Getting outside during the school day

Over the 2021 summer term, many teachers opted to take their teaching beyond the classroom walls in response to school Covid operating guidelines. So what can we learn from this, and how can more outdoor time be incorporated into the school day?

Written by the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom

The Covid-19 pandemic may be winding down but the challenges facing schools and pupils are as daunting as ever. The pandemic has been hugely disruptive to learning, health and wellbeing, and to relationships between pupils and teachers. However, it also provided an opportunity to take look at how and where children learn best.

Over the 2021 summer term, many teachers opted to take their teaching beyond the classroom walls, often for the first time, in response to school operating guidelines. Doing so not only helped the school to manage the learning environment, it helped to make the curriculum active thus supporting wider health issues that arose during the pandemic. It also enabled students to work together in a way that wasn’t possible within the classroom.

Covid restrictions have had a dramatic impact on children’s wellbeing. Just before returning to school in 2020, 58 per cent of 2,000 young people in a Young Minds survey described their mental health as poor, this rose to 69 per cent after returning to school in September. 74 per cent of teachers agreed that schools being closed to most students before the summer had had a negative impact on the mental health of their students.

A recent study published in the BMJ Open journal, noted the impact of poor mental health on pupil performance at GCSE level – children experiencing poor mental health are three times more likely not to pass five GCSEs compared to their peers. The study argued that improving young people’s mental health could narrow the attainment gap.

Is there a way for schools to support student wellbeing during lesson time?

The benefits of spending (and learning) outside are well known. Natural England’s ‘People and Nature Survey for England’ found that 60 per cent of children had spent less time outside than before the pandemic, with 48 per cent reporting that ‘being worried about catching/spreading coronavirus had stopped them from spending more time outside’.

Yet 83 per cent of children in this survey reported that being in nature made them very happy and 70% of children wanted to spend more time outdoors with their friends when things start to get back to normal. 44 per cent also wanted more time outdoors at school.

In addition to this, findings from a study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine suggest that adding green space to tarmac-covered playgrounds helps expose children to nature. It also increased daily activity levels and promoted social wellbeing.

Taking learning beyond the classroom is a valuable tool in supporting student wellbeing during lesson time. It is a universally accepted low-cost intervention that can bring benefits to pupils and teachers in terms of improving mental and physical health.

75 per cent of respondents to a snapshot Twitter poll run by the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom (CLOtC) said they had taken learning outside more often as a response to Covid-19. However, evidence from CLOtC highlights that most teachers and senior leaders lack confidence in moving more of their learning beyond the indoor classroom.  

Organisations and charities such as CLOtC provide guidance and support to help teachers develop their knowledge and confidence to take learning outside the classroom. Teachers can find a wealth of guides outlining what to consider and how to plan lessons using different locations for learning on its website ( CLOtC’s new mentoring programme also gives teachers peer-to-peer support as they start their journey to develop a whole-school culture of learning in different places and spaces.

How to get more outside time in the school day

Rather than adding to an already packed curriculum, taking learning outside the classroom is changing how and where you teach rather than what is taught.

While it could be argued that virtually every subject can be taught outside, there are ‘better’ places to teach specific topics. When planning a lesson, CLOtC recommends teachers start with the question ‘where is the best place to teach this?’ From this, different places, spaces and locations can be assessed for their effectiveness in meeting the learning objectives.

Six ideas to incorporate more outside time  

Schools could create an outdoor classroom by providing shade, shelter and a multi-use learning and play space.

Schools could also designate a wild area within their school grounds – let the grass grow, create bug hotels, and encourage children to climb, discover and play in the area.

PE can be taken outside – as well as having more space to run or for game playing, exercising outside has a host of additional benefits from increasing Vitamin D levels to improving sensory skills.

Schools can visit local parks, open spaces, canals or nature reserves – discover the green or blue spaces in your local learning area and use these spaces as part of your lessons.

Schools can also incorporate a regular walk in your school day and encourage students to make observations about the environment. This increases nature-connectedness and aids wellbeing.

Plan a trip further afield - making use of the school’s own grounds is an easy way to bring give children the opportunity to connect with nature, however a day or residential trip can encourage greater exploration, encourage pupils to work in teams, become more responsible and to support each other.

What to consider when planning an educational visit

Day or overnight educational visits help students become more confident and independent. Many studies have also shown that the change in dynamic from in-school lessons to out-of-classroom experiences can boost self-esteem, spark conversations and ignite new interests.

Domestic educational visits are permitted for schools in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the Department for Education has stated that for schools in England, overseas visits can recommence from 5 September 2021.

The Department for Education also advises that when planning off-site educational visits, schools use a learning provider, place or venue that holds the LOtC Quality Badge ( This national accreditation encompasses risk management (including infection control) and the quality of education provided meaning teachers can travel or visit with confidence.

When planning an off-site visit, have a look at the Outdoor Education Advisers’ Panel’s (OEAP) website ( The OEAP produces the National Guidance regarding learning outside the classroom. As well as being able to see the latest guidance regarding off-site educational visits and trips, there are handy checklists of what to consider when planning a visit and things to check when arriving at your accommodation, if it is an overnight visit.

Whatever the time of year and whatever the subject, turning learning inside out can help schools to ‘build back better’. It can support children, re-engage them with learning and help them to reconnect with each other and the world around them.


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