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History of IOL

A Potted History of IOL


Aims and Relevance to Outdoor Learning

Edited by Ken C Ogilvie

PRE 1970

1970 was still early days in the development of Outdoor Learning (called Outdoor Pursuits then) and the only dedicated associations, organisations or identifiable groups were:-  Field Studies Council (1943); Outward Bound Trust (1946); Duke of Edinburgh Award (1956);  Association of Wardens of Mountain Centres (1963) [approx 30 by 1970] (later called Assoc of Heads of OE Centres); Sail Training Association (1956); Council for Environmental Education (1968); The National & Rural Studies Association (1970); National Association of Field Study Officers (1971).

Most National Governing Bodies were in place, but not all, (3 home nation MLTBs arrived during 1964-66 as a result of many accidents to school and youth parties on the hills in late 50s early 60s - later on came British Orienteering Federation & NCC) with a considerable number of unidentifiable schools and clubs (NABC) or groups in youthwork organisations (Scouts, Girl Guides) nibbling at it now and then at first, but soon becoming involved on a much larger scale.

It was already a diverse movement consisting of:

The public sector

  • Schools and LEA centres and the statutory youth service’s occasional involvement of clubs  etc.
  • the National Centres - Glenmore Lodge [1948], Plas y Brenin [1955], Inverclyde National Sailing  Centre [1958], Cowes National Sailing Centre [1968], Tollymore in N.Ireland [1969], Plas y Deri (later renamed Plas Menai) was late on scene - not until 1983;

The private sector

  • Centres either charitable (e.g Brathay or Lakeside), or
  • centres which were independent and commercial e.g. PGL(1956), Yorkshire Dales Adventure Centre [1967] and,
  • various youth organisations some of them dedicated full time (Endeavour) and some only  operating occasionally within more general programmes - like schools often did etc.

A Voluntary Sector

  • This was linked to the public sector - was the formation  of the National Schools Sailing Assoc [1968] and the British Schools’ Canoeing Association in 1970.

To compound that diversity there were also at first two broad areas of practice underpinned by different sets of values and philosophy:

  • 1. Field Studies (later called ‘environmental education’).
  • 2. Outdoor Pursuits or Outdoor Activities, (not called Adventure Sports or Outdoor and Adventurous Activities until later (when within the PE programme of post Nat Curric reform in 1980s) - done for its own sake without other aims in mind - i.e. autotelic.
  • 2a. But this activity domain was also soon to have an equally strong further strand  - using outdoor activities for  personal and social education (PSE)  - which was just beginning to appear but not called that until the mid 1970s. OB had been doing social stuff much earlier, but their ‘character training’ image was an unpopular label with which the rest of the field did not want to be identified. P & S development arose to provide a more acceptable face.

So - in effect there were now three broad strands of practice.

All this early diversity meant that there was a need for a broader based organisation ‘sans frontieres’ and without sectarian vested interests.

Such a body would be able to take a broader view and represent the whole field and thus provide a non sectarian focal point for ALL but especially those in education to meet, discuss, network, lobby on a cross frontier basis etc. There was a whole host of matters to address - qualifications, training, equipment, safety , good practice etc. A group of far seeing people, mostly involved full time in OE/OPs worked voluntarily in their free time to address and fill this gap.

National Association for Outdoor Education was established – (26 Sept 1970).

There was general agreement among the initial drivers of the move that an association should be formed in which it would be possible to explore common ground and encourage consultation and co-operation.

A constitution adopted at the inaugural meeting of the Association said:

  • ‘The object of this Association is to bring into closer communication and co-operation those involved in a wide variety of educational activities in the outdoors. As a result of a pooling of expert knowledge and experience it is hoped not only that there will emerge a far wider appreciation of the value of the work already being done but that new ventures, profiting from this background of solid achievement, may from the start establish themselves on the soundest lines.’
  • ‘The Association will concern itself not only with improvement in teaching methods by encouraging the development of suitable basic and in-service training arrangements but also with critical studies of apparatus, clothing and equipment, accommodation, finance and administration, Its findings will be communicated to members by regular publications and conferences.’
  • ‘In course of time it is hoped that the Association will be able to offer advice to its own members, to education authorities and all types of educational establishments which wish to take advantage of the valuable work that has already been done. It needs no emphasis that the views of the Association are likely to carry authority in almost direct relationships to the strength of support derived from all who are active in this field of work.’

Ambitious, grandiose, idealistic stuff!! It was also seen as such considering the resources available.
NAOE did not have the whole-hearted support of all sectors. Not every group identified with the path of NAOE nor did they relish the thought of having their immediate needs or future destiny resting in its hands or being represented nationally by a body whose aims were on a slightly different plane of priorities and of which they might not be a member or affiliated with/to.

The definition of Outdoor Education adopted by the NAOE was,

  • ‘A means of approaching educational objectives through guided, direct experience of the outdoors, using as learning material the resources of rural and coastal environments.’

This signalled an important shift from the tendency hitherto to see outdoor education as a subject rather than an approach.

Trying to represent the whole field was a dodgy business and laid the executive group; a body of people in high-powered positions in the field (organisers, centre heads, college lecturers), open to arrogance and bare faced temerity if representation at planning and visioning time or decision making time was ragged and/or thin.

The strength of such an organisation needed to rest on a strong regional structure that was never properly in place, so NAOE was prone to be seen as a head without a proper body.

One of NAOE’s other weaknesses was that its sole source of finance was dependent on membership subscriptions. Like the rest of the field any work depended on a willing core of dedicated volunteers with the fire, time and ability to devote to what they felt was a most worthy mission, cause, crusade - that was how they regarded it. But lack of resources meant that well meaning aspiration often fell short of being achieved or implemented.

The wide geographical spread of people whose work situation was often located in the remote National Parks and wilder places of the UK did not help communication and entailed a lot of travel to reach meetings for which a venue convenient for all was well nigh impossible. (no emails then-just expensive phone or by letter).

NAOE/AfOL nevertheless managed to achieve quite a lot in its thirty years of existence:

  • 1. Information - broadsheets, newsletters, conference reports etc. Occasional publication papers on special topics of interest to the field such as the best ways of making use of residential experience, problem solving, gender issues, equal opportunities, work in urban environments etc. From the early 1980s it was closely involved with Chris Loynes the owner of the Journal for Adventure Education and Outdoor Leadership (later to become Horizons) and had editorial freedom over two or three pages in which it could inform the field about relevant events and other important information.
  • 2. Networking - annual conferences - vital for a scattered and nascent field.
  • 3. Partnerships collaboration - see below.
  • 4. A Focal point - for the practitioner at all levels esp instructor/teacher/leader level (other organisations were usually pitched at employer level - heads, organisers, lecturers etc). NAOE’s conference and workshop function became more necessary after the collapse of HMI conferences in early 1990s. (Although the ‘Forum’ was an attempt to replace the HMI conferences too).
  • 5. Expanding the concept of what OE was - e.g. in the urban dimension.
  • 6. HE links with colleges which had no OE network until NAOE members began one.

But OE always occupied a vulnerable and marginal position in education.
It was perceived by education at large as an extra curricular activity and LEA centres enjoyed (it was the right word then to a field that quietly relished its slightly maverick position) a non-statutory status (which they still have).
There was also the factor of holistic experiential education and the teaching methods it employed being at odds with a long tradition of knowledge-based learning taught as subjects from books and other second hand sources. [A tradition dating back to the monasteries and adopted when state schools began in 1870 responding to the need for a better educated work force to fuel the changes brought about by the industrial revolution]. The liberal regime existing in primary and comprehensive schools of the 1970s and 80s which had been supportive to extra curricular activity in the outdoors began to suffer from attacks by right wing ‘Black Paperites’ who saw education in the narrow terms of the traditional 3Rs and believed ‘standards’ to be falling. Their view eventually prevailed in the Thatcherite reforms of the curriculum continued later by Blairites, which made it very difficult for OE to survive in its earlier form. OE had to sell its soul and follow where the market led - geared to the prescriptive curriculum subjects. Reforms of Local Govt (LMS) made life harder as finance was devolved to schools and the size of central funding remaining to LEAs - and by extension available to centres - diminished thus reducing the size of subsidy previously available to LEA centres for example. Tighter controls on teaching time in schools also made it more difficult to take groups away. With the need to be more cost effective, course lengths shortened and it became less possible for disadvantaged children to afford the experience. Inclusivity flew out of the window. This period witnessed an increase in the use of short term contract staff in centres (cheaper) and the rise of sole trader businesses in OE. On-site activities became commoner (also cheaper and more easily controlled by staff - less real risk than off site work.

Meantime there was a parallel development alongside all this in the 1980s, where there was  perceptible a growing feeling of dissatisfaction with a situation in which the duplication of effort caused by the existence of so many parallel organisations in an ever diversifying ‘industry’ (as it was now sometimes unwillingly referred to) which required people representing organisations to meet very frequently and often find themselves combing over the same ground many times.

A necessity to collaborate on certain topics common to all, first became apparent in the late 1980s with the need to convince the DES that a different approach to safety rules and regulations was required since their last assault on the subject following the Cairngorm disaster of 1971 when six young people died. Methods and approaches had so changed since then that the old safety model no longer fitted the changed circumstances of 1988. The urgency to succeed in pressurising the DES was the catalyst which brought all the main players ((AWOEC, NAFSO, NAOE, the English [OEAP] and Scottish [SPAOE] Panels of OE Advisers)  together in a project initiated by AWOEC to produce a publication called  the ‘Guidelines for Guidelines’ which did succeed in affecting the content of the 1989 New D.E.S. Booklet  ‘Safety in  Outdoor  Education’ which replaced the DES 1972 booklet ‘Safety in Outdoor  Pursuits’.

Following on from this, NAOE, because of its admin resources, was involved in supporting the birth pangs of other organisations like the Forum which was begun in 1990 to fill the conference gap left by the loss of HMI and operated as a forerunning pilot to the establishment of the UK Council for Outdoor Education, Training and  Recreation  (UKCOETR) 1993, which was composed of representatives from all sectors working in OE. NAOE helped nurse maid the arrival of the Foundation for Outdoor Adventure (1993). And was instrumental in setting up the UK Council for Careers and Qualifications in the Outdoor Industry (UKCCQOI) which dealt with the establishment of NVQs around the time of their inception - NVQs were unpopular on account of the spate of horrible jargon they brought in but it was felt better to be up with the hunt on the inside rather than out of it and have an ignorant outsider set them up for us.

All this activity was good for its image although NAOE came in for criticism from the HE sector for being allegedly ineffective! This might have been down to the fact that in a male-dominated industry, NAOE committees usually had a generous proportion of women working in them. In the 1990s two of them ably occupied the Chair.

The rapidly changing circumstances of the 1990s persuaded the Exec of NAOE that it ought to go through the pangs of a name change. The inclusion of ‘Education’ in NAOE’s title was not to everyone’s taste in the post Lyme Bay, AALA, and market driven times. The commercial sector (BAHA) and the development training sector (DTAG) for instance saw NAOE as closely allied to the public sector. And the Youth Service had never liked to be bundled under the ‘education’ tag.

So, moves were put in place to effect a name change. At first, following the example provided by the UK Council’s OETR title, it was an opportunity for everyone to want to jump on the bandwagon and get their bit in the new title - ‘Association for Outdoor Education, Development Training and Recreation’ was the mouthful first attempted. Common sense prevailed when it was realised that rather than take the title from the staff-oriented teaching, educating, instructing, developing end, the other, receiving, end of the education process where everyone was involved in ‘learning’, resulted in a saner solution.

So we ended up with ‘AfOL’ - the Association for Outdoor Learning - July 1998.

The high profile London Conference on risk called the ‘Question of Balance’ in 2000 which spawned the Campaign for Adventure was a joint venture by AfOL and FOA. HRH the Duke of Edinburgh spoke at it and Libby Purves. The standing of AfOL increased when it acquired the Penrith based office of Adventure Education (Chris Loynes) and thus became the only organisation without a sectoral vested interest possessing an office and staff  - an asset which put it in the front line as a candidate for being the focal point around which others might coalesce.


Meanwhile touchy negotiations had been opened in 1998 to sound out the industry about a one-stop-shop, one-voice organisation to put an end to the multiplicity of meetings that became necessary every time there was a need to combine energies in concerted action to fire fight or push our point of view with central government. The industry had recently (1985 onwards) diversified even further with the creation of various Associations of Residential Providers (ARPs) in Cumbria, Wales and the South West and Associations for Residential Education (AREs) in Derbyshire and Southern Home Counties which eventually consolidated themselves into a Northern and Southern Council. There was also a Scottish variety in OSPRE.

On 31/10/98 there was an initial Open meeting on Convergence followed by two or three more tighter meetings of appointed representatives before sensitive points of view were satisfied it could work. Two organisations held back from converging - The AHOEC and OEAP -  although AHOEC continued to use its two pages in Horizons for publicity and information and made use of IOL’s ‘Situations Vacant’ website facility for a time. The time was not quite right for complete convergence but a substantial block of organisations managed to do it.

In March 2001 - there was an Inaugural Meeting to form IOL at a Birmingham conference. In April 2001 - occurred the formal Dissolution of AfOL at a Special Meeting in Penrith close to the AfOL Office.

At last the Outdoor Learning industry had an organisation consisting of most of the constituent elements of the industry and served by an efficient administration from its own offices. But the devolution of Home Nations meant IOL was mainly an English oriented organisation. Keeping Wales, Scotland and N. Ireland on board was problematic, but is constantly improving.

IOL key milestones

  • March 2001 - Inaugural Meeting.
  • March 2002 -  First IOL conference
  • 2002 Inspiring Achievement, about the life of Lord Hunt, was published jointly by FOA/IOL.
  • August 2005  Leading & Managing Groups in the Outdoors - 2nd Edition.
  • 2005 - APIOL (Accredited Practitioner) - was enormously important - and quickly gains momentum.
  • 2006 - membership increased to over an unprecedented 1500.
  • 2005 – IOL’s first paid Director, Karen Brush, was appointed to lead the organisation through the next stage of its development.
  • 2008 - IOL's APIOL Scheme is joined by RPIOL (Registered Practitioner) and LPIOL (Leading Practitioner)
  • 2008 - IOL held their first ever 2 day Conference Event in October.
  • 2009 - The Plumpton office buildings are given change of use to a house by the owners so a move is necessary and IOL take up new offices near Carlisle.
  • 2009 - The number of practitioners who have been awarded APIOL now tops 390.
  • Membership continues to increase.
  • 2009. In October we welcomed a new CEO. Andy Robinson joined us.
  • 2009. Alice Skinner joins the office team as a business administration apprentice.
  • 2010. First Fellows of IOL awarded.
  • 2010. new Professional Development Team start work.
  • 2010, 2012, 2014 - National 2-day Conferences.