Taking learning outside the classroom walls

Well-designed school grounds can help to take learning outside the classroom, encourage more active lifestyles, and give them a chance to apply skills they have learnt across the curriculuman, writes Stacey Aplin from charity Groundwork.

Last year, the government announced that every primary school child in England – around 80,000 children – will have the chance to visit a national park at each stage of their education. This was a response to the figure that at the time only 10 per cent of school children had access to outdoor learning.

For some children that one visit can be a lifeline and may be one of the very few times they can get access to nature. Government research published last year found that more than one in nine children in England had not set foot in a park, forest, beach or any other natural environment for at least 12 months.

You’re also less likely to have accessed nature if you’re from a black and minority ethnic (BAME) community as, according to Natural England, just 56 per cent of under 16s from BAME households visited the natural environment at least once a week, compared to 74 per cent from white households.


There’s also a wealth of academic research pointing to the benefits of outdoor learning. Joint research published by the University of Plymouth and Western Sydney University revealed there had been five significant reviews conducted in the previous decade around the focus of children learning in natural environments in the UK and further abroad.

There is evidence that childhoods are dramatically changing, and children are experiencing limited opportunities to be outdoors in formal or informal learning settings. This can have consequent negative effects on their physical health and well‑being and ‘character capabilities’, such as application, self-regulation, empathy, creativity, and innovation. It can also affect their capacity to be successful learners and active contributing members of a sustainable society.


There are lots of examples of forward‑thinking schools taking steps to redress this “nature‑deficit” by developing their grounds in a way that supports their pupils educational, emotional and social development by creating forest schools, gardens and even spaces to create a simple mud pie.

Groundwork has recently been involved in a project in Manchester where they have helped children understand the importance of nature by painting and hanging bird boxes. The school grounds is fortunate enough to be located next to a wood, and the local fire brigade visited the pupils and helped them install the bird boxes in trees.
This helped to involve the local community, which is a concept that Groundwork champions.

Julie Hyslop, Groundwork senior project officer, said: “Working with schools allows Groundwork to educate the local community as well as the children.

“By talking to pupils, they will go home and tell their parents about what they have learnt about greenspace and the outdoors and help to spread the message further.“

She continued: “A lot of the children at the school often don’t have access to outdoor spaces at home so enabling them to join in at school means they can learn about how to look after nature and teach them to respect the environment, which is something that they can take with them into the future.”

Julie also stated that by working directly with schools, Groundwork can talk to teachers about the current curriculum.

She added: “It means that we can take what the children are doing in the classroom and take it outdoors into the local environment so that pupils can have a first hand, practical experience.”

The school also has an RHS garden that the children can get involved with, this includes planting and growing flowers and vegetables and building wildlife and bug habitats, all of which help to contribute and promote pupils to live a healthier, more active lifestyle, all the time promoting and learning about the local environment. 


Groundwork is currently administering Tesco’s Bags of Help scheme where community groups – including schools – can apply for funding of up to £5,000 to improve and promote their outdoor space.

Since December 2016, schools across the UK have benefited from the initiative to the tune of £7 million, with close to 1,000 schools benefitting from the scheme.

Funding has helped a range of projects such as creating community and sensory gardens, running health walks, building ponds for dipping and exploring wildlife and providing equipment for sports and outdoor recreational activities.  
One of the schools that have benefitted is Astley Park School in Chorley, who have been awarded funding to create a dedicated play area for outdoor activities.

Gillian Broughton, Astley Park School said: “What a transformation this has made, not only to the school grounds, but to the everyday lives of the pupils and staff at the school. 

“Pupils can not only ride safely, but are having lots of fun promoting independence, a sense of achievement and, of course, promoting physical activity.”


The DHL UK Foundation – Transform It! programme have also worked with Groundwork to help transform the grounds of schools across the UK.

A grant of £10,000 was secured to fund a project at Brooke School, in Rugby, to totally transform the once flooded site into an all-purpose multi sensory beach school – a place where the students will experience den building, cooking, sensory learning, pond dipping and rock scrambling.

The beach will be used for active, practical and flexible learning, and will help the students develop creativity, confidence and imagination, as well as promoting their exploration, investigative, physical and problem-solving skills. 
Pupils will be involved in maintaining, developing and respecting their environments in this magical, newly transformed space.

Chris Pollitt, head teacher at Brooke School said: “I’m overwhelmed by the success of the project, especially today as we see for the first time the positive impact the beach will have on the children.

“What’s great about the new space is that it offers different beach environments to children with quite complex special needs in a safe environment.” He added: “As educators, we get so tied up in focusing learning on sitting down at tables. Learning should be really exciting, dynamic and creative in order to inspire children.”

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