Forest School Risk Assessments

There are three types of risk assessment you should do for your Forest School: site, activity and daily.

You’ll need to create a document for each (or you could just use our template documents – the ones we use for our setting).

Enter your email address below to grab the risk assessment templates in Word format. There are 3 pages, one for each of the risk assessments you’ll need.

Forest School Site Risk Assessment

This type of risk assessment looks at the environment where you are carrying out your Forest School activities.

You record the details about the site, and the hazards they present to people using the site for activities. Then you note the level of possible harm and the mitigating actions you can do to prevent or reduce harm.

Record the level of harm presented by the hazard on site when the actions have been carried out. Hopefully that will be ‘low’. If any hazards cannot be mitigated and managed to a level you feel is acceptable, think about what other actions you can take to make the site or activities safer, or whether it is possible to remove the risk totally by doing something in a different way.

The site risk assessment will cover things like:

  • Streams
  • Dipping pond/dipping platform on pond or stream
  • Flora with berries or prickles e.g. nettles and brambles
  • Tree roots and stumps/uneven ground
  • Sticks
  • Dog poo/other faeces
  • Rubbish and debris (from humans, e.g. litter)
  • Fire circle/Kelly kettle
  • Rope swing
  • Darkness
  • Mushrooms/fungi
  • Stinging insects e.g. bees, wasps
  • Animals e.g. snakes
  • Tools
  • Boundaries and safety of fences and perimeter gates
  • Trees.

For each identified site hazard, log what you can do about it. Then note who will take those actions and when. In some cases, you’ll have to make an assessment and take action on the day e.g. assessing the water height in a stream. In other cases, you’ll be able to take action before the session e.g. clearing stray nettles away from the fire circle zone.

Here’s an example of snippet of our risk assessment template filled in for some of the risks in our environment:

Some of the risks involved in the Forest School site
forest school risk assessment
The forest is a great place for exploring but also comes with risks

Activity Risk Assessments

As well as an overall risk assessment for the whole site, you need to do risk assessments for each activity including tool use. Here are some activities where you’ll need to do risk assessments.

  • Collecting materials e.g. leaves and sticks
  • Using a bit and brace
  • Making a rope swing or a crane
  • Using a knife
  • Using a folding saw
  • Using loppers or secateurs
  • Climbing trees
  • Using ropes
  • Cooking
  • Toasting
  • Drinking
  • Lighting fires/being around fire
  • Taking part in organised games.

You’ll also want to create risk assessments for leader-led activities like weaving, crafts, although they are likely to be lower risk than child-led forest exploration and tool use.

Here’s an example of what our template looks like once it’s filled in for an activity, in this case: organised games.

The hazards and actions associated with organised forest school games

This video is a good example of children themselves working out a suitable approach to risk during an activity. While we do risk assessments as a very formal activity, in “real life” we’re assessing risk every time we take a step. The forest gives children the opportunity to test out their risk taking abilities and to uncover their limits.

Want a ready-made activity risk assessment template? Grab our free editable Word document below.

Daily Risk Assessments

Child-led activities can be spontaneous, and that’s what makes them fun, if sometimes unpredictable! It does mean you’ll be doing a lot of dynamic risk assessing on the day. You’ll use your knowledge and experience – and common sense – to assess the benefits and risk of activities the children are doing, enabling you to keep them safe.

The daily risk assessment is your way to check that today you can lead a safe session. You’ll be checking for:

  • Changes in the setting e.g. new things that have materialised since your last visit – this happens a lot on school sites!
  • Water height in streams – sometimes it will be too high to allow children to play in the water
  • Bee and wasp nests
  • Changes in the weather
  • Anything else seasonal or specific to the day.

Use a daily risk assessment as a reminder of the things to look for so that you can make dynamic decisions based on the environment today.

The risk assessments should be a practical guide for you – part of your handbook for running your Forest School. They can also be included as evidence for your Level 3 portfolio.

Forest school risk assessment templates for you!

How to create a Forest School Portfolio

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What is a Forest School Portfolio?

Anyone going for Level 3 Forest School training needs to submit a portfolio. The exact requirements for submission will depend on your awarding body, but the contents will be broadly the same.

Your portfolio is a collection of evidence that demonstrates you understand what’s been covered on your training. It’s your chance to showcase your skills and experience, and show that you can reflect on them to improve your practice.

What goes into a Forest School Level 3 portfolio

You’ll get a list of requirements from your trainer, and each course provider will have slightly different requirements. However, the basics are going to be the same. There are some common good practices for submitting your portfolio.

Your Forest School portfolio should include:

  • A title page
  • An index. This helps your assessor understand and quickly find the information in the portfolio.
  • Your evidence. This is the majority of the portfolio. You will organise it by unit, dividing the sections in a logical way. If you have been provided with tracking sheets to show assessors where your answers are in your evidence sections. Your evidence needs to be “real” examples, such as your risk assessments for your setting.
  • Additional attachments or appendices, if you want to include them. This could be a link to videos, for example, which you can store on Dropbox and point to from your portfolio.
  • References. If you use quotes or material from other sources, give clear references, on the same page as where you have cited the material.
  • Your declaration. This is a statement that says your portfolio is all your own work. Plagiarism isn’t permitted (obviously) and won’t help you in the long term anyway. You need to be able to do the doing, facilitate your group and support the children in your setting.

If you are lucky enough to be able to make videos about your Forest School, like this one about Charlotte’s Wood, then include links to those too!

The contents of your portfolio

Your Forest School portfolio is mainly about your reflections on how you are creating and applying Forest School principles to your own environment. By that, I mean that there are many sections of the portfolio that require you to talk about your own programme.

The portfolio contents should be practical. You want to be able to explain your setting, your programme, the way your group works.

Feel free to talk about your experiences, and what works and what doesn’t work. In fact, your assessor and verifiers will be looking for that. They want to know that you have reflected on your experiences and learned from them. You can show that you’ve changed your practice and deepened your knowledge of how to make Forest School a success for your setting.

Talk about the challenges. Talk about your successes. Your portfolio isn’t public. It’s between you and your assessor, although you can choose to share it (or elements of it) with people from your course. So be honest.

Evidence for Units

The Level 3 Forest School Leader course provides training across 5 units, and your portfolio has to align to and evidence all of them. Within each unit there are sub-sections. Essentially, all you have to do to complete your portfolio is go through the learning outcomes and for each of the assessment criteria, provide evidence that you meet the criteria.

I say “all you have to do” but actually gathering the evidence can be quite time consuming! Your evidence will be a mixture of personal reflection, book/journal led study (such as the assignment to evaluate Forest School research) and the capture of experience, for example photos of activities you have carried out in your programme, copies of risk assessments and so on.

The units are:

  • Learning and development
  • Planning and preparation
  • Practical skills
  • Delivery
  • Woodland environment

Using children in your portfolio

Forest School is all about the children. As their own teachers, they are front and centre of your Forest School. It’s child-led. So how can you evidence what you do while still complying with safe practices?

You should be very careful about any evidence that you submit that references children. The easiest thing to do is to not identify any children by name in your observations, evaluations or in photos. Just don’t. Obscure faces from photos, or even better, don’t include children in the pictures at all. You can take photos of crafts and shelters, your fire pit, tools and so on without having to include children in the images.

Having said all that, along with your portfolio you will probably have to submit a signed letter on headed paper from the school or manager of the setting, that states you have explicit permission to use the programme as part of your professional development studies. That was certainly expected as part of Jon’s coursework.

How to submit your portfolio

Given the nature of the portfolio, you’ll probably submit it in paper form i.e. a hard copy. That was certainly the requirement for Jon’s portfolio.

The easiest way to do this is to create your evidence pages on the computer, print it all out and then pop it into a ring binder. Don’t use plastic wallets for filing your pages – just hole punch the sheets and put them in the binder.

If you can, hand your portfolio to an assessor in person. This avoids having to put it in the post. It should go without saying that you’ll want to keep a back up of your evidence and files just in case they go missing either with the assessor (it must happen from time to time, although we don’t know of any cases – you’d want to be safe though, right?) or in the post.

Your awarding body assessor (you should have a trainer endorsed by the Forest School Association) will look through your portfolio… and you’ll get feedback on whether you meet the requirements, or whether there is still more work for you to do before you are qualified.

Good luck!