Setting up a Forest School programme

Your aims

First, write down exactly what you would like to achieve. Do you want to work with children or other types of groups outside? Do you understand what a Forest School is? What previous experience to you have? If Forest School is too big a step initially, or not appropriate for your local needs, remember to consider other alternatives to Forest School for supporting woodland learning outdoors, described in this guidance document.


Remember, Forest School must be led by qualified leaders with the appropriate First Aid qualification. If you do not hold a Level 3 Forest School  qualification, and want to develop and lead a programme yourself, then consider training to become a Forest School Leader. If you would like a programme to be developed and led by another qualified practitioner, then the OWL Scotland Manager may be able to provide the relevant contact details, or let you know if Forest School programmes are running in your area.

Consider which sites might be available to use, and what your potential client group's needs are. You may find the OWL Scotland Guidance for Landowners useful.

Local networks

To set up a OWL Scotland recognised Forest School, first check that your Forest School meets all the proposed criteria, and get in touch with your OWL local group.

Are you a member of your local group? This can offer a route to funding, such as the OWL Scotland Partnership Fund plus further support through local connections.  Many OWL local group members have experience of running or supporting Forest School training and Forest School programmes.Others may focus on other woodland learning projects. If there is no local group, you will need to start one.

Freelance practice

It is possible to offer Forest School programmes on a freelance basis if you are suitably qualified, but it can be very challenging. Options could include:

  • Set up in business as a sole trader and charge a fee for delivering Forest School programmes on a supply/demand basis.Note that you won’t be able to apply for grants.Business Gateway can provide advice and free workshops on different aspects of commercial provision.
  • Set up as a social enterprise and apply for funding. Then find interested groups to participate.
  • Work in association with an existing organisation.
  • Run a pilot project to test what people think of the format and activities.
  • Run Forest School activities as an after-school club or as a holiday programme. Consider working with family groups. Parental support allows you to maintain child:adult ratios. See the Guidance note Your Child and Forest School - Information for Parents and Carers (May 2012).
  • Encourage your local schools and/or local authority to look creatively at their own budgets which may be allocated to meet certain targets – for example, health and well-being/ outdoor learning/ physical activity/ behaviour issues, etc. Structure what you offer through Forest School to meet these aims.
  • Target schools which do not already have Forest School L3 trained and qualified staff, or where they have the L2 qualification only, or have to release class teachers for other activities.  It may be cheaper for schools to hire you to lead Forest School sessions rather than fund additional teacher cover to support their Forest School programme. In the long run though, it is more sustainable for schools ensure their staff have the appropriate training to support outdoor learning.