Outdoor Learning For All Pupils: The Key To Health And Attainment?

Last month we (FACE and Countryside Classroom) hosted a twitter #UKEdChat (see http://ukedchat.com/)  on this topic. Over the course of two hours, we asked the following 6 questions and below is a summary of the discussion, courtesy of my colleague Lauren Weller.

  1. How do you incorporate outdoor learning into your teaching?
  2. What barriers have you encountered and how have you overcome them?
  3. Can you recommend any training, resources or services you have used?
  4. How can we measure and evidence the impact of outdoor learning on health and attainment?
  5. Should it be schools’ responsibility to ensure children engage with the outdoors?
  6. What changes will we see in outdoor learning over the next decade?

The first question was the most popular part of the discussion, with new ideas popping up throughout the hour. Maryse contributed many helpful suggestions around learning maths outside, and other ideas included learning colours, habitat studies, developing drama or dance performances inspired by outdoor spaces and creating a writing trail through the school grounds. These suggestions demonstrated the sentiment that anything can be taught outside – it is simply a different environment in which to learn.

One of the barriers suggested was the difficulty in persuading senior leaders or management teams to support it, though Juliet spoke up in defence to say that many leaders are very encouraging. Countryside Classroom asked what it was that made some leaders supportive and others not, with several participants suggesting it is simply a change in mindset that is needed. Health and safety was also mentioned, but as often as concerns were raised they were challenged by others suggesting that good planning and sharing risk assessments can help. Other barriers included funding and transport costs, lack of teacher confidence and the weather.

The value of good training was mentioned by many, with specific examples including Forest Schools, Nature Workshops and even Scuba Diver Master training! Working collaboratively with colleagues and developing strong local networks were also recommended. In evidence of this, Maryse plans to share activities via the Facebook page.

Evaluation and impact was the most controversial aspect of the discussion, with several contributors including Sharon suggesting that outdoor learning is valuable in and of itself, and everything doesn’t need to be measured. In support of this, many spoke about the joy of seeing pupils happy and engaged. A broad consensus was reached that pupil voice and student progress are effective ways to capture these experiences.

It was generally agreed that schools’ responsibility to deliver a rounded education incorporates a responsibility to include outdoor learning experiences. In addition to this, many contributors expressed a belief that it is a responsibility shared by everyone, including parents and policy-makers. Countryside Classroom quoted a statistic from Natural England that only 10% pupils visit the countryside with their school.

Some contributors offered practical suggestions for increasing outdoor learning in the future, such as starting an extra-curricular club, ‘staying out’ of the classroom, painting playground lines and taking part in awards such as John Muir. Josie suggested that outdoor learning in the future would need to focus on climate change and damage to the natural world.

The overwhelming suggestion was to start small, but start somewhere. As Juliet said: you can only eat the outdoor elephant one bite at a time.

Thank you everyone for taking part.


You can see other #UKEdChat discussion summaries here.


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