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.

A Sense of Hope: How and Why Outdoor Educators Need to Develop their Cultural and Social Justice Competencies

Mary Breunig

Mary Breunig’s keynote address draws on her extensive practice and research on cultural competency.  Mary will help us understand what cultural competency is, why outdoor educators need to be culturally competent, and the ways in which cultural competency can be developed through a careful examination of our attitudes, awareness, knowledge and skills. Mary will place particular focus on the ways in which some commonly used outdoor education practices, such as making ‘dream catchers,’ have been co-opted from indigenous traditions and have not been used in a manner that is culturally appropriate or that honour indigenous people.   By providing concrete examples to bring the theory alive, Mary will help conference delegates to understand their cultural and social justice competencies and deficits.  She will provide hands-on practical tools that delegates can apply to develop their competencies.  Delegate will be able to reflect on their own practice in light of Mary’s provocative talk and apply the ideas to their own leadership practice.  Mary’s talk will leave us with a sense of hopefulness about the possibilities for the ways in which outdoor education can contribute to a more just world.


Mary Breunig is an Associate Professor in the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies at Brock University and the Director of the Brock University Social Justice and Equity Studies Program. She has worked in the field(s) of experiential education for over 25 years and is currently past-president of the Association for Experiential Education.

Her research interests include outdoor and environmental education within the K-12 schools (Ontario), experiential education and social justice; critical pedagogy and Freirean praxis both in and out of the classroom; wilderness trips and psychological sense of community. She is both an outdoor enthusiast and an urban flannel.

Recent Graduates have studied Exploring the Ecological Self, Migrant Farm Workers in Niagara, Organizational Change in Summer Camps, Cultivating the Foundations of Social Justice in Outdoor Programs, Exploring Metis Ancestry through Auto-Ethnography, Outdoor, Experiential Education in K-12 Yukon Schools, The Effects of Wilderness Trips on Young People living with Diabetes, among others.

Wisdom of the Past – Exploring the Future: Opportunities, Dilemmas and Tensions for Outdoor Educators

Dr Allen Hill

Allen Hill will launch the conference with an inspiring keynote address at the opening function at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.  Allen will set the stage for the conference as he frames his talk around the theme of the conference:  Wisdom of the Past – Exploring the Future.  Allen will examine and reflect on the historical foundations of long-held traditions of outdoor education, such as nature, risk, adventure, skill development and social and interpersonal development.  He will also discuss more contemporary constructs and visions of outdoor education including local place-based education, environmental education, sustainability education and social justice.  He will muse on the opportunities, dilemmas and tensions that emerge as a result of these diverse, and, at times, conflictual constructs of our discipline.  Throughout his keynote, Allen will also introduce and reflect on the four sub-themes that frame up the conference:  teaching and learning; safety and risk management; human-nature interactions and contemporary issues.   Allen will ground his talk with real life examples from his varied career as a high school teacher, OE practitioner and academic researcher.


Dr Allen Hill is a Principal Lecturer in Sustainability and Outdoor Education at ARA Institute of Canterbury, Aotearoa New Zealand. Allen joined the team at ARA in July, 2016 from the University of Tasmania, Australia, where he still holds an adjunct Senior Lecturer position in the Faculty of Education.

Before his transition into tertiary education, Allen was a secondary school teacher in Aotearoa New Zealand for 11 years. During this time he held a number of leadership roles including Head of Health and Physical Education and Outdoor Education, and Head of Assessment in a large co-educational state secondary school.

Allen’s professional career can be characterized by an enduring commitment to the development of people through education coupled with a strong concern for issues of justice, sustainability, transformation, and citizenship. How education can engage people with meaningful outdoor learning experiences and contribute to a sustainable future through connecting people with each other and with the places they inhabit is at the heart of his research and teaching interests.

When Allen is not at work or hanging out with his wife and 3 kids he can often be found dressed in lycra on 2 wheels.

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