Funding learning outside the classroom

Funding learning outside the classroom

With the challenge of balancing the school budget becoming ever harder, Elaine Skates, chief executive of the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom (CLOtC), explains why schools must continue to invest in outdoor learning and offers some advice on overcoming funding barriers

At the NAHT conference in April 2017, against a backdrop of rising concerns about the impact of the proposed fairer funding formula, 97 per cent of NAHT members present voted to campaign for protected funding to ensure children have greater access to outdoor education and residential experiences.

This was significant for two reasons. Firstly it confirmed head teachers think that learning outside the classroom (LOtC) opportunities are under threat; but secondly it was an incredibly powerful endorsement of the importance head teachers place on LOtC experiences.

Intuitively head teachers know that educational visits, outdoor learning and residentials all have an enormous impact in expanding horizons & supporting the learning and personal development of young people. But they also know that they face some very difficult decisions and must make savings in order to balance the budget. I would suggest schools take three steps in order to ensure funding for LOtC now and in the future.

Step 1: Justify the cost

Many schools rely on parental contributions to fund LOtC, and many also use Pupil Premium or the primary P.E. & Sports Premium to ensure that all pupils have access to educational visits and residentials.

However you fund your LOtC, you must be able to justify the costs in order to convince parents, governors and Ofsted that the trip is a good investment.

The best way to do this is to focus on the educational benefits that the visit will have for the young people who take part. These can be about delivering the curriculum and meeting attainment targets; but can also be about personal development – for example building resilience and self‑efficacy; or delivering spiritual, moral, social and cultural development outcomes.

Before the visit, identify the learning outcome you want to achieve, plan the experience to make sure your outcome is delivered and consider how you will evaluate the impact that the visit has made. After the visit, make sure you evaluate the impact and communicate this to parents, governors and on your website. This will make it much easier to sell the benefits of investing in LOtC next time around.

The Department for Education gave guidance in September 2018, saying: “Schools should consider the affordability of any trips they plan to ensure no-one is unfairly disadvantaged. This is why we have given them flexibility over how they use the pupil premium funding to help improve the progress and attainment of their disadvantaged pupils.

This can include covering some or all of the costs of going on a residential trip, if the school believes that this will help improve a pupil’s academic outcomes.”

Step 2: Increase the impact

As a school, you need to ensure that every penny counts in terms of how you spend your budget and the impact it has for your pupils. There are many simple ways you can improve your return on investment with regard to LOtC.

For example Learning Away recommends planning a residential as early in the school year as possible in order to allow time for learning and development to be embedded back in school.

The English Outdoor Council have published a high quality outdoor learning checklist to help schools, whether they are working with a provider or delivering the activity themselves. For example, to maximise impact and value for money, ensure that the session is inclusive and shows differentiation to meet the needs of all learners within the group and that the session is linked to wider curriculum outcomes and objectives through a clear transfer of learning.

You should also ensure the session is well paced and shows progression & clear development of skills, behaviour & knowledge from the participants and that participants have the opportunity to be creative and apply what they are learning. The session should also ensure that participants can describe what they are learning as opposed to what they are doing and can understand how they can apply it in the future. Reflection and review time should also be built into the session.

Step 3: Find creative solutions

Many schools have been very successful in fundraising to ensure all pupils can access regular LOtC opportunities, whereas others have been able to significantly reduce the costs of their LOtC programme.
For example, Learning Away Champion school Park School in Kilmarnock ensures that residentials are kept affordable, meeting costs through fundraising including grant applications, parent council support and school contributions. This meant that last year’s five day residential to Glencoe was offered for just £40 per pupil.

LOtC Mark Bronze School Bay House School and Sixth Form took another approach, successfully planning and delivering two days of inclusive and free LOtC in which the whole of year 7 (350 pupils) took part. All of the activities took place within walking distance of the school and included a hike, den building, beach combing, a scavenger hunt and a visit to the local lifeboat station.

Richard Thomas, head of operations and Ethos at Bay House explains: “There is no doubt that ski trips and visits abroad benefit the learners involved. It is however unfortunate that these opportunities are often only accessible and affordable for a small minority. We wanted to address this and ensure that an increased number of pupils benefited from LOtC.”

There is no doubt that there are challenges to be overcome with regard to funding LOtC, but as the above examples prove these challenges can be overcome and should not result in fewer opportunities being offered. Nor should they result in disadvantaged pupils being left behind. For schools who are creative and plan LOtC as part of the curriculum, the benefits of well-planned and inclusive LOtC will soon prove to be more than worth the investment.

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