Idea copied from Brittany

Britain’s first School of the Sea, which will make local sea and coastal resources an essential part of the curriculum for pupils aged between eight and 14, has opened in Wales.

The multi-school programme is the first in the UK to use the marine environment to teach subjects including history, geography, biology, art and maths, as well as watersports skills training.

The initiative is modelled on a 20 year educational programme in Brittany, which has been the driving force behind the growth of the region’s highly successful marine industry. It has created major economic development and sustainable jobs, which have helped safeguard the Breton language and culture.

Ysgol y Môr, as it is called in Welsh, is being piloted in the counties of Gwynedd and Ynys Môn. In the first phase, spanning three years, 1,440 pupils from 16 schools are learning watersports skills. 1,170 pupils are being taught a range of existing curriculum subjects in classes de mer (‘classrooms of the sea’), across both counties.

The launch of Ysgol y Môr follows more than two years of development by North Wales Watersports and its partners. This included a fact finding mission for North Wales educationalists and local authority representatives in 2007 to Brittany, which has 20 dedicated’classrooms of the sea’ centres that have trained thousands of pupils.

The first phase of Ysgol y Môr will include training 18 North Wales teachers to be ‘champions of watersports’, and an end-of-year inter-schools competition, sponsored by the British MarineFederation.

The second and third stages are expected to develop greater involvement with colleges and local employers, as well as schools, and extend to neighbouring counties.

The Ysgol y Môr programme is also designed as a template for a new national approach to education, based on involving pupils more closely with their local environments, including mountains, forests and urban areas.

Ysgol y Môr is part of the Môr a Mynydd (Sea and Mountains) initiative, which is being managed by North Wales Watersports. It has won financial support from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, the Welsh Assembly Government, Ynys Môn CC and Gwynedd CC. Read Dick Durham’s blog