Dan Corlett, CEO of Farming and Countryside Education is leaving for pastures new (or rather, to become a new pastor, as he is training for ordination in the Church of England). Here, he reflects on launching and building Countryside Classroom and what lies ahead for the consortium.
When I joined FACE in 2013, the term Countryside Classroom was already being discussed, but it was late 2014 before the consortium was properly formed, and another year (October 2015) before we actually launched the now-renowned web site. It takes a long time to build something good, especially if it involves a lot of people and organisations. It took several rounds of research to define a product that teachers would want to use, and many robust discussions around how to create such a broad coalition that also retains quality, rigour and trust.
At the time, our aims were to:
Cut through the noise and make it easy for teachers to find the most appropriate resources, venues and contacts to help them teach in and about the natural environment, food and farming.
Help partners to be more efficient and speak with one voice to the education sector
Give confidence to the funders behind (mainly charitable) partners, that they are working efficiently and in a coordinated way.
Since then, Countryside Classroom has grown to incorporate 35 partners (who are committed to developing the whole programme), several hundred contributors (who are committed to enhancing education in the UK) and we’ve moved beyond just a web site, to some serious collaboration going on behind the scenes which will help shape Countryside Classroom in the coming school year.
Having been so closely involved in it, the Countryside Classroom partnership is one of the things I will miss most as I move on to the next season of life. It’s one of the pieces of work of which I’m also most pleased. What we’ve achieved is very gratifying. The potential for the future is very exciting. But what I will really miss are the people and personalities involved in it. Too many to name in a short blog without leaving people out, but suffice to say, it is always energising, fun and encouraging to meet, plan, bid and brainstorm with the people and personalities who have helped shape the consortium.
FACE, which is both a partner and the lead organisation of Countryside Classroom, has recently taken collaboration to the ultimate degree, by merging with Linking Environment And Farming, another Countryside Classroom partner organisation. Together, LEAF-FACE will lead the project into its next phase of development, which I hope will include:
Growth of the site and the features it offers to help teachers find what they want
New resources and programmes offered by partners, often in collaboration between them
Raising the profile of food, farming and the natural environment in education, leading to increased funding, improved policy support and greater uptake.
At a meeting in early 2014, the founding group of Countryside Classroom agreed we were in this for the long term - at least ten years. To build something that lasts and creates a lasting legacy takes effort and time. We are still only at the beginning of this journey. In the classic ‘Tuckman’ model, we have Formed, Stormed and begun to Norm. There are many great indicators of ‘Perform’, but I wholeheartedly believe the best is yet to come.
The days of individualism are gone. Smart organisations collaborate, adopt Open Innovation and operate through co-opetition. Collaboration is hard, even painful at times. And it certainly means loss of 100% control of ‘the message’. But simple maths tells us that a small share of something big, is worth more than total ownership of something that doesn’t gain traction because on its own, it failed to get recognition.
I look forward to hearing about new joint projects, a greater presence in policy-making circles and ultimately, more children and young people having learning experiences that enrich their lives, prepare them for future careers and connect them to the local and global issues that matter.
Thanks for the journey and good luck to everyone involved.