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Views & Opinion

Can Outdoor Learning Equally Benefit Students and Teachers?

Comment by Natalie Harling, Head of Education Business Development at The Outward Bound Trust.

In the familiar, everyday surroundings of the classroom it’s the teacher’s job to teach and the student’s responsibility to learn. But can leaving the relative comfort of its four walls to embark on a challenging adventure course together in the far from familiar great outdoors not only enhance and broaden the learning experience for pupils but also bring significant benefits for teachers? We are currently the only outdoor learning and development organisation in the UK to report on teachers’ feedback as well as that of students. We continually measure and evaluate the short and long term benefits of the courses we run. Last year nearly 22,000 students, accompanied by their teachers were taken away from their everyday routine and immersed into experiential outdoor learning in the safe but challenging outdoor locations - of mountains, on lakes, lochs and at sea.

Why do an outdoor learning course? Facing up to physical and mental challenges, which are so very different from those presented by conventional, school-based learning, helps students to acquire invaluable life skills, such as confidence, maturity, resilience, teamwork, communication, personal responsibility, independence and trust.

One school we work with, Flixton Girls School based in Manchester is no stranger to the benefits of outdoor experiential learning. Since joining the school as Head Teacher in 2007 Julie Hazeldine has put in place a series of programmes with us to realise the schools vision: "Inspiring girls to discover their talents and fulfil their potential through our founding principles of aspiration, empowerment and excellence."

The programmes have had a significant impact on helping the school to improve exam results from 39% 5 or more A* to C grades including English and Maths in 2007 to 74% in 2015 putting the school in the top 10% of schools in the North West. What makes interesting but not surprising reading from our 2014 Teachers report is that 80 per cent of those surveyed said they had gained in some way themselves from a course. Undertaking its many tests and trials along with their students allowed them to observe their progress and achievements in new surroundings. Many claimed that this had led to a better understanding of their pupils’ abilities, revealed qualities that the young people did not or could not show at school and improved teacher/pupil relations.

Once back in the school environment after their Outward Bound experience teachers noted pupils had better attitudes to learning and observed heightened performance in class. Some 92 per cent of teachers said students had boosted their skills in setting personal goals and 85 per cent believed students were likely to set themselves higher goals in the future.

Can outdoor learning really benefit students and teachers alike? Well, if enabling students to improve their confidence, effort and perseverance is important, then yes. If assisting teachers to enhance their relationships with their pupils, boost their own skills and their sense of personal achievement means anything to us within education, then it’s a resounding YES.


Ditch the paper and feel greater

Comment by Paul Hughes, Managing Director, Parentmail

Despite the continual rise of digital technology, almost four billion trees are cut down each year to supply 300 million tonnes of paper and amongst the culprits using a large proportion of this paper are schools. Most of the paper being used will end up filed or thrown away, often without being recycled. This means that as well as failing to make savings, schools are also failing to lead by example when it comes to teaching students about ‘going green’ and the importance of sustainability.

While the education sector has traditionally used paper for newsletters, forms and reports, it’s time to kick the archaic habit and step into the digital world. As John Mancini, president of AIIM, the organisation behind the initiative says: “It is hard to believe that in 2015, so many of us are still so reliant on paper. It is slow, inefficient and terrible for the environment. There are much better options available, with more and more technology dedicated to reducing use of paper.” This is particularly pertinent for schools, as online home- school communication systems can provide numerous benefits including reducing paper and printing costs, increasing staff resource and improving efficiency.

Save the paper and send it digitally

Don’t be afraid to revert to web-based communications as the primary method of contact between school and home. Schools can reach more than one parent or guardian via computer, tablet or smartphone. Email, text and app notifications can be used quickly and simply to send updates, reports and reminders. Unlike paper- based communication, digital systems actually allow schools to see whether messages have been received and read, giving a much faster response rate, as parents are able to reply immediately rather than having to rely on students returning forms. In addition, our research has shown that replacing paper-based notifications with online systems can on average, save primary schools £3000 per year, and secondary schools £7000, so sending information digitally also makes financial sense.

Smart phone, smart thinking

More recently, smartphone apps have taken home-school communication a step further, allowing parents to be as involved with the school as they wish. Messages can be received instantly, even when parents are on the go, or at work. This is also a particularly useful function for schools faced with an emergency situation.

Stay alert

Digital systems also allow parents to make online payments. Schools can track responses and will send polite reminders to those parents who haven’t responded or have outstanding payments. Having everything managed from a central system will save bursars from having to manually take payments and record these for each class in every year group.

Indeed going digital has numerous financial and ethical benefits for schools. Schools should see this year’s World Paper Free Day as the perfect excuse to reassess their requirements and reap the rewards that digital systems provide.

November 2015

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