Ban on outdoor education puts students at risk, say frustrated providers

An indefinite ban on extra-curricular outdoor education activities in Tasmanian public schools has frustrated providers.


Providers of extra-curricular school activities and outdoor education have expressed frustration at an indefinite ban in Tasmania’s public schools.

A spokesperson for the state’s Department of Education says, while it reviews safety-related procedures, the restrictions apply to kindergarten – Year 12 students. Those doing apprenticeships or traineeships are not affected.

“Activities include horse handling and riding, quad bike and side-by-side riding, caving, aged and disability care placements, piercing and tattooing, and working with animals,” the spokesperson said.

“The department is reviewing these activities with urgency and will continue to communicate with schools on any further changes.”

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Equine Assisted Learning support on hold

Jo Pickett has owned and operated an Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) program at Donovan Park Sport Horses & Rehab Services in Tasmania since 2015.

She says neurodiverse and trauma-background students could miss out on the benefits of vital life lessons if this ban is not managed promptly.

“[I have] a team of 10 incredible horses and ponies that have been selected and tested as ideal for working with individuals and groups, with and without mental, physical and learning differences,” she told EducationDaily.

“While I also work with NDIS Participants, Tas Ed’s [Tasmanian Education Department’s] banning of equine activities means that the students are now denied the unique learning opportunities that re-engage these students back into the educational system.”

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Lack of consultation with experienced providers

The Tasmanian Education Department has, she says, “made a grave error and rash decision to implement this new policy without consultation with the schools and students that have taken part in my programs or consultation with myself”.

She claims if the Department inspected her facility, along with many similar facilities, they would find providers work hard to provide a safe environment.

“EAL is currently unregulated, however, there are several EAL Facilitators here in Tasmania that hold the EAGALA (USA) qualification, maximum insurance, provide first-aid, mental health first-aid, Working with Vulnerable People checks, police checks, Tasmanian Worksafe approved facilities and years of proven experience,” she says.

“The Tasmanian Education Department needs to revise the blanket banning and look at the individual EAL facilitators currently working with schools that have the EAGALA qualifications and set this as a benchmark for approval.”

Ms Pickett says that timely action with clear communication and set dates is needed.

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“So far, I haven’t received any communication from the department, other than an acknowledgement that they’ve received my request for approval.”

Tasmanian Education Minister Roger Jaensch said he did not have an end date for the restrictions.

“It’s very important that in our school system, where we’re responsible for the safety and well-being of young people, that we’re very clear and sure about the safety of the activities we offer,” he said in a statement about the indefinite ban on off-site activities in the state’s public schools.

Students miss valuable opportunities

Wild Cave Tours business owner Deb Hunter provides cave tours in the town of Mole Creek, west of Launceston.

She says outdoor activities, including caving, offer school students essential learning opportunities and that it’s best for them to learn these lessons in a contained environment.

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“The Department and schools have little to fear from licensed, accredited operators and should not be suspending activities with these professionals,” she says.

Ms Hunter has spent years formulating national Adventure Activity Standards and contributing to Australia’s Minimal Impact Caving Code.

“My business is licensed and is accredited by the Ecotourism Association of Australia,” she says. “As well as a commercial operator, I am an expedition caver, rescue volunteer, conservationist and karst scientist.”

Children need outdoor education

She says students are missing out on an opportunity to develop their sense of environmental stewardship while learning specialist skills that reduce risk.

Without learning professional programs and leadership, Ms Hunter says young people interested in wild caving will not know how to evaluate risks and environmental harm.

“Tasmanians going caving are at great risk of injury,” she says. “Many have required rescue. Some have died.”

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“Ignorant environmental practices cause damage, some of which myself and my clients repair, but much damage can never be recovered.”

As an environmentalist, Ms Hunter believes now is the time for children to be out more, not less.

“Our environment is now quickly degrading,” she says.

“We need Tasmanian next-generation ambassadors for the environment.”

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