Since this time there has been a shift in focus from training the wider network to targeted training for teachers.

 In 2010/11, a targeted Forest School training programme for schools was delivered in four key geographical regions across Scotland, to build on existing capacity, and funded by Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) and Scottish Government Learning Directorate. There are now over 500 trained leaders and assistant leaders. Delivery is mainly in primary schools but is now beginning to spread from nursery to adult groups. The next steps are to embed Forest School in the wider context of outdoor learning in Scotland.

An active Forest School Working Group guides the strategic direction of Forest School, managed by the FEI Forest School Scotland Co-ordinator. This group has representatives from Forest School practitioners and trainers, FEI Scotland cluster groups and key national bodies. The minutes of these meetings are available in the Resources library of this website.

The documents FEI Forest School Scotland - a context May 2013 and FEI Forest School Scotland Evaluation Framework February 2013 can be viewed or downloaded here or from the Resources library.

 For more information contact the FEI Forest School Scotland co-ordinator.


Initially FEI England supported the development of Forest School in over 30 counties/areas from its early foundation in Somerset at Bridgewater College. However, since FEI England was dissolved in 2012, the Forest Education Network is now establishing new network support for wider woodland learning initiatives across England. The recently established Forest School Association also provides advice and support to its Forest School members in England and the wider UK.

Northern Ireland

Forest School is still in its infancy in Northern Ireland, and there is no Northern Ireland FEI, but there is growing interest, and good practice demonstrated by the Camphill Community in Glencraig. The Northern Ireland representative on the new Forest School Association board can be contacted here.

Forest School UK wide

The Forest School Association is a professional membership organisation for Forest School across the UK. The organisation was launched on 7th July 2012 at Elvaston Castle Country Park, Derby. It has representatives from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales on its executive and strategic group, and the FSA appointed a Development Officer in November 2012.

The FSA website link is provided above. The Institute of Outdoor Learning (IOL) will be providing the administrative base. To contact the association Email or Telephone 01228 564 407





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