Report to Ivy Lane Primary School on the Natural Connections case-study visit on 13th October 2014
We would like to extend our warm thanks to the headteacher, staff and pupils at Ivy Lane Primary School for making us so welcome and giving us an informative, interesting and enjoyable day. This document is a summary of the day’s findings.
During the day, we spoke with:
- The headteacher
- Five members of staff
- A number of pupils from years 2 and 4
- Had a tour of the grounds with four pupils.
The purpose of the interviews and visit was to understand the extent and the range of learning outside the classroom in the natural environment (LINE) activities and their impact on staff and students. Our findings are set out below.
3. School approach to LINE
Interviewees reported the following key points:
- Children’s appreciation of the natural world is part of the school vision, set out 2 years ago in discussion with children, governors, parents and staff. It has been honed by the school’s involvement in Natural Connections.
- The school has used Forest Schools, to benefit vulnerable children. Having seen the benefits these children experience, the aim is for all children to access these through expanded opportunities both through Forest School and curriculum based LINE activities.
- The school has a united staff team that actively support all school plans and initiatives. The school works to ensure that all staff (not just classroom staff), children, governors and parents understand and have the opportunity to discuss what the school is trying to achieve with LINE
- The School joined the Natural Connections project to share with and learn from other local schools and to contribute to the research evidence developing around LINE.
LINE benefits…their leadership skills, their creative skills, their teamwork skills and that is too good to keep to a group of children just because they might be vulnerable to underachieving (member of staff)
4. Overview of LINE activity
The school grounds include a large field with adjacent allotment area, orchard, planned meadow area and Reception year garden. The edge of the field provides a number of spaces including seating, overhanging trees and other natural features.
All teachers reported that they used the outside regularly. It is a school target… to go out at least once a week. LINE is used across the school and curriculum, although Reception and Key Stage 1 are strongest in LINE. The school intend to weave LINE through the core curriculum areas of English and Maths and then use LINE in topic work in the afternoon. For example, the Year 2 topic ‘Go Wild’ is based around the outdoors and used to facilitate learning within the classroom.
An example of this kind of activity was a giant footprint created on the field to tie in with the Iron Man story by Ted Hughes. This created a ‘real life’ situation for the children and provided English and Maths opportunities …it’s just a really good way of getting them to write creatively… and give them a purpose for all their learning.
Forest School opportunities are provided for targeted groups of children through the school’s Wild Wood programme run with Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. There are also opportunities for the whole school to take part with a series of Forest School days.
The school run an after school gardening club and the gardening area is also used during lesson times. Every class has its own planting bed. The school are still working on curriculum links for the gardening area. The area is also used for 1:1 support if children need time out of class to manage social issues and boost confidence.
The children …work really hard to apply those skills …especially in their creative writing. This term for us we have seen a real difference in their enthusiasm and… they are applying their skills in a better way. (member of staff)
5. Staff views on LINE implementation
All staff members were positive about LINE and the chance for children to learn in different ways to the classroom but were reflective about potential challenges.
- I think you have to put a little bit more thought into it and actually think about making sure you are getting quality out of it and you are not just doing it for the sake of it, but I think it is absolutely brilliant…
- Some staff felt that working outdoors doesn’t always link with the curriculum especially for some abstract concepts in English.
- Overuse of outdoor environments can take away the excitement of getting outside and there is a balance to ensure that the element of excitement in working outdoors is kept.
- The feeling was children needed time to get used to working outdoors and understand that expectations for work were no different …the more regularly you do it, the more they understand that actually the expectations of behaviour and what they produce in their learning are that same as it is in the classroom…
Staff considered going outside was easier in the summer (for weather reasons) and for subjects such as science and geography which they thought lent themselves naturally to working outside.
LINE gives those children… whose learning styles are not always the learning styles you have in the classroom the opportunity as well to show their strengths… if they are… more outdoor based or kinaesthetic based…or children have a love of the natural environment. (member of staff)
6. Challenges to LINE
The school were addressing challenges in using local greenspace by
- Having risk assessments for all local spaces in walking distance.
- Obtaining blanket permission from parents to visit local spaces.
- Speaking to other local schools and Chippenham Borough Lands Charity to address a lack of woodland with facilities within walking distance.
- Looking to create suitable spaces and surfaces for children to work in different ways …it is lovely to go out and collect ideas…[and] it would be lovely to do that extended writing in that environment as well
- Exploring fundraising e.g. for equipment for wellies and waterproofs.
- Planning Forest School training and awareness raising for staff to provide confidence and inspiration. This is to help address the tendency to work in familiar places. [Sometimes] …you just naturally fall back into planning things to be in your classroom.
- Supporting assessment outdoors with no written work through annotation of photos in children’s books. The children …love seeing the photos of them in their books and... It is a really good talking point and helps them reflect on their learning
7. Impact of LINE
This section briefly reports staff views on the impact of LINE on staff and pupils.
Engagement with learning
Engagement was felt to be the biggest impact. Staff felt that LINE enriches children’s learning through being provided with… a real life…purposeful activity to access their learning. This was felt to improve the quality and enjoyment of their learning, so they engaged more with their learning, which … means they progress.
Some staff felt it was too early to tell if LINE was linked to improved attainment. The school hopes that LINE will have that impact …are we hoping that for some of our children it has an impact on the things that we are measured in? Yes we are, but that is not why we are necessarily doing it exclusively.
Behaviour, co-operation and teamwork
Children are often provided with more open activities and given more freedom to initiate their own learning outside. In addition they were perceived to rely more on adults to sort out issues in the classroom. It was felt that children… seem to be a lot more patient with each other and maybe it’s because I have stepped back and I let them deal with those situations themselves and they are learning from that. The staff felt working with some children in Forest School last year showed them that the Forest School approach and children being outside benefit children’s leadership, creative and teamwork skills as well as their overall health and wellbeing, especially during holidays when children may be most vulnerable.
I think for those children who might struggle to always be engaged if they are in the classroom or at their table… taking them outside… just offers that little bit more engagement… I think often it gives you the opportunity to …talk to children about different things and you realise more …about them…(member of staff)
8. Pupil views
Children reported they regularly worked outside, tending to go outside more in better weather. They undertook a range of curricular activities including PE, reading, science, literacy, topic work, maths, Spanish and went outside for extra support if they …are stuck on learning. Children were also aware of Forest School opportunities …Some people are very lucky and they get to go in woods…on Tuesdays [for Wild Wood]…They just go in the woods and have lots of fun.
The space, freedom and learning benefits of being outside were recognised
- One child reported that… I totally love the rain when I get really hot and others that running around outside made them feel happy and that it is fresher outside because…there is more of the oxygen.
- One child reported…I like going outside to learn more about the countryside and the animals that are in the countryside.
- I like all the sounds…you can hear outside but you can’t much hear in the classroom… twitttering of birds. This child then described onomatopoeia.
Children had favourite spaces and purposes for them in the school grounds:
- The field … it has loads of coloured flowers that smell nice.
- The field … it is soft for doing handstands on the grass.
- In the playground, one child liked the different spaces for hiding and playing tag.
- The field under the willow tree where the child liked to relax.
- The hill at the top of the field for rolling down.
Martin Gilchrist, Natural Connections Demonstration Project. Please contact Martin firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or comments