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After consultation with the Forest School community in 2011 by the Forest School Institute for Outdoor Learning, the Forest School GB Trainers Network and the Forest School National Governing Body, an agreed definition of what Forest School is was published in early 2012.

‘Forest School is an inspirational process, that offers ALL learners regular opportunities to achieve, develop confidence and self-esteem, through hands on learning experiences in a local woodland or natural environment with trees.’
www.forestschoolassociation.org (2012)

The Forest School Association also set out these 6 guiding principles of Forest School:

  • Is a long term process of regular sessions – in a plan, observe, adapt and review cycle
  • Takes place in woodland or natural environment with trees
  • Uses a range of learner-centered processes to create a community for being, development and learning
  • Aims to promote the holistic development of all those involved, fostering resilient, confident, independent and creative learners
  • Offers learners to take supported risks appropriate to the environment and to themselves
  • Is run by qualified Forest School practitioners who continuously maintain and develop their professional practice.


To ensure that the above principles are embraced, Sussex Forest School sessions always operate with a high adult to child ratio, typically 1 to 5.

The foundations of Forest School in the UK today, spring from a investigative visit to Denmark in 1993 made by a group of nursery nurses from Bridgewater College, Somerset, who observed children in the, largely play-based/child-centered, system operating there. Such was the impact of their experiences, that their whole approach to Early Years Learning was affected. By 1995, a Btech Qualification in Forest School was developed at the college, which led to the Open College Network (OCN) qualification in 2003, with the support of the Forestry Commission. The Forest School ‘movement’ continued to expand and develop across the UK and interested parties such as the Institute for Outdoor Learning (IOL), The Forestry Commission and Forest School practitioners recognised the need for a national organisation to ensure the integrity of standards and quality of training, as well as providing networking opportunities to share best practice. To this end, the Forest School Association (FSA) was launched in July 2012, and became the professional association for Forest School in the UK. Through various accredited training providers, Levels 1 to 4 Forest School Leadership Training Programmes are now widely available across the UK.