Learning outside the classroom - The Ofsted perspective

Most education professionals recognise the value of learning outside the classroom (LOtC) in broadening the horizons of young people, raising self esteem and making learning more memorable. More and more schools are making regular use of their school grounds, local community and opportunities further afield to enrich the curriculum and provide pupils with more hands on learning experiences.

However, there is a common misconception that the current focus on results means that schools will have less time to devote to LOtC. In fact the opposite is true. There is a strong correlation between a planned and integrated curriculum based approach to LOtC and raised attainment.

The Council for Learning Outside the Classroom (CLOtC) is the national voice for learning outside the classroom, providing support on the ground to ensure that every child has the opportunity to experience the world beyond the classroom walls as an essential part of their education. CLOtC’s message is clear: LOtC is proven to raise attainment, improve behaviour and motivate and engage all children in their learning. LOtC could hardly be more relevant to raising standards and demonstrating outstanding practice against the new Ofsted inspection framework.

It is time to leave behind the old fashioned view of LOtC being most relevant in supporting community cohesion or in supporting the moral, spiritual, social and cultural development of children and young people. Of course it has immense value in these areas, but it is just as relevant to improving attainment and achievement in reading, writing and mathematics, improving SATs and GCSE results and helping children of all abilities and learning styles to achieve to their full potential.

Far from being seen as an add on, Ofsted  views learning outside the classroom as an essential element of a broad and balanced curriculum and are urging schools to make explicit reference to it in their self evaluation and other evidence presented during the inspection visit. Demonstrating a planned and integrated approach to LOtC has never been more relevant.

Achieving outstanding LOtC provision - what is Ofsted looking for?
In 2008, Ofsted published a report “Learning Outside the Classroom - how far should you go?” which found overwhelming evidence that LOtC contributes significantly to raising standards and the quality and depth of learning. Speaking at the CLOtC Annual Conference in November 2011, HMI Robin Hammerton said that the 2008 report into LOtC was the most compelling piece of evidence he has ever seen because in all cases the learning was improved and in all cases the young people benefited from the experience. During his address, Robin urged schools to make explicit reference to their LOtC provision both within their SEF (or other evidence made available to the inspector) and during their on-site inspection. He also challenged heads to introduce inspectors to LOtC taking place during the visit – inspection outside the classroom!

A well known extract from the 2008 Ofsted report “Learning outside the classroom - how far should you go?” is that even when done badly, LOtC resulted in major learning gains for the young people taking part. However, this does not mean that Ofsted inspectors wish to see badly planned and evaluated LOtC during their inspection visits!

Ofsted is clear that the more planned and integrated LOtC is, the more effective it is. LOtC should not be about a once a year school trip, but about frequent, continuous and progressive opportunities to learn outside the classroom that build on knowledge and skills gained during previous experiences both inside and outside the classroom.

LOtC should occur across all subject areas and areas of learning and be built into curriculum planning. But it should never be undertaken for its own sake - as Ofsted said in the 2008 report “Learning outside the classroom - how far should you go?”, the LOtC objectives must be well defined and evaluated for effectiveness. This means that you must set clear learning objectives that consider not just what the young people will learn, but how it is best learned (learning styles) and where the best place is for the learning to take place (the location).

Ofsted recommends that schools evaluate the quality of learning outside the classroom to ensure that it has maximum impact on learners’ achievement, personal development and well-being.

Finally, in order to successfully embed LOtC into the everyday life of the school it is vital to clarify strategic direction and provide vision and leadership for your team. This includes ensuring LOtC is included in school policy, underpinned in the school development plan, and supported by effective administration and CPD for the whole team. It is also vital to mobilise support from governors, staff, parents and the local community.

About the Author
Elaine Skates is deputy chief executive of the Council for Learning Oustide the Classroom, which formally assumed responsibility and leadership for learning outside the classroom on the 1st April 2009. The premise of LOtC has long been supported by many individuals and organisations over the years. The launch of the LOtC Manifesto by the Secretary of State in November 2006 marked a significant step forward in recognising and promoting the benefits of LOtC in young people’s educational attainment and social, emotional and personal development.