Many young people have concerns about the environment, about climate change, pollution and conservation of plant and animal species but how often does their education inspire their understanding of these issues through exploring and investigating the natural world that surrounds them?

I am a retired primary school headteacher and walk roughly forty miles a week. I rarely, if ever, see young children outside their classroom, breathing fresh air and exploring the environment they care so much about. In Hampshire we are blessed with forest and coastline, river valleys, ponds and chalk hills and hundreds of miles of hedgerows burgeoning with flora and fauna.

Children as young as five are imprisoned in their classrooms learning formal English grammar and mathematics to the virtual exclusion of a broad and balanced, rich curriculum which embraces an exploration of the world around them, its geography, history, natural history and associated creative opportunities. A study of the environment gives children the chance to apply the skills they develop in the classroom.

I believe that Health and Safety and risk assessment, though necessary, have become so ridiculously stringent as to stifle these wonderful opportunities for first-hand experience.

Yesterday, I walked through the magnificent Mark Ash Ancient and Ornamental woodland in the New Forest and not a soul did I encounter. Back in the day, when the 'whole child' mattered and not just tests and statistics, we regularly took groups there to look and listen and investigate, to search for signs of animal life, to explore plant populations, to paint, sketch, write and record texture and colour, feelings and emotions. We also visited coastal locations, pond-dipped and looked at plant distribution across hedgerows and ditches. We turned the school grounds into a wildlife-friendly area with judicious planting of trees and shrubs and the creation of ponds and still managed to top the league tables.

Memories of this diverse approach stay with the children for their lifetime and make them confident and articulate. I am reminded of William Wordsworth: 'shades of the prison-house begin to close upon the growing boy'. Is this what we want for our lovely children?

Hampshire has hundreds of dedicated, brilliant teachers who would be invigorated by this approach and now that Covid rules are being further relaxed, an exciting world is there awaiting them and the children.

Bob (Robbie) Sprague,

Lakewood Road,

Chandler's Ford