A Critique of Forest Schools: Something Lost in Translation

Mark Leather

Mark Leather’s keynote will ask some important and, at times, hard and unsettling questions about Forest Schools in the United Kingdom (UK).  These questions are timely given the growing number of Forest Schools in Australia.  To begin his talk, Mark will explain how Forest Schools came to the UK primarily from Scandinavia, where early years education conducted in the outdoors is a widely accepted practice. In its move to the UK, however, Mark believes that three major issues have arisen. The first concerns how Forest School as a form of outdoor education is culturally, socially, and historically situated. This suggests that its adoption in the UK (and therefore Australia) must navigate cultural differences, acknowledging that Forest School is a social construction. Secondly, Mark will argue that the pedagogy of Forest School, relevant as it is to early years education, is undertheorised in the outdoor education literature. This especially relates to considerations of play as a central tenet of Forest School pedagogy. Thirdly, Mark will explore how the expansion of Forest School in the UK (and possibly Australia) has taken a particularly corporate turn, resulting in a rapid institutionalisation and commodification of Forest School practices. He will argue for a need to situate claims made for and about Forest School in well-designed and conducted research to substantiate what can degenerate into market-based promotion. Mark will conclude his talk with acknowledgement of some of the very positive contributions Forest School is making to the development of contemporary practices of outdoor and environmental education. Mark’s keynote is offered in the spirit of engaging in robust discussion and debate around Forest School in order to ensure that the difficulties are addressed and the positive contributions continue in the UK and Australia.


Mark Leather is an outdoor educator who has the good fortune to teach in a University in the original “Plymouth” in England. He enjoys connecting with people, places and the planet and is fortunate to do this through his highly average ability as a sailor, skier, canoeist, and mountaineer

Mark was attracted to outdoor education through his time as a young boy in the scouts, beach holidays with the family and when he realised that his future as an English cricket legend would be in impossible since he is a bad loser – and the endless torture of watching England lose [cricket, football, rugby] meant that he needed his own challenges, and the outdoors provided these.

Mark enjoys meeting people in “the tribe” of outdoor education from around the world and is fortunate that sometimes they listen to what he has to say.

Given the choice, you will most likely find him on or near the sea, at a beach or on a boat – when he is not wrangling student assignments or his ‘dad’s taxi’ duties.

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