Are there any guidelines or regulations for setting up outdoor classrooms?

Including outdoor education in your curriculum is a fantastic way to support kids’ health and wellbeing. Fresh air and natural light are proven to reduce stress, increase happiness and improve sleeping patterns. These improve kids’ physical and mental health, which also has a positive impact on their learning.

But don’t get started on your new outdoor classroom just yet. First, you need to be aware of the outdoor classroom guidelines and regulations outlined by the government and your local planning authorities. These ensure proper outdoor classroom safety and protect your school, nursery or day care centre from legal action.

Planning permission for outdoor classrooms

You can actually install most outdoor education facilities without planning permission. That’s because they’re covered by Permitted Development Rights as Part 7 of the Town & Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 2015. These represent a national grant of planning permission by the government for certain building works to be carried out without needing to seek approval.

Here are the criteria for permitted development for schools, colleges and universities:

The erection, extension or alteration of a school is permitted development provided that:-

(a) the cumulative gross floor space of any buildings erected, extended or altered would not exceed—

(i)25% of the gross floor space of the original school, college, or university; or

(ii)100 square metres,

whichever is the lesser;

(b) no part of the development would be within 5 metres of a boundary of the curtilage of the premises;

(c) no land used as a playing field at any time in the 5 years before the development commenced and remaining in this use, could no longer be so used as the result of the development;

(d) the height of any new building erected would not exceed 5 metres;

(e) the height of the building as extended or altered would not exceed—

(i) if within 10 metres of a boundary of the curtilage of the premises, 5 metres; or

(ii) in all other cases, the height of the building being extended or altered;

(f) the development is not within the curtilage of a listed building

Please note, however, that we’re not planning consultants. So we recommend contacting your local authority to check the outdoor classroom guidelines and regulations for your school. Some authorities now offer a pre-application service that lets you get their informed opinion for a nominal fee before you file a full planning application.

Building regulations for outdoor classrooms

You typically don’t need to notify your local authority if your outdoor classroom:

  • Is less than 30m2
  • Doesn’t have sleeping accommodation
  • Is wholly detached from your main school building
  • Is more than 1m from your boundary

But the supplier or manufacturer of your outdoor classroom still needs to follow local building regulations. This is important for outdoor classroom safety, as it ensures:

  • Your outdoor classroom has good structural stability
  • It’s properly ventilated
  • Safety glass is used where necessary
  • The structure is protected against moisture

While some building regulations apply throughout the UK, each area has its own requirements. Make sure you choose a knowledgeable and experienced provider who is familiar with the building regulations in your area.

Outdoor classroom safety guidelines

Health and safety for outdoor education is covered by a wide variety of existing legislation that your school is already required to follow. To help you meet these requirements, here are some good general practices for outdoor classroom safety:

  • Inform parents and guardians about outdoor education in your school
  • Be aware of allergies and other relevant health needs
  • Check your outdoor classroom for potential hazards every day
  • Make sure tables and chairs are secured to avoid tipping
  • Postpone outdoor learning in bad weather
  • Make sure students dress appropriately for outdoor learning
  • Update your school policies, handbooks, risk assessments and evacuation plans to include outdoor education

Is there any funding for outdoor education?

On 18th May 2023, the Department of Education announced £15m in funding to help schools in deprived areas improve their outdoor learning facilities. This funding can be used to buy outdoor equipment and clothing, pay for teaching tools like acoustic listening devices, and build outdoor classrooms.

You school could be eligible for the grant if:

  • You’ve submitted a school level census return in Term 1 of 2021-22
  • Your school is in a Lower Tier Local Authority deemed to be in a category 1 “Levelling up area” by DLUHC in its 2nd round of Levelling Up Fund.
  • Your school is in a Lower Super Output Area (LSOA) in category L1 of Natural England’s Accessible Natural Greenspace Inequalities indicator, which is a combined measure of deprivation and access to natural greenspace (less than 5% of the LSOA is covered by or within 300m of accessible natural green space, and the LSOA is in the lowest 2 deciles of the Index of Multiple Deprivation)

Visit the UK government website to find out more about funding to improve outdoor learning facilities.

Get started on your outdoor classroom!

Any outdoor classroom needs a sturdy structure and high-quality learning tools. But you don’t need to spend hours researching and comparing suppliers to find the best prices and equipment. That’s because you can find everything you need right here at Landscapes for Learning!

Our experts design, construct and install a wide range of durable wooden outdoor classroom structures to suit any primary school, nursery or day care. We also provide tables, seating, workspaces, planters and much more to bring your outdoor education to life. And if you need something unique, we’re happy to take on a bespoke project that meets our precise needs.
Visit our online store now to discover outstanding structures and equipment for your new outdoor classroom.