Forest Schools: What's All The Fuss About?

Updated: Jun 7, 2021

If there’s one thing you can rely on the education industry to excel at, it’s buzzwords. New phrases crop up all the time. Some stick, some don’t; some are simply marketing speak, while others herald real, positive progress.

One phrase that’s been gathering speed in Hong Kong in recent years is ‘Forest School.’ Type it into Google, and you’ll be presented with a raft of results, all singing the concept’s praise. But what exactly is Forest School? How, when and why did it become a thing? When we were kids, we were encouraged to climb trees, squelch in the mud and play in the sandpit – isn’t this just the same as that?

“The term Forest School first started to appear on the UK education scene in the 1990s,” says Howard Tuckett, headmaster of Wycombe Abbey School Hong Kong. “The concept was for schools to seek ways to expose children who had little exposure to natural surroundings during their school day to the benefits of outdoor learning.” Howard explains that UK education authorities at the time were very much focused on improving the outcomes of academic classroom learning, specifically literacy and numeracy.

“As the focus on academic improvement intensified, the time that pressurised primary class teachers had for external activities diminished. A broad realisation of what had been lost [saw] various attempts by teachers across the UK to redress the balance collected together under the umbrella of the Forest School concept.”