Climbing in schools: making the most of your climbing wall

Posted by Jane Thompson on 23/07/2019
Photo: Ray Wood

Welcome to the BMC ‘Climbing in Schools’ page with advice and guidance for schools with roped climbing walls or low-level traversing walls. Here you will find information about how to safely get the most from a facility, how to increase the use of a facility and how to improve the quality of coaching and instruction.

Wall Safety & Management

Safety is an essential consideration for any school with a climbing wall and any coach, instructor or climber using such a facility.

Do you know how to manage your climbing wall?  Do you understand how to maintain the wall, clean the holds and set new climbs or problems on a wall?  Do you understand the limitations associated with staff experience, knowledge and qualifications?  Do you understand the legal requirements for ‘working at height’?

If the answer is ‘no’ to any of the above then you should read the BMC Climbing Wall Manual available from the BMC and then consider attending some further training. There is also some useful information here

To maintain safety standards it is advisable to have more than one person in a school who has undertaken appropriate wall management and wall safety training (see below).

WATCH: The benefits of climbing walls at schools on BMC TV

Staff Training

There are several options that would be appropriate for staff working within a school environment covering Wall Management, Safety Considerations and Technical Movement Skills.

1. Most climbing wall manufacturers offer training on the use of the walls they install.  This is a great way to undertake training on the specific features of your wall.

2. Site specific CPD can also be gained by using a Climbing Technical Advisor.  It is recommended that all climbing walls have a Technical Advisor who is able to advise on a range of issues.  To find the best person in your area we suggest that you speak with your local climbing walls and make contact with their Technical Advisor, or contact the Association of Mountaineering Instructors (AMI)

3. Coaching basic fundamental climbing skills is not that difficult for someone with teaching skills. The BMC runs a programme of full-day Fundamentals workshops, of which The FUNdamentals of Climbing 1 would be the most appropriate for staff to attend as it focuses on the important themes that underpin climbing movement; agility, balance and coordination; awareness of the body’s centre of gravity, and the relationship between weight transfer and economy of movement.  The BMC FUNdamentals webpage provides more information about the programme, dates and booking procedures.  Cost for the workshop is £80 per person per workshop, or £65 for BMC members.

4. A FUNdamentals for Climbing workshop could also be delivered on your school site for up to 8 members of staff.  This would be particularly appropriate if you have many staff requiring training and/or you wish to organise the training with another local school.  This bespoke-workshop can also be adapted to include elements of route setting.  This option would cost approximately £375 + VAT for the day for the trainer.  A list of trainers is available by e-mailing BMC Training Officer Jon Garside.

5. You may wish to obtain the nationally recognised Climbing Wall Instructor.  This scheme is aimed at active climbers who wish to learn how to lead sessions and it requires attendance at a 2-day course followed by logging practice hours and an assessment.  The course starts at £100 (depending on location and whether accommodation is provided) and the assessment is from £70.  A minimum of 3 months is required between attending the course and the assessment, although there is no maximum time limit applied to complete the course.  Further information about the Climbing Wall Instructor can be found on the Mountain Training website.

6. Mountain Training also administer a national coaching scheme, the training pathway for which includes the FUNdamentals of Climbing workshops. There are currently two levels, Foundation Coach and Development Coach. The former is available to those under 18 years of age, providing a site-specific qualification for students and teachers who may wish to coach only on their school wall.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) state that there are four ways for leaders to demonstrate their competence, which are: to hold the relevant qualification; to hold an equivalent qualification; to have received appropriate in-house training; to be competent through experience.  It is essential that schools understand the relevance of each competency to the situation within their school.  Your chosen Technical Advisor will be able to advise further.

If you are looking to hire a climbing instructor or climbing coach there is a searchable list of those with qualifications here.

The Department for Education has issued the following useful advice and the HSE has published a document which tackles health and safety myths.

Pupil award schemes

There are two award schemes for young people. 

NICAS (National Indoor Climbing Award Scheme) is a well-established scheme for 7yrs+ run over 5 levels.   The scheme has seen many thousands of young people participate - starting from absolute beginners and becoming an elite climber.

Many schools already deliver NICAS. To sign up check out the information on the NICAS FAQ webpage.  For those schools delivering the Edexcel PE GCSE, NICAS awards are now accepted as part of their assessment.

The other scheme is called NIBAS, and is the bouldering equivalent of NICAS. 


There are many resources available from the BMC to support teachers and pupils when climbing indoors and a number of the resources listed below are available free of charge!

Booklets and Leaflets

Climbing Wall Manual

Belaying/Abseiling: Get it right! (leaflet)

Climbing Wall Essentials DVD

Climbing for All: Disability Awareness in Rock Climbing (leaflet)


Young People: A parent’s guide (leaflet)
Useful to help inform non-climbing parents about the nature of any activities you may be doing with pupils

OFFER - All the above items for £28 by completing an order form [RRP £47 + P&P]

All the Posters and Signs listed below are free (you just pay p+p)

Warm up (poster)

Abseiling: Get it right! (poster)

Check or Deck! (poster)

Holds may spin!, Check your partners knot!, Check your harness!, Check your knot! (signs)

There are many other packages with lesson ideas and schemes of work available, with new ones being released regularly.

The BMC offers a wide range of advice and other support for climbing walls, including how to rejuvinate old climbing facilities, the BMC's Climbing Wall Managers Seminars, updates on good practice, latest resources. Check the BMC website regularly for more information.

People with disabilities
There are two very helpful publications:

Adventure for All provides links to activity centres dedicated to offering a range adventurous activities for people with disabilities.


Next steps

This sections offer ideas for taking climbing further. It is in two parts: climbing indoors at a climbing wall and climbing outdoors.

Climbing indoors 
- Competitions – The BMC organises a range of competitions for young people throughout the year starting with local rounds and moving through to national finals.

- BMC Youth Climbing Series is a series of regionally based introductory fun competitions with a national final. It is for 8-17yr olds in 2 year age bands and covers roped climbing and bouldering.

- Open Youth Events

- Leading Ladder is for U16 and O16yr olds and only covers leading roped climbs

- British Paraclimbing Championships for climbers with disabilities

- Junior British Bouldering Championships and British Lead Climbing Championships are both events for more experienced climbers

Many climbing walls also organise local friendly competitions throughout the year – contact your local wall(s) for more information about local competitions.

Local dedicated climbing walls are also often larger than school walls and can offer more opportunities for climbers to develop.  Many walls offer courses for beginners/novices, training sessions for talented climbers designed to enhance their progression with dedicated coaches, and ‘clubs’ for all abilities.  These walls will often offer NICAS to a higher level than schools are able to due to having a larger facility.  So if you have students with a particular talent or interest in climbing it may be worth encouraging them to climb there. Find your nearest local climbing walls here

Also check out the Climbing Wall Essentials DVD, that has a very helpful chapter on young people,

Climbing outdoors
A natural progression from climbing indoors is to move outdoors and climb on real rock.  Due to additional risks associated with climbing outside we recommend that you either arrange an instructor through your technical advisor, contact your local climbing wall for details of courses they can offer, contact an outdoor education centre, or contact the National Mountain Sports Centre, Plas y Brenin, in North Wales.  The BMC is delivering a series of discounted outdoor climbing courses for 14-25 year olds through Plas y Brenin (Ready to Rock) and through climbing walls (Rock Out).  More information on how to start climbing outdoors is available here.

Clubs – for those students who wish to get outside and do lots of climbing (or walking and mountaineering) then joining a club could be an ideal answer.  There are BMC affiliated clubs across the country catering for a wide range of ages and abilities.

Other useful ideas are also contained in the BMC's Young People guide


There are several possible sources of funding that might be used to either help develop existing climbing facilities or even build something new.

  1. Primary school sport funding from government, advice & guidance from Youth Sport Trust
  2. It is worth contacting your Local Authority Sports Development department, or Educational Advisors, who can often offer some great advice on what funding might be available and even on funding applications.
  3. Nearly all Local Authorities have departments dealing with the development of recreation and leisure. Substantial grants can also be available through County Councils or City Councils. There are general guidelines for grant aid through Local Authority sources and the following types of grants are often available:
    • Grants and loans to help capital projects such as developing buildings, which may include developing climbing walls.
    • Revenue grants for improving or restoring existing property, purchasing equipment or running major sports development initiatives. These may include climbing and climbing walls.
  4. Schools can apply for Sportivate funding.
  5. There is funding available for coaching and coaches
  6. Schools are eligible to apply for Sport England's Improvement Fund.
  7. Sport England has also produced advice for schools wishing to explore opening facilities for school and community use. 
  8. Grants up to £10.000 are available from Sport England's Small Grants fund.
  9. For larger projects see the Sport England Strategic Facilites funds.
  10. See Sport England page about grants.
  11. There is also a range of trusts and charities that can help provide useful support, especially for climbing trips, check them out here

A Plan of Action

This section contains suggested steps that a school may wish to take to enhance their delivery of climbing activitiesIt is in two sections: 1. for schools with a traverse wall, 2. for schools with walls with rope climbing facilites.

1. Schools with traversing walls

· Download / purchase and read the BMC Climbing Wall Manual

· Attend FUNdamentals workshop for key staff (i.e. PE Co-ordinator, other interested teachers or AOTTS)

· Deliver whole staff training on FUNdamentals, with wall management (including route setting) for key staff

· Obtain the services of a local Technical Advisor

· Purchase resources for teaching ideas and for promoting safety

2. Schools with roped walls

· Download /purchase and read the BMC Climbing Wall Manual

· Obtain the services of a local Technical Advisor

· Obtain training for staff on wall management (either through a FUNdamentals trainer or through your Technical Advisor)

· Attend FUNdamentals workshop for key staff (i.e. PE staff, other staff who take groups on the wall)

· Utilise the services of a local Route Setter

Consider whether it might be appropriate for one or more members of staff to gain a qualification, such as the Climbing Wall Award (CWA).

Useful Contacts

Mountain Training

Association of Mountaineering Instructors

Association of British Climbing Walls

Climbing Wall Manufacturers Association

Climbing Wall Services

BMC Regional Development Officers

BMC Climbing Wall Officer

Sport England - using school facilities

Sports Coach UK - coaching in schools toolkit



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