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The benefits of leaving the classroom behind
Is learning outside the classroom part of your strategy to improve the outcomes for pupils at your school? If not, it should be, writes Kim Somerville, interim head of the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom
Developing the learning outside the classroom (LOtC) provision in your school grounds, local community or further afield can have an enormous impact on enthusing, engaging and motivating your pupils to learn.
A classroom environment doesn’t always provide children and young people with the real world experiences they need. In addition many young people lack everyday experiences that others take for granted, and this can be a significant barrier to their learning. This is why we believe it is vital that every child and young person has the opportunity to experience the world beyond the classroom walls as an essential part of their learning and development. Learning outside the classroom (LOtC) is the use of any space beyond the classroom for teaching and learning, from the school grounds to local museums, wild spaces or places of worship. By combining regular experiences close to home with more occasional educational visits and residentials further afield, schools can provide an inspiring and memorable curriculum which links knowledge gained inside the classroom to the real world that lies beyond.
Here are four benefits of learning outside the classroom (LOtC).
Engagement in learning
LOtC can be a fantastic way of enhancing curriculum learning in literacy, science, geography, history, art and maths. Utilised as a ‘wow event’ to introduce a topic, or to consolidate or extend the learning at the end of a topic, there is evidence that LOtC can improve attainment and achievement. For example an Education Endowment Foundation funded research project in 2014 used self-regulation and memorable LOtC experiences to help struggling writers in years 6 & 7 – found a strong positive effect on the writing outcomes of low attaining pupils.
Independence and personal development
New experiences push children out of their comfort zone, so they may well be nervous before a school trip or residential experience. However, the experience of overcoming their nerves and trying something new can have a tremendous impact on their resilience and self-confidence – helping them overcome their fears and insecurities back at school.
Parents can also feel anxious when their child heads off on a school trip so point out the benefits of the pupils taking more responsibility for their own property and needs (with support from their teachers of course). This will do wonders for their independence and self-confidence, which they can build on during subsequent experiences.
Evidence demonstrates that LOtC experiences can have a transformational impact on relationships, and that this can translate into long term impacts back at school.
Relationships can be improved between pupils and their peers, but having fun with their teachers can also have an impact which leads to an improved pupil-teacher relationship back at school. Teachers are often pushed out of their comfort zone, so pupils can see that they are human after all, whilst pupils who may not excel at school work or sport have the chance to excel at a new activity and be seen in a different light by their peers and their teachers.
Happiness & wellbeing
Leaving the classroom behind can be a welcome antidote to the pressures of school for pupils and teachers alike. Research also shows the beneficial effects of LOtC on health and well-being. Many direct experiences cannot happen in a classroom environment because young people need different spaces and activities to help them. LOtC can help young people to experience and understand their emotions, learn how to operate successfully with their peers and with adults and learn coping strategies – all of which will stand them in good stead back at school.
The key point for senior leaders to remember is that LOtC is most successful when it is an integral element of long-term curriculum planning and closely linked to classroom activities (Ofsted, Learning outside the classroom, how far should you go? 2008).
With this in mind, the LOtC Mark was launched in 2012 to help you use LOtC most effectively to raise standards and to demonstrate the effectiveness of your provision.
The LOtC Mark is the first national accreditation for schools, nurseries and other educational establishments which recognises and supports the development of learning outside the classroom across all subject areas. Schools are benchmarked at either Bronze, Silver or Gold level, with guidance and support to help schools to progress through the levels and drive up the quality of their LOtC offering.
Boston West Academy have the LOtC Mark accreditation at Gold level, and head teacher Mike Schofield believes the impact of learning outside the classroom has led to whole school improvement. He said: “Boston West was in Special Measures when I joined. In particular, it was the children’s bond with the school that needed work; their general attitude to learning was passive, whilst the behaviour of a significant minority was disruptive. Now, the children are engaged, they’re fired up and enjoying themselves, whilst standards reached and have been maintained at a high level.”
“Every subject is delivered outside – maths, English, science, history, art – and there is a minimum weekly time expectation, beyond PE sessions, for children to be learning outdoors. We have a framework of skills and knowledge, but with a significant level of flexibility for staff to respond to the children’s needs, interests and what is happening in the world around them. With wellies at hand, learning can always be taken outside to seize the moment.”
Free guidance on planning, running and evaluating LOtC experiences can be found at www.lotc.org.uk