Put outdoor learning on curriculum, policymakers urged

Jo Parkes
Monday, July 11, 2016

Researchers are calling for outdoor learning to be included in the national curriculum after a report found it is in decline, despite evidence of its effectiveness.

The authors warn that with an over-burdened classroom curriculum, busier family lives and a risk-averse society, children are being denied opportunities to develop ‘character capabilities’, such as self-regulation.

Having outdoor learning recognised by policymakers was the best way to change culture, claims The Student Outcomes and Natural Schooling - Pathways from Evidence to Impact Report 2016.

The paper highlights how over the last decade five significant reviews have flagged the need for more experience in nature.

But they have triggered only patchy improvements, and more needs to be done.

One of the authors, Sue Waite of Plymouth University, said, ‘At the moment, if outdoor learning is part of a school’s curriculum in England, it is largely because the teachers recognise the values of it.

‘With so much focus on academic attainment, there can be pressure on teachers to stay in the classroom which means children are missing out on so many experiences that will benefit them throughout their lives.

‘This report shows that although there is significant research which supports outdoor learning for academic as well as social and personal outcomes, it is only by having that recognised by policymakers that we are likely to achieve universal positive cultural change.’

The report covers four key areas of the proposed framework:

  • A summary of the existing evidence of the benefits for educational attainment, including on the influence of social and economic factors on access to the natural environment.
  • A summary of the policy context including the latest policy priorities that outdoor learning can address
  • Case studies drawn from 21 national and international school-based outdoor learning case studies reported from 11 countries, and how this can be used to improve delivery and evaluation
  • Pathways for policy transformation, such as better exchange of evidence between policy and research, and proposals for how to close evidence gaps.

The paper is the result of an international study by Plymouth University and Western Sydney University, with funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Professor Karen Malone, from Western Sydney University’s Centre for Educational Research, said she hoped policy makers could be persuaded to get on board to help ‘shape a positive future for our children’.

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