Forest School Training

It is possible to train at different levels (1, 2 or 3) with Forest School. Which level to choose depends on whether you want to understand (L1), assist (L2) or lead (L3) a Forest School programme. You can progress though levels, or go straight to Level 3, depending on your prior experience, time, and resources. To lead a Forest School programme, you have to be a qualified and certificated Level 3 Forest School Leader, and hold the relevant First Aid qualification.

The roots of Forest School training stem from the same source, so although there are a number of Forest School training providers linked to different Awarding bodies, the course units are very similar. In Scotland, training providers either offer National Open College Network (NOCN) accredited courses, which in Scotland is represented by a partner body ONE Awards, or Open College Network West Midlands Region (OCNWMR) accredited courses. OCNWMR is an Awarding Body supported by the Forest School Association (FSA), in addition to other awarding bodies.

Credit rating & recognition of Forest School

The Forest School Association has established Forest School on English Qualifications & Credit Framework (QCF), described here. In Scotland, the possibility of having the Forest School qualification credit rated and recognised on the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) has been explored, but is not yet established.

Experience with Forest School and training for teachers can support competencies in outdoor learning, and requirements set down by the Professional Standards within Career-Long Professional Learning (CLPL). Further information can be found in Working with Teachers & Schools – Building Confidence in Outdoor Learning Guide in the OWL Scotland resource library.

How can we recognise success in Forest School? For those taking part in Forest School programmes, Award schemes such as ASDAN, John Muir Award and Duke of Edinburgh are often used to recognise achievements. Amazing Things provide a useful guide to youth awards in Scotland.

Forest School Training levels

The One Awards website provides further details of the 3 different Forest School qualification levels as does the FSA website pages.

Approved Forest School training providers deliver courses that meet the required syllabus and contact hours, although styles and methods of training and support may differ between providers. All courses require attending taught courses and time for self-study. The different levels of FS training are:

Level 1 Award in Introduction to Forest School Principles:  This is an introduction to Forest School for practitioners wanting to support an existing Forest School or gain confidence and skills in working outdoors with children within their own setting (approx. 1 contact day, 30 hours taught/ self-study time total).

Level 2 Award in Forest School Programme Support: This award is for adults assisting a Forest School Leader on a regular basis. It involves submitting a portfolio of evidence based on a mix of theory and practice. This qualification takes at least 3 months to complete on a part-time basis. It is designed for people who want to work as assistants only, supporting an existing L3 qualified leader. (Approx. 6 contact days, 62 hours taught/ self-study time total).

Level 3 Certificate in Forest School Programme Leadership: This is the qualification to become a Forest School Leader and run a Forest School over a period of intensive training and assessment. Some providers can offer this over weekends. There are practical assignments and a portfolio to submit. This covers tasks such as safe tool use, lighting fires, den building and other skills. It also includes child development and how children learn. Part of the course involves identifying a suitable site, establishing and running 6 Forest School sessions. This includes creating a specific Forest School handbook for the site. It takes a minimum of 9 months to complete on a part-time basis. Level 3 training is available to teachers, support assistants, nurses, nursery nurses, etc., with relevant experience and is the minimum recognised level of training for Forest School leaders. Trainees will also require a paediatric first aid certificate with outdoor element. (Approx. 10 contact days, 182 hours taught/ self-study time total).

Depending on the course level chosen it may be necessary to have certain pre-requisite qualifications or experience, so check first with the provider.

Why train as a Level 3 Forest School Leader?

  • There is uniformity of philosophy & approach to Forest School and Forest Kindergarten within the UK.
  • The courses are generally well run and feedback is often enthusiastic and positive.
  • Practitioners develop a broad set of skills including training in 'higher risk' activities such as tool use, fire lighting and cooking. Outdoor first aid is also required for completing the course.
  • Participants have to plan, deliver and evaluate a series of woodland sessions with children as part of the coursework. It is very hands-on.
  • A person who achieves Level 3 certification may organise and deliver training sessions at Levels 1 & Levels 2, if they have additional teaching or equivalent qualifications and are registered with the relevant awarding bodies to deliver accredited FS courses. Detailed advice on this is available from the GB Forest School Trainers Network .

Please note however:

  • The Level 3 training is intensive and a significant time commitment. Some training providers offer a modular approach in their courses to allow progression across levels of training.
  • The training is aimed at working with children of all ages, which may not suit Early Years practitioners unless they attend a bespoke course. This group may prefer to explore Forest Kindergarten or other training models.
  • The cost of training a person to Level 3 can be high especially if supply cover is required for class committed teachers, unless training is offered over weekend days.
  • You need to have relevant experience of working with children to take the Level 3 training.

First Aid training for Forest School

Before you can lead Forest School, you need a first aid qualification. A Paediatric First Aid in Outdoor Settings course (16 hours) is suitable for anyone who may encounter a medical emergency in a non-traditional setting such as Forest School, where improvisational first aid skills are crucial to a successful outcome. Such a course should equip participants with skills and strategies to care for the infants, children and adults involved both in indoor and outdoor activities.

Those embarking on the Level 3 Forest School Practitioner course will need to ensure that they have appropriate and adequate First Aid training. This may be organised by your Forest School training provider. Otherwise see Immediate Temporary Care (ITC) in Outdoors courses for Scotland or contact the OWL Scotland Manager. This training will need to be updated every three years and, as recommended by the HSE, refreshed on an annual basis.

The Paediatric First Aid in Outdoor Settings course should meet the recommendations of the HSE Health and Safety First Aid at Work Regulations for Appointed Persons in the Workplace. Also refer to your local Education authority guidance.

In Scotland, further guidance is also provided by Education Scotland in their Outdoor Learning Health & Safety pages.

Further information on training courses in Scotland

Contact the Forest School training provider directly, or OWL Scotland Manager.