Southern suburbs high school outdoor education teacher Michael* said the new qualification and staffing requirements would cut into already stretched budgets and force schools to cancel programs.
“The department just told us these are going to be new rules, it would be fine if they changed the rules and funded them but they haven’t given us any solutions as to how we’re going to come up with the extra numbers,” he said.
“If they want to offer the course it will be really high cost, so you’ll have to pay an external provider to come in and take the class so the parents would have to fork out hundreds of dollars or send their kids to private schools.
“A lot of the areas are low-socio and the parents aren’t going to be able to afford to do it.”
Another outdoor ed teacher Andrew* actually welcomed the new qualification requirements but said meeting the new staffing requirements would mean courses would be cancelled.
“There is a significant reduction in money in the pot for these new policies. For most courses the staff needed would cost the school more than $10,000,» he said.
“The biggest hurdle right now is we can’t have two teachers for 16 kids or for 22 kids, that’s not a funding model that can work for a public school. If you’re going to bring these new rules in then make sure you allocate that in the budget for them.”
Barriers to health
Both teachers said the new rules were ‘insane’ when put in the context of rising obesity rates and ever-increasing amount of time spent in front of screens.
Federal Government figures revealed in 2014-15, 27 per cent of children and adolescents were overweight or obese. In 2016 it was revealed by 12 to 13 years old children spent more than three hours per day in front of a screen.
Even the WA government itself recognised the importance of outdoor activities and said there were barriers to overcome.
A recent report from the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries found an “increasingly urbanised population unfamiliar with the Australian outdoors, lack of experience, and not knowing how to get started are often cited as reasons why people do not participate in outdoor recreation.”
Michael said putting hurdles in the way of outdoor education would hurt kids in the long run.
“A lot of these kids they don’t actually go and do the activities we offer in their own lives, potentially because their parents can’t afford equipment or lessons. It is really expensive,” he said.
“It provides these kids with the opportunity to do something they might not ever get to do and they might find they have a passion for it and they would never have found it out if they didn’t do outdoor ed.
“It gets a lot of kids out of their comfort zones.»
Andrew said the impact of outdoor ed went beyond just physical health.
“If you look at the impact these courses have on students in terms of their confidence, their mental health and their social wellbeing there are significant advantages to these courses,” he said.
“Kids are now losing these opportunities because they’re not funding a policy that they have created.”
The Department of Education did not answer a direct question over whether they could guarantee no classes would be cancelled or scaled back as a result of the policies.
Executive director of statewide services,Martin Clery, said safety was a priority and the department would continue to speak to schools throughout the transition period.
“Everyone involved – parents, families, teachers, principals – want to make sure that secondary students can take part in outdoor education in the safest possible way,” he said.
“We regularly update and improve department procedures to keep kids safe while participating in all school activities.
“We will continue to consult with principals and support them with any changes throughout the rest of the year.”
Outdoors WA executive officer Jamie Bennett said all outdoor ed classes should be well resources and staffed by experienced and trained outdoor education teachers.
*not their real names.
Hamish Hastie is WAtoday’s business reporter.