Hundreds of people have signed a petition against a decision to close the “outstanding” outdoor education department at a Morecambe high school.
Pupils, parents and former staff at Morecambe Bay Academy, formerly Morecambe High School, have rallied against the decision to axe the department, which gives pupils the chance to take part in activities such as climbing, kayaking, sailing and mountain biking.
The Bay Learning Trust, which now runs the school after taking over on May 1, said that its top priority was “improving the quality of education and so the life chances of the young people of Morecambe.”
But many, including former outdoor education teacher John Gibbison, who worked at the school between 1973 and 2010, argue that the department is held in high esteem across the region, and that outdoor education has improved the life chances and career opportunities of many pupils attending the school.
Year 11 pupil Josh Umpleby launched the petition following the Bay Learning Trust’s decision this week.
It has already received almost 1,000 signatures.
He said that the outdoor education provision is a “unique selling point” of the school, and should be promoted as much as possible.
“We should be proud that our local high school delivers such an amazing opportunity to kids from all walks of life,” he said.
“We need to stop the shutting down of outdoor education and make it available to current and future students for many more years to come.”
Liz Nicholls, Bay Learning Trust Leader, said: “Following an Inadequate Ofsted judgement 18 months ago and a significant budget deficit urgent action has had to be taken to stabilise the school and ensure rapid improvement.
“Governors faced many difficult decisions in ensuring that all available resources were directed towards our top priority of improving the quality of education and so the life chances of the young people of Morecambe.
“This has meant reducing Outdoor Education and, in line with the new Ofsted framework, focusing on developing a far wider programme of extra curricular development to build character and resilience in our young people.
“I am very pleased that the highest number of young people ever at Morecambe are taking the Duke of Edinburgh award this year.
“We are also delighted to have secured over £3m of additional capital funding to make the school premises fit for purpose and are confident that the school is now entering a phase of rapid improvement which will ensure that young people thrive and gain the range of skills and qualifications they need to succeed. “The Primary Outdoor Education is unaffected by changes at the school.”
Mr Gibbison, who was central to the provision being set up in the 1970s, and who is now involved in local organisations like Morecambe Sailing Club, said: “Josh (Umpleby), who is a police cadet, is very passionate about what the school has given him.
“He’s in the middle of his GCSEs, but he’s managed to find the time to speak up about this.
“It’s an unusual decision, especially at a time when children are being encouraged to spend more time outdoors and it’s been proven that this improves mental health.
“It’s such an important issue. History has shown that outdoor education has positively affected the lives of so many students at the school.
“It’s given them experiences that they perhaps wouldn’t have got anywhere else.
“It’s held in such high esteem.
“The life skills they get with that have stayed with them and has given them job and career opportunities.
“The charity MIND has shown that physical activity, getting into the hills and walking and climbing, and engaging with the outdoors is a big part of people getting back on to the straight and narrow.
“A lot of people say that it was such an important part of their time at Morecambe High School.
“We’ll never get this sort of thing back. It’s like Sedbergh School dropping rugby.”
Mr Gibbison said that pupils would get five days of outdoor education by the time they left in Year 9.
He added: “Pupils have used it for their GCSE PE, there’s a link to health and safety in the workplace, it increases life and career prospects.
“It’s priceless really.”
Morecambe and Lunesdale MP David Morris said: “As Morecambe Bay is an Academy decisions regarding the school are solely the responsibility of the Schools Governors.
“Following historic financial mismanagement at the school prior to the academy taking over I have been working with the Bay Learning Trust to secure over £3m pounds for essential maintenance work on the building including a new roof being fitted over the summer holidays.”
The petition can be found at http://chng.it/HmxsH2zT.