Report to Shakespeare Primary School on the Natural Connections case-study visit on 24th April 2015
We would like to extend our grateful thanks to staff and pupils at Shakespeare 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 to:
- the headteacher
- six teachers and a trainee teacher / volunteer
- three groups of children
The purpose of our 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:
- Outdoor learning is seen as one of the high priorities for the school, and the LINE lead role has equal status to other curriculum leads. Staff now want to extend LINE activities and support all areas of the curriculum outside.
- The school invests in LINE. The school grounds have been developed and there are plans to improve the wild space, allotment and pond with ideas from staff and children. In addition each year group has a budget to help cover costs of transport or external experts.
- LINE is seen to provide experiences that some children are unable to have at home: ‘I’m very aware that if we don’t provide [LINE] … some of our children won’t get that [opportunity]’.
- The school has worked with a range of LINE providers including Plymouth City Council Stepping Stones project, OPAL, Plymouth Woodland project, Embercombe and Ground Force.
- Staff are keen to work with more volunteers, especially on the allotment, but recognise the challenges: ‘It is difficult to find just the right person for a job that can commit to it long term.’
- The school joined the Natural Connections project to access information, expertise and CPD, which have been successful aspects of the project. However in its role as a beacon school, Shakespeare has found it hard to engage other schools.
‘Outdoor activities start when the children are 3 years old now, in reception. That is now our culture. It is no longer seen as different. It’s just part and parcel of [school life] … one of the school’s strengths.’ (member of staff)
4. Overview of LINE activity
The school feel the new curriculum gives staff more freedom to teach creatively; LINE is used across all year groups, with activities including:
- Seasonal habitat work
- Outdoor Art Day and Empty Classroom Day.
- Year 2 visiting Drake’s Island, the Hoe and Drake Gardens to learn about Francis Drake: ‘What the children know now is much more in depth and real for them than would have been the case in class’.
- Year 3 planting the school’s raised beds.
- Year 4 and 5 residentials on Dartmoor.
- Year 6 working with the Mountbatten Activities Centre for PE, den building and archery
- Year 6 investigating how the Pilgrim Fathers learnt to grow certain foods from Native Americans before trying to grow them themselves
- Thematic work such as ‘Our Backyard’; looking at the Plymouth area from a historical, geographical and scientific point of view to include beach and moorland experiences
- The Gardening Club. The allotment is being managed organically, with a three year crop rotation system, to give every child the chance to grow a range of plants in their time at the school. Future plans are for children to harvest, prepare, cook and eat what they have grown.
Parental support is encouraged through family events in the local woods. These are well attended and have led to greater use of the woods by local families, who previously had not realised these areas were accessible to all.
[On a Dartmoor trip] ‘some children didn’t even know that wood came from trees so being able to look at trees close up, they gained a greater sense of where things came from. (member of staff)
5. Staff views on LINE implementation
All staff have a copy of the school LINE directory, which provides contacts and ideas for LINE across the curriculum. Staff reported the following points:
- The LINE lead organised a range of CPD to build staff knowledge and confidence, which staff interviewed felt had been effective in encouraging and supporting teaching outside. They believed that all staff were now more comfortable with LINE activities.
- The LINE lead developed a school LINE directory, and all teachers have a copy of this to support their practice.
- Staff have developed curricular LINE through sharing their experiences and ideas, using information from different websites, and from personal contacts.
- A key issue is that LINE should be used purposefully and in a way that widens children’s experiences.
- Staff felt that there was a need to be consistent in their use of LINE within year groups to ensure all the children have an equal experience.
From a teaching perspective, this [LINE] brings about so many more opportunities. (member of staff)
6. Challenges to LINE
Staff interviewed felt that initial issues with parental support for LINE and children’s clothing are now largely overcome. Other challenges remain, however, including:
- This was seen as a ‘permanent barrier’, particularly for activities that involve transport. Each year group has an enrichment budget of £1,000 that covers some costs.
- Competing priorities. SATs, for example, can mean that LINE activity in Year 6 is reduced.
- Teachers are under pressure to demonstrate pupil progress, and the impact of LINE can be difficult to measure.
- If teachers plan to take a class to a new outdoor location, they generally want to research the area and undertake a risk assessment before the visit; this often has to be done at the weekend.
- The government’s agenda. Interviewed staff felt that LINE should be made statutory to reduce the challenges and increase LINE activity.
7. Impact of LINE
This section briefly describes the reported impact of LINE on pupils. A wide range of benefits were reported including widening children’s experience; developing key skills such as team work; improving self-confidence and problem-solving capacity; increasing curriculum knowledge; and awareness of moral and social issues.
Engagement with learning
LINE was seen to provide something for every type of learner, and to allow children to make connections to the wider world. A group of children had recently been asked to think about their special memories of school and they cited memories from outdoor activities, suggesting high engagement and a positive long term impact.
One staff member reported that LINE has had an impact on pupils’ writing, saying that she had ‘seen it’. Experiential LINE was felt to provide the language needed to succeed as it provides experiences children can draw on when describing things.
Confidence and Resilience
The impact on pupil confidence is felt to be huge, and the school uses LINE and outdoor skills as a targeted intervention for some children to raise their self-esteem and build resilience. This can happen during the course of any LINE activity, however; one teacher reported how a quiet group of Reception children had found their voice outside, with some speaking for the first time since joining the school when asked to summarise what they had done outside that day. Similarly, LINE was seen to provide all children with the opportunity to meet challenges in a way that may not have happened before: ‘particularly gifted children do sometimes find it [LINE] a challenge because they are very used to achieving as an individual. Sometimes when they’re put in a situation involving cooperation, where they have to work with others, they actually do struggle’.
Benefits for teaching
LINE adds creativity to teaching. Inquiring minds are often set off by unpredictable events that are more likely to happen outside, bringing more opportunities for teachers to develop child-led learning principles within the school.
8. Pupil views
Both the Wildlife Champions and Marine Champions described how being part of the groups was fun and made them feel happy and excited. Children of all ages saw an importance to saving wildlife, and were keen to share their efforts and observations: one reported that ‘If we don’t have flowers, then we wouldn’t have bees or honey’, while another said that ‘I’m proud of myself because when we saw a crab lying on its side, we filled a bucket with water and put the crab back in the water. And it swam off!’ One of the youngest children declared that ‘If you take the whole of the spiky tree things, the ladybirds won’t have anywhere to live’. Some described how they challenge other children who they believe are treating animals badly, and reported how they had made posters to educate pupils on how to treat them properly.
Activities for both groups involved finding out more about wildlife, practical action to improve areas for wildlife, and raising awareness about issues such as pollution. Some children felt they were more likely to enjoy outdoor learning back in school as a result of their involvement in the group. They said that during lessons outside, they appreciated the space to run around, the nicer environment in which to work and the excitement of seeing wildlife. The children were able to describe a number of different species of different animals and caring behaviours for them.
When asked what was not enjoyable about outdoor learning answers included:
- that doing outdoor tasks makes you look old
- rain if it is heavy (but not just drizzle)
- time spent away from playing with electronic gadgets.
[The best thing about learning outside is] ‘you can put your thinking caps on and make your brain think faster!’ (pupil)
Martin Gilchrist and Andy Edwards-Jones, Natural Connections Demonstration Project. Please contact Martin email@example.com if you have any questions or comments.