The news about impending closure of SafeWise is now front page news in Dorset. It’s such a shame, because at the start of 2020, two years hard work was resulting in increased visitor numbers, new funding streams, and programmes for new audiences including teenagers and older people. Then Covid kindly intervened and resulted in our centres being closed to visitors, with the loss of about a third of our income.
Whilst a pandemic is the critical factor here, the charity has struggled with a costly commercial lease on the property in Bournemouth for some time. Most other physical centres around the UK are managed, funded and owned by the fire service or local authorities – I used to manage one myself for West Mids Fire at Safeside in Birmingham. So, this begs the question, is an expensive physical building with a ‘fake’ street layout the right format for skills for life and safety education in the post Covid 2020s?
It is undoubtedly a fantastic educational experience, evidence by the feedback we get from adults who visited Bournemouth as children. Putting learners in a safe but ‘real’ environment is certainly memorable. But it is costly both for funders and schools, and is usually only a single 2 to 4 hour experience in a child’s schooling. Even in Dorset, only about a third of schools visited in a good year. This leaves two thirds of children without any such intervention even where there is a safety centre, and most of the UK still does not have access to one. That must change.
How about we do this differently, ensure that all children get this experience and are better prepared for real life? Some excellent work is already going on in terms of academic learning and on attributes needed for the world of work, but what about all the other important skills such as keeping safe online, outdoors, at home, managing your finances, being able to travel safely, recognising and dealing with exploitation, keeping mentally and physically healthy, and what to do in an emergency? How do we prepare children to play a positive role in tackling the twin climate and ecological emergencies rather than just feeling depressed about it? And how do we link all these discrete topic areas in a single cohesive environment, with transferable skills applicable to them all?
I have now set up a Community Interest Company called 360 Skills For Life which will, in January, start planning and consulting with teachers and partners on a schools programme, to trial and test in Dorset initially, which will offer: –
- A virtual reality learning village based on the SafeWise ethos of presenting dilemmas for discussion, decision and doing, in a realistic and immersive environment. I’m proud to be already working on this concept with partners Volume
- An in-school programme of schemes of work, lesson plans and resources, using the VR as a base but building on this through collaboration and practical teamwork in the classroom. This element may also include facilitated visits to schools from professionals in partner agencies as an integrated part of the programme
- Support for teachers to make more use of learning outside the classroom to embed and develop these key skills for life. This will replace visiting the indoor learning village with use of the real world close to the school. As a former primary teacher specialising in geography myself I am really excited about the potential for this.
I am keen to work with teachers and partners to develop these plans in 2021, but already think that such a model could be a logical post-Covid progression from the physical buildings we rented at Bournemouth and Weymouth with many advantages including:-
- More cost effective – no expensive premises to maintain
- Wider reach and accessibility for schools – it doesn’t require a school trip
- Wider reach and economies of scale – eventually available to schools nationally
- Blended learning – online, in-class and outdoors – maximising benefits of each
- Pandemic resilient – online and outdoor learning works!
- Outdoor learning is good on so many levels for mental wellbeing, physical health, connection with the natural world, and building stronger relationships in local communities
If you’d like to discuss having an input into these plans, whether as a teacher or a partner who can see the potential for your organisation, I’d like to hear from you. And please do follow 360 Skills For Life on LinkedIn.