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SCHOOL CAMPS NEED TO RETURN IN NSW! An Open Letter.

SCHOOL CAMPS NEED TO RETURN IN NSW!

Yesterday, the ACA continued its collaborative advocacy efforts with Outdoors NSW & ACT and Christian Venues Association writing an open letter advocating for the return of schools to camp in NSW.

Governments messaging across Australia has been talking about the importance of being outdoors, however in NSW, schools are not allowed to go to the very places that provide led outdoor activities and camps. Businesses are suffering, losing staff who they can't provide work for and students are missing out on the very thing that they need to support their mental health and wellbeing after such an extended time of uncertainty and isolation.

Read here or below:

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OPEN LETTER: AM INDUSTRY DESTROYED THROUGH IGNORANCE
30 November 2021

Imagine your school life without school camps, leadership camps, Duke of Edinburgh programs… well it’s more likely than you think.

As the New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet vows to stick with the plans for further re-opening on December 15th from COVID-19 restrictions, an industry goes unnoticed, stopped from trading, in a blatant omission in policy change and ignored despite the number of cries for help to keep staff employed and keep businesses afloat.
Able to operate under Public Health Orders, our camp providers go unnoticed as public policy restricting NSW Department of Education schools from partaking in overnight educational opportunities; their main, if not their only, customers.

However, the worst part of this situation is not the thousands of lost jobs nor the number of businesses about to fail but the sheer ignorance of what this industry does for our youth in Outdoor Education throughout a school year; prevention of mental health issues, providing social and leadership skills, skills for life and building resilience in our youth as well as creating lifelong memories. The Outdoor Industry is calling all to stand up for our youth, our jobs and our businesses as the NSW Department of Health restrict the resumption of overnight excursions and outdoor education in all public schools.
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This week is the last week of term for many private schools and we are very close to the end of the term for public schools. These schools are now unable to confirm plans with any certainty for Term 1 in 2022 to include overnight activities as the NSW government continue to rule out providing a roadmap of when school coordinated overnight activities can resume.

For much of the past two years, our children from ages 5 to 18 have lost out on so much of what we had previously taken for granted. Their schooling has been broken, face-to-face contact with friends or family removed, and sports or creative outlets non-existent. They have missed out on crucial social interactions, outdoor education, leaving their interpersonal and mental health severely compromised. Camps allow individuals to rebuild confidence and reconnect with others, learn life skills and resilience; relationships can blossom when trust is rebuilt, and bonds are reformed. Do you remember your math class or your school camp? Yep, memories these children have lost because they couldn’t even partake.

It’s too late to resume school camps and overnight outdoor education in 2021, but not too late to resume in 2022. It’s too late to recoup the 8,000 staff that have lost their jobs but not too late to keep the remaining staff and provide opportunity to recruit new employees. It’s too late to recoup income lost since schools went back to face-to-face in November but it’s not too late to provide financial assistance to these businesses to remain open so they can serve the needs of our youth in 2022 and beyond.
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The net benefits of relationship repair and personal growth far outweigh any perceived risk by those in authority who are currently deeming school camps unsafe. Victoria allowed school camps to resume from the moment face-to-face learning took place as they understand the benefits of this activity for all age groups. The same applied to Queensland after their lockdowns earlier in 2021.

A typical school group on a residential camp is peopled with children who are from a single cohort, undertaking activities, eating, and sharing accommodation together, and not mixing with others during their stay. In essence, a mini lockdown where the total possible interactions with others remain static, with the added benefit of most activity be held in the outdoors.

Conversely, the average movements and interactions of uncontrolled cohorts who are now permitted to attend school every day, use multiple modes of transport to and from school, interact with multiple teachers and staff, who also have multiple interactions, and spend most of the day indoors. The idea that camping is somehow of greater risk to infection control is farcical.

Currently, the NSW Department of Health is standing firm and refuses to permit the reopening of camping to school groups. Yet, the planning and attending of camps is ultimately a question of choice. The schools and the parents can choose to make these plans on their own time but are not currently given the opportunity to make an informed choice in their child’s education. Camps are open and successfully running with other groups from the community, why not school groups?
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To date, camp providers have lost 71% of their staff since 2020 and should they not return for Term 1 2022, they will be reduced in most cases to none without financial support.

Remember we are not just talking about social camps. This industry provides Duke of Edinburgh programs (21.9%), leadership camps (8.2%), physical health education (24.1%), environment & outdoor elective education (5.7%) and outdoor recreation experiences (40.1%) that provide opportunities for connection for long-term engagement in the activities.

In 2020, there were 1,241,962 school students in NSW, of which 729,705 were in the years where they experience some sort of outdoor education experience. Ordinarily, this would equate to over $200Million worth of business to the industry. Income has now been reduced to $0 as of today (30th November) as grants cease completely from the NSW and Federal Government.

3,107 schools have relied on the services of our industry for many different outdoor education opportunities that are delivered by experienced, qualified, and passionate educators.
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When we asked our camp providers on 26 November 2021 what would happen if they did not have their schools return in Term 1, the answers were transparent.

  • “Devastating! We would have to consider whether to continue operating.”
  • “We will struggle to survive”
  • “I would remain the only person employed”
  • “We would have to consider selling assets and this would make recovery even more difficult.”
  • “Sydney schools will not have their usual Duke of Ed Adventurous Journeys”
  • “We can only keep doing this at the expense of our personal and financial wellbeing for so long. It is hard always being in a small forgotten industry …. We have grant application fatigue and are pretty exhausted.”
  • “We have struggled through 14months of restriction of trade over the past 2 years! If we don’t get back to camps we are close to not reopening again!”

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If our camp facilities have COVIDSafe plans that keep school groups separate, year cohort groups separate, and they continue to adopt all hygiene and social distancing measures then why are they being held back from their customers? Is it sheer ignorance of our activities, our benefit for the youth or understanding of our industry?

Either way, we need to ask for immediate financial help to remain open until our customers are allowed to return… the benefits of our industry cannot be ignored any longer! And then a clear pathway for when we can return to camp, so we have time to recruit, retrain, reengage our staff and be ready to provide impeccable opportunities for our youth again.

Sincerely,
Rod Thomson
Australian Camps Association

Lori Modde
Outdoors NSW & ACT

Graeme Janes
Christian Venues Association
 

 
 
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