Get outside to teach soft skills

Blog written by Greg Brookes-Clayton, Educational Director at Challenge Academy CIC

The employment of ‘soft skills’

In terms of educating our young people, I find it encouraging that there seems to be a recognition of the need to develop positive learning cultures through the development of ‘soft’ skills. I know from my experience that the development of soft skills through experiential collaborative learning (teamwork) activities can be transformative with young children and adults. However, how powerful would this learning be if it was started at the formative age of around 7 or 8 and was continuously developed with emphasis on the transference of the skills into the classroom and ultimately into life?challenge academy 1

We have a responsibility to find time in the curriculum to do this effectively. I understand the pressures on the school timetable. However, time spent on specific collaborative activities (teamwork) becomes value-added if the learning approaches, attitudes and skills are referenced and reinforced throughout the general school curriculum and become part of the ethos of the school.

Too often we hear the rhetoric; we need teamwork.  A task will be given and completed and the young people, when asked what they did, will reply “We did teamwork”.  No! This word is meaningless if the young people are not able to identify the awareness, skills and attitudes they have developed or identify the elements of their approach and behaviour which were essential for the team to work effectively.

Only by having an explicit understanding of what these are can they utilise this knowledge to develop the essential skills for life and work, i.e. to apply themselves with confidence and commitment and the ability to confront challenge and difficulties with clarity and emotional control. In short, to be mentally tough.

Be more confident” “You need to challenge yourself” “Show more control” “Be more committed.” How often will these phrases come out of the mouths of some educators, parents, employers? “Ok…thanks I’ll be more confident now…” It’s a ridiculous notion, it means nothing, and we are doing our young people a disservice if we aren’t actively helping them to develop these skills. The lip service paid to the concept of teamwork and team development by many institutions is a missed opportunity to do exactly that!

How do we develop confidence, challenge, commitment and control (the 4C’s) in our learners? All of these require ‘soft’ skills, many of which are developed through interaction with others. Control is about relationships with others; emotional control is a response to a situation created by an interpersonal reaction. Challenge will often be about, or involve, a relationship to an individual or group of people. Team development activities provide a unique and fertile learning ground for the development of these 4C’s.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

How can we convince young people and their teachers of the need for these ‘soft’ skills?

If young people are skilfully facilitated in fun, engaging activities, which allow individual and group mind sets to develop, where the ‘nuts and bolts’, the ‘mechanics’ of a team, are not just understood but practised again and again, and where helpful and unhelpful attitudes, behaviours and skills are recognised, reviewed and refined, then they will convince themselves of the positive effects of:

  • Communicating effectively
  • Experiencing what it feels like to trust and to be trusted
  • Assessing and managing risk and seeing the benefits of taking risk
  • Being included and being inclusive
  • Feeling free to be confident and develop creative ideas
  • Resolving conflict; they recognise that effective teams care enough to have conflict and can self-regulate through resolution
  • Recognising that even with a shared vision and enthusiasm, it may require several attempts to improve performance and that this is part of the process
  • Engaging fully ‘in the moment’ and being involved in shaping outcomes
  • Developing emotional intelligence and an emotional lexicon that enables support and empathy
  • Employing a Plan/Do/Review/Improve/Apply process

Educators will experience for themselves that the development, application and practice of these skills do improve performance, and by the very nature of this learning, they will be developing resilience and mental toughness.

Wouldn’t we love all our learners to be able to develop the mental toughness and resilience to be able to commit to tasks, to accept challenge by being prepared to take risks, to have confidence in their abilities and approach and to have the emotional control to cope if setbacks occur? Can we rely on the National Curriculum, to do this? Will the National Curriculum alone prepare our young people to be effective, valuable, competent members of society? Will it give them the awareness, attitudes and skills to reach their personal potential within Education and Society, be happy and healthy and get the best out of their lives? I think not.

The best place for learning such as this to occur is outside the classroom, where students and teachers will be freed up to take risks with their learning. Children need to push themselves from individual and group ‘comfort zones’ into the ‘stretch zone’, where learning takes place. Repeated opportunities for experiential learning opportunities, where there are no ‘right or ‘wrong’ answers (where the value is in the process), which are then reviewed using meaningful, structured methods to complete the learning cycle, develop young peoples’ resilience, curiosity and resourcefulness are essential.

challenge academy 3

Challenge Academy are a Community Interest Company based in the West Midlands. They were one of the first organisations in the UK to be awarded the LOtC Quality Badge which they have held for the past 9 years. Challenge Academy support a number of National projects across a range of sectors but particularly in education, providing schools, FE and HE with approved resources and training.

For more information on Challenge Academy activities, challenge equipment and training visit the Challenge Academy website: You can follow @challengeAcad on Twitter.

About the Author:

greg brookes-claytonGreg Brookes-Clayton is the Educational Director at Challenge Academy CIC, based in Baggeridge Country Park, Staffordshire.

Greg was a teacher for 17 years working predominantly with young people with SEBD (Social, Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties). His teaching career included posts in Crewe, Glasgow, Liverpool and Derby and culminated in head of a PRU (Pupil Referral Unit) in Derby City.

Greg joined Challenge Academy in March 2016 to become Director of Education. Challenge Academy is a Community Interest Company set up to deliver challenge and empower young people to engage, learn and lead.

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LOtC Quality Badge: Breaking down barriers for schools

Blog written by Sally Thompson, Quality Badge Manager for the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom. Sally explains how the LOtC Quality Badge is helping more children access great educational experiences.

Venues all over the UK are providing inspirational opportunities for children to learn outside the classroom. These hands on experiences enable children to see, hear, touch and explore the real world as part of their learning, deepening their understanding and teaching them to appreciate and be inspired by the world around them.


We hear so often about children today being ‘cooped up’ in their homes and classrooms.

¾ of young people in the UK spend less time outdoors than prisoners[i] and more than 1 in 9 children have not set foot in the natural environment in the last 12 months.[ii] The reality is the only chance some children will have to explore the world beyond their four walls will come from LOtC opportunities offered at school.

Teachers agree that children learn best through first-hand experience. Ofsted also endorses the power of LOtC, finding that getting out and about in small, frequent doses improves understanding and standards as well as helping social and emotional development.

So, with such overwhelming recognition of the benefits of LOtC, what is stopping schools from doing more? Sadly, many teachers report that they are hindered by concerns over health and safety, red tape, lack of time or lack of funding.

Awarded by the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom, the LOtC Quality Badge was launched in 2009 to give assurance to schools and help cut red tape around the planning of educational visits. The accreditation is awarded to organisations offering good quality learning experiences and managing risk effectively. Choosing accredited providers makes life easier for teachers organising educational visits as they can feel confident that their pupils are receiving good quality and inspiring educational experiences in an environment where any risks are well managed.

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What are the benefits of the LOtC Quality Badge for providers of LOtC?

The LOtC Quality Badge has become the benchmark by which providers of educational visits are judged – so schools planning visits are likely to check that their chosen venue has the LOtC Quality Badge.

The LOtC Quality Badge is endorsed by Government in the health and safety guidelines for schools, and is the only accreditation scheme for all types of LOtC provision. It is also endorsed by the Outdoor Education Advisors Panel (OEAP) whose members provide advice and support on educational visits to most schools in England & Wales.  OEAP members accept the LOtC Quality Badge in place of much of their pre-visit paperwork, and advise schools to use accredited providers when planning visits.LOtC-QB-logo (2)

For this reason, being awarded the LOtC Quality Badge will help you to attract more bookings from schools and will reduce pre-visit red tape, saving your staff time. Furthermore, the LOtC Quality Badge will give you a framework to enable you to develop and improve the quality of your educational provision and ensure that you continue to meet schools’ needs.

Making an application

There are two routes to achieving the LOtC Quality Badge and the route you take is determined by the activities you offer to schools.  Route 1 is for those organisations offering activities which don’t require specialist risk assessment and involves completing an online self-assessment form which is audited by CLOtC staff. 10% of successful Route 1 applicants, selected at random, will also receive a quality assurance visit. Route 2 is for organisations offering activities that require a degree of technical expertise for effective risk management. Application involves a self-assessment form which will then be used as the basis of assessment by a specialist inspector. The kinds of activities that require a route 2 application are listed on our website

For more information about the LOtC Quality Badge, to search for badged providers in your area or to make an application please visit . If you would like guidance on the best route for you, please contact us

[i] Survey with 2000 parents of 5-12 year olds funded by Persil’s #Dirtisgood Campaign (2016)
[ii] The Impact of Children’s Connection to Nature: A Report by the RSPB, 2015, Richardson, M et al, University of Derby

About the authorsally

Sally Thompson, is the Quality Badge Development Manager for CLOtC. She oversees the development of the LOtC Quality Badge and developed and now manages LOtC Mark, CLOtC’s accreditation for schools celebrating and supporting the development of meaningful teaching and learning through LOtC. Sally also practices what she preache, and can regularly be seen offering CPD training sessions to schools and providers throughout the country.

Sally was part of the Real World Learning network, a 3 year project initially involving 7 key partners across 6 EU countries. Sally was a key member of the working group for Quality Criteria and Assessment which produced a framework of criteria for assessing the efficacy of LOtC experiences in promoting an understanding of scientific concepts and a positive approach to sustainability.

Free guidance on planning, running and evaluating LOtC experiences can be found at

Follow CLOtC on twitter @CLOtC

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1 small step for me, 10 giant leaps for learning outside the classroom

Blog written by Elaine Skates, Chief Executive of CLOtC.

As Elaine Skates, Chief Executive of CLOtC moves on to pastures new, she reflects on the achievements of the past 10 years in improving learning outside the classroom practice and ensuring that more children have access to regular LOtC experiences as an essential part of their education.Empty_Classroom_049_FotoPlus

2008 was a big year for learning outside the classroom. With government backing, a partnership of stakeholders was working together to tackle the decline in educational visits arising from fear of litigation in schools. Teachers were frustrated by excessive red tape and children were missing out.

Ofsted published a report “Learning Outside the Classroom – how far should you go” celebrating the impact of LOtC and urging schools to ensure LOtC was integrated into the curriculum.  Ed Balls, then education secretary, launched free online ‘Out & About’ guidance and a new charity – the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom (CLOtC) was being set up.

Since I joined the charity in 2009, I have seen many positive steps which have had a very real impact on the way schools utilise LOtC. Today I hardly ever hear health & safety cited as the reason for not doing LOtC and schools are planning LOtC more effectively with clear learning outcomes in mind.

The 10 great leaps for LOtCLOtC-QB-logo (2)

  1. Launch of LOtC Quality Badge. The LOtC Quality Badge has saved schools endless hours of time chasing paperwork. The inclusion of educational quality as well as risk management gives an important message about what schools should be looking for when planning LOtC.
  2. HSE Common Sense/Common Safety. Messaging from the Health and Safety Executive that children won’t learn about risk when they are wrapped in cotton wool has been instrumental in tackling the H&S fears and myths around school trips.
  3. Publication of National Guidance. The achievement of the Outdoor Education Advisers Panel (OEAP) in agreeing National Guidance for educational visits, removing the need for each school employer or establishment to write and maintain their own, cannot be overstated.
  4. Introduction of new national curriculum in England, Wales & curriculum for excellence in Scotland. All 3 national curriculums are full of opportunities for delivering LOtC, ensuring that the only limit is teachers’ imaginations. Department for Education recognition that LOtC can support the progress of disadvantaged pupils and pupil premium funding can be used for LOtC has also enabled more LOtC for all.Mark-Gold-logo-low-res
  5. Launch of LOtC Mark accreditation for schools. Informed by knowledge of what works in schools, the national LOtC Mark accreditation gives schools a development framework to help them embed and integrate regular LOtC. Away logo white background
  6. Learning Away action research. Evidencing the impact of residentials, Learning Away has helped schools to innovate, resulting in more schools taking children on residential earlier and trying new approaches.
  7. Natural Connections demonstration project. Focusing on learning in natural environments close to home, this research improved our understanding of how schools can be supported to embed outdoor learning, and contributed to the inclusion of objectives to encourage children to be close to nature in the governments new 25 Year Environment Plan.
  8. Join up between research, policy & practice. The work of the Institute for Outdoor Learning and the Strategic Research Group for Learning in Natural Environments in identifying evidence gaps and establishing local research hubs has been a huge step forward and will ensure more effective evidence and use of research in future years.
  9. Launch of Brilliant Residentials campaign. Demonstrating the impact we canBrilliant_Residentials_full_colour have if we all work together, members of the Learning Away Consortium and residential providers have promoted the value of residentials and how to make them even better.
  10. Cross sector advocacy and collaboration. Most exciting of all, the leadership of the Outdoor Council and the positivity of other LOtC Sector Partnerships united through the LOtC Sectors Working Group have strengthened relationships and united partners to pull together. Great things will come out of closer collaboration and I can’t wait for the fruition of these efforts for the benefit of young people.

There are new challenges of course (funding, inclusivity & evaluation to name a few) but looking back at just how far we have come over the last 10 years makes me very excited about where we will be in 2028. I am immensely proud of what has been achieved by CLOtC, our partners and most importantly the schools who embrace our messages, research & tools to make education exciting & real. As I pass the CLOtC baton on I have never been more optimistic about the future for LOtC and what that means for the next generation.

The Council for Learning Outside the Classroom is the national charity that campaigns for every child to experience the world beyond the classroom as an essential part of education. Free online guidance, resources, membership, accreditations and other support for schools and providers is available at

About the Author

ElaineElaine Skates- Chief Executive Officer of CLOtC

Elaine joined CLOtC in 2009 as Head of Operations and Communications. Highlights of her career at CLOtC include writing and implementing a communications strategy; developing training and resources to support curriculum delivery; working to ensure the inclusion of LOtC opportunities in the new national curriculum; and launching and developing a membership scheme as a core funding stream and product which today delivers support for over 800 schools, organisations and individuals.

Before joining CLOtC in 2009, Elaine worked for Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, Staffordshire Wildlife Trust and the Institution of Chemical Engineers.

Elaine is a passionate believer in the benefits of learning outside the classroom in raising attainment and giving young people the skills they need for real life and employment. In her spare time she practices what she preaches, getting out and about with her two boys and enabling them to get  dirty, learn about risk and develop their knowledge of the world through wonderful hands on experiences.

Elaine leaves CLOtC on 10th May 2018 to become the Head of Learning and Skills with the Heart of England Forest.

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Born Outdoors – Outdoor Citizens

Anita Kerwin-Nye, founder of Every Child Should, has written a blog for CLOtC.

My love for the outdoors and the role it has played in my personal well being is well documented. Similarly, how outdoor residentials and adventure learning took me down a very (positive) different path to the one I could have gone down.

So, I am particularly delighted to have joined the Institute for Outdoor Learning as an Advisor and pleased that part of this role includes working for the Outdoor Council on their campaign to take outdoor learning to more children and young people. I am thrilled that CLOTC Sector Working Group are supporting this growing campaign group.LA_CrabtreePrimary_LowRes_EmileHolba-14

The benefits of outdoor and adventure learning are well evidenced – for individuals, for families, for communities and for society.

And we know that there is much excellent provision.

But we also know that those who could benefit the most are – as is so often the case – those who access it the least. 2016 Natural England research showed that 1 in 10 children and young people had not been to a park, forest, beach or other natural environment in the last 10 years. Tom Bennett – the government’s advisor on behaviour –has articulated concerns that children are not being exposed to and supported in managing risk. This links to several studies on schools being risk adverse and that Heads are increasingly concerned about financial and professional penalties.

There is though demand. A recent survey commissioned by Bohunt Academy Trust outlines that most adults believe outdoor learning to be important and several recent surveys have called for outdoor learning, school trips and adventure to remain at the core of a rounded experience for children and young people.

And we know it works. Education Endowment Foundation confirms that Adventure Learning in its own right has a positive impact and we know that its impact on meta cognition, team work, communication and ‘resilience’ can be significant. It is a key contribution to what the Department for Education has identified as ‘life skills’.

The evidence tells us that the best outcomes will be achieved with a progressive experience – developing knowledge, skills and passion for outdoor learning from the early years into adulthood. We know what works – our challenge is how to take this to more children and young people in a way that sets up good habits for life long engagement with the outdoors and adventure.

Born Outdoors

This summer the Outdoor Council will launch ‘Born Outdoors’ – a new campaign to pull together the adventure learning and outdoor sector with a focus on building outdoor learning programmes around every child.

The campaign’s aims are to:

“ensure that the 750,000 four-year olds entering reception classes in September 2022 will be guaranteed high quality outdoor learning throughout their school life and through a rich set of family, youth work and community experiences”.


Outdoor Council want the children born in 2017 to be a generation ‘born outdoors’. We want them to have experiences at every age and stage of their childhood that move them towards being a generation of ‘outdoor citizens’ when they turn 18 in 2035.

This will help create a generation of resilient and healthy adults with a respect for, knowledge of and skills in life outdoors. Who have experience adventures throughout their childhood and understand how to manage risk and challenge. A generation whose academic success has been aided by the impact of effective outdoor learning.  A generation of future parents who know that outdoor education is a must have for their own children. A generation connected to nature in way that benefits their physical and mental well-being. A generation better equipped to address the challenges facing the environment.

Over the coming months we are working on two specific pieces to support schools and the outdoor and adventure community.

  • The Institute of Outdoor Learning – with some support from Natural England – have started work on a progression framework for outdoor learning that looks at what a progressive ‘outdoor learning passport’ might look like from a child’s perspective. This will be tested with the outdoor learning sector, parents, young people and schools over the months ahead.
  • Recognising the import of ensuring that in 2022 this group of children are entering primary schools that need to be equipped to support outdoor learning the Outdoor Council has committed to a specific piece of work on developing the ‘outdoor learning’ primary offer. A scaleable model – developed with primary school and education partners – that builds the capacity of every primary school to support high quality outdoor learning.

Born Outdoors will be a key theme of November 2018 Outdoor Learning Conference which will bring together the largest gathering of schools and outdoor learning professionals to consider the next steps in adventure learning for all.

For more information on Born Outdoors (previous working title Campaign 22) you can follow @outdoorcouncil_ on twitter and watch out for updates in Institute for Outdoor Learning mailings. For more information contact

Every child born outdoors and every adult a citizen of the outdoors.

About the Author Anita Kermin Nye

Anita Kerwin-Nye is one of two founders of Every Child Should, a new campaign to ensure all children can access a rich and rounded set of experiences by the time they are 18.

Anita is a long terms advocate (and deliverer) of enrichment activity in and out of school and especially for those who need it most. Every Child Should draws on her 20 year history working with organisations to support access to culture, the arts, the outdoors, residentials, citizenship, financial education, first aid, conflict resolution and wider life skills: for all not the few.

Previously Anita founded The Communication Trust, a collaboration of over 40 charities working in the field of speech, language and communication. These charities – often competitors – worked together under Anita’s leadership to develop and deliver a UK-wide programme of support to schools, parents and young people.

Anita is a qualified teacher and youth worker and spent her early career working in challenging schools, prisons and estates in Brighton and East Sussex.


Posted in Learning Outside the Classroom, Natural Connections, Natural Environment, Other Blogs, Social Mobility | Leave a comment

Help Your Children Sleep Better: Turn Off Screens and Send Them Outside

Blog written by Sarah JohnsonCommunity Relations, Tuck Sleep

In the modern digital world, many children spend more time than ever in front of a screen. There’s also an increase in the number of sleep disorders amongst children. While digital learning has its place, the benefits of learning outside the standard classroom environment have more than an academic impact. Turning off the screens helps children sleep better, which in turn enhances learning, mood, and overall health.

Children Faces Outside

Sleep Deprivation

School-age children need anywhere from nine to twelve hours of sleep each day. Without adequate rest, more than their attention spans suffer. The immune system doesn’t work at full capacity, which leads to more illnesses that last longer. Concentration and short-term memory are reduced, making it hard for sleep-deprived children to reach their full academic, and sometimes social, potential. Mood and behavioral control also suffer. Consequently, lack of sleep can lead to cranky, distracted children who have a hard time paying attention.

However, there are ways to help your child get more of the high-quality sleep he needs be happy, healthy, and successful.

Too Much Screen Time

Today’s children spend, on average, six and a half hours on a screen. While some of that time may be spent learning at school or doing homework, a good portion is spent playing video games, on social media, or chatting with friends. That much screen time has a detrimental effect on your child’s ability to sleep at night.

Circadian rhythms control the sleep-wake cycle. These rhythms rely on natural light to time the release of sleep-inducing hormones. The bright blue light from televisions, e-readers, smartphones, and laptops suppresses the release of melatonin. Essentially, the brain thinks it’s time to be awake. Teens are more susceptible to blue light than adults, so it wouldn’t be unexpected for a teenager to be up far later than usual after playing video games or texting friends. Turning off the screens at least an hour before bed can your child get better sleep.

Girls Outside

Send Them Outside

Outside play has incredible benefits for a child’s sleep. The physical exertion alone helps them to feel more tired at night. Rather than sitting in front of the screen using a minimal amount of energy, your child can run, play, and create, which builds strong muscles and bones while helping to wear out his body for better sleep. Outside play also stimulates the brain and promotes healthy social relationships.

Physical exertion, like playing outside and exercising, not only makes your child more tired but also helps to establish healthy circadian rhythms. Time spent out in the sun keeps the brain on track for a regular sleep-wake cycle.

An Australian study found that for every hour children spent working on screens, their sleep suffered. Each hour of screen time led to shorter sleep duration, taking longer to fall asleep and being less likely to sleep more than 10 hours. Conversely, sending children outside may improve children’s sleep patterns. Since children retain information more easily and control their moods better with more sleep, sending them out to play instead of staying inside may improve their ability to perform academically.

Better Sleep Through Good Habits

While reducing screen time and encouraging more outdoor play are helpful to better sleep, some kids may need more. Start by making sure your child’s bedroom supports healthy sleep. Find a mattress that is supportive and free of lumps or sags. Even an air mattress can be a good choice if it’s comfortable at night. During the night, keep the bedroom cool, quiet, and dark.

It’s also important to keep a consistent bedtime. If your child has a hard time falling asleep at night, try implementing a bedtime routine to help signal the brain to release sleep hormones. Any calming activity like reading a book, listening to quiet music, or singing a song can help quiet the mind and body. Just be sure to stick to the routine and start it at the same time every evening.

About the Author

Sarah Johnson- Community Relations for Tuck Sleep

Tuck Sleep is a community devoted to improving sleep hygiene, health and wellness through the creation and dissemination of comprehensive, unbiased, free web-based resources. Tuck has been featured on NPR, Lifehacker, Radiolab and is referenced by many colleges/universities and sleep organizations across the web.

For more information visit the Tuck Sleep website.
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Posted in Health & Wellbeing, Learning Outside the Classroom, Natural Environment | Leave a comment

Residential reach

Blog written by Peter Carne OBE, National Learning Adviser to the Learning Away consortium.

Many students say that residentials are the most memorable experience of their time at school. But how often do we hear about the many positive impacts they have on the adults participating? Peter Carne, the national adviser for Learning Away, describes some of the benefits of taking part in a residential for teachers and other staff in schools.

During the five-year ‘action research’ phase of the Learning Away programme, the views of all the staff involved were gained in focus groups and surveys.

They identified five main impacts of their involvement in residentials at their schools:

  • The residential allowed them space and time to develop new ways of teaching and learning and, having used the residential to successfully test these approaches, felt confident to incorporate them into their practice back in school. They had become more experimental and flexible in their teaching, were more willing to take risks and had confidence to try different types of teaching. They were more trusting of their students and linked this to the improved relationships developed on the residentials. They were more relaxed in the classroom environment and were giving students more responsibility, freedom and independence, leading to a more positive teaching and learning experience.
  • Residentials also had an impact on curriculum delivery, particularly in developing a more integrated and thematic approach. At one special school, staff noted that the residentials had helped them develop a more skills-based curriculum. They had used the residential to identify and develop key life skills. At another Secondary school, relationships developed with staff on residentials had resulted in a review of the alternative curriculum available within school and the development of a new curriculum, which better met the needs of students. Cross-curricular work undertaken on residentials also helped teachers identify just how many opportunities there were for taking a similar approach back in school.
  • Most importantly, residentials gave staff a different context to discover things about their students they hadn’t seen in the classroom, helping them to develop a better understanding of their needs, strengths and limitations. Teachers saw students in a completely different light, for example quieter students becoming more confident and outgoing. During Learning Away, the more trusting relationships developed between staff and students on residentials also meant students often shared more about themselves, which enabled staff to better understand their behaviours.
  • Teachers involved in Learning Away also developed stronger professional relationships with colleagues, as well as with other ‘experts’ involved in the delivery of residentials. The residential provided opportunities for them to develop relationships with staff they would not normally work with, for example from other subjects and from different year groups. This inspired and challenged them to think “even more outside the box”, developing their practice and being more creative. They returned from the residential with renewed enthusiasm, confidence and motivation.
  • Taking part in residentials was a valuable mechanism for professional development; helping to enhance the skills of new staff, give experienced staff additional responsibility, and provide new opportunities to develop planning and organisation, evaluation and volunteer management skills. Senior leaders involved in Learning Away suggested that residentials enabled them to identify strengths in members of staff that may not have been apparent within the school/classroom environment, which they built on back in school and on further residentials.

About the Author

Peter Carne OBE: Between 2011 and 2016, Peter was the Project Leader for the Paul Hamlyn Foundation’s special initiative, Learning Away, which funded and supported schools to enhancing young people’s learning, achievement and wellbeing by using innovative residential experiences as an integral part of the curriculum. He is currently working with the new Learning Away ‘legacy’ consortium as their National Adviser.

Visit the Learning Away website:


Posted in Adventurous Activities, Learning Outside the Classroom, Natural Connections, Natural Environment | Leave a comment

The Importance of Residentials and Outdoor Learning

Blog written by Marina Robb, Director, Circle of Life Rediscovery

More and more research is coming to light to support what we, in the environmental world, have always asserted – being outdoors is good for you!

There are so many ways to spend time outdoors, but nothing beats staying into the night, sleeping by a fire or in a tent and experiencing the night sounds and darkness!

Since 2004 we have been taking all age groups on camping residentials in woodlands – from one night to five days. What stands out is an urban group arriving with suitcases, hair all sorted, screaming at the sight of insects – then forward a few days, the group is giggling, relaxed, no make-up, playing games, all level headed around a fire.

Residentials have the capacity to be life changing experiences – they draw out the best in people, bringing together diverse groups, rising up and through challenges – the most difficult of which is usually using the compost toilet!

The natural world provides the space and time to feel a rare sense of freedom – and to get to know friends and other adults in a different way.

“I never knew adults could have fun” said a young woman. We forget the adulthood often doesn’t appear very appealing. “Fire is better than T.V” said another. You can choose to be silent or talkative – there is space for everyone. Eating and cooking after a day out in a circle is always comforting.

The level of tiredness after days of camping is also unique – it’s only known to those who have shed the outside world life and re-found a slower rhythm, where without mirrors we all look good and are eyes sparkle with a new clarity. With experienced facilitators you can follow the groups interests – from bigger team nature awareness games, to using tools for craft making, fire-making using a range of methods, creating instruments, making music and becoming an inventive community that is funny and interesting – all without technology and T.V!

The nature space has this unusual quality that I have witnessed throughout the years that provides a certain equality – there is room for everyone and a diverse range of experience, and the forest atmosphere is very welcoming!

Day one you rarely sleep well, then you find the deep sleep of a bear, that surprisingly opens you up to even more fun, despite you didn’t sleep enough. Then there is the possibility of seeing a sunrise – of stretching before breakfast in the very early morning, after the birds have woken you, or having a go at cooking where any mess goes happily unnoticed. You get to be somewhat independent, try out new things – and be away from home! It stretches you to live beyond what you are used to and, with support, this builds self-confidence and resilience.

How many young people do you know that have seen a sunrise? There needs to be thousands more. What about walking in the dark – playing Fire Stalk? Char-coaled faces hiding in the shadows is exciting! One of our staff can call in the owls, we usually see glow worms and, for the more patient, we huddled down together to watch the badgers emerging.

Inevitably we all want to eat! On longer camps we forage for local salad potentials, berries for pudding, grasses for cordage, and clay to make an oven. Barefoot, we squash the mud between our toes and make a make shift oven to cook bread and biscuits. We can do anything surprisingly! And on a residential we have the time to experiment and explore. Climbing, hammocks to sleep and play on, any type of shelter – we can sleep in our own debris creation, set up tarps if the weather changes, laugh with friends in a tent and hear the rain – surely a requirement of childhood.

In an educational context, children can be more active by being outside, they are also able to learn more freely, engage more readily and be inspired, encouraged, challenged, and therefore improve their confidence and self-esteem. These positive effects are amplified even more when it comes to an overnight camp or residential.

“I slept alone in a shelter that I had made, I never thought I would be able to do that. I feel more confident and have overcome my fears.” CLR Camp Participant, June 2015.

Learning Away

In 2015 Learning Away published a report, (following 3 years of action research with over 60 schools and colleges) identifying the overall impacts of residentials for young people.
The evidence collected throughout the 3-year project showed that residentials:

  • Foster deeper relationships
  • Improve students’ resilience, self-confidence, and well-being
  • Boost cohesion and a sense of belonging
  • Improve students’ engagement with learning
  • Improve students’ knowledge, skills and understanding
  • Support students’ achievement
  • Smooth students’ transition experiences
  • Provide opportunities for student leadership, co-design and facilitation

“Learning Away has shown that a residential learning experience provides opportunities and benefits/impacts that cannot be achieved in any other educational context or setting. The impact is greater when residential’s are fully integrated with a school’s curriculum and ethos” York Consulting (2015). Read the full report here.

Work on the Wild Side

In addition to the Learning Away research, a new report (May 2017), has been released that demonstrates leading schools (highest Progress 8 scores) place high value on residential experiences. The report found that “outdoor learning is valued amongst teachers, pupils, parents and inspectors and that the skills learnt outdoors are transferable to the classroom and across the academic spectrum.” Work on the Wild Side, May 2017
It recommends that given the clear benefits of outdoor learning, more needs to be done to ensure that children and young people are provided with the opportunity to leave the classroom. Read the report in full.

Circle of Life Rediscovery Camps

Circle of Life Rediscovery runs unique, nature-based camps for young people in a beautiful woodland environment in Sussex. Camps have a strong environmental basis and could include activities such as fire-making, tool use, cooking and foraging, team-building activities, art, story-telling, music and night walks. We also offer the John Muir Award, a National Conservation Award, at Discovery level.

“I didn’t think that I liked camping but I have underestimated myself. The camp was amazing, I have not only learnt new skills but I have learnt to be grateful about everything around me. I have a new sense of confidence and believe in myself” CLR Camp Participant, June 2016.

To find out more about the Circle of Life Rediscovery camps, watch one of the films below where participants explain what they enjoyed:

Please contact us on 01273 814226 or email for more information if you are interested in organising a camp for your school. Each camp is bespoke and unique to your requirements.
There are also free resources on the Learning Away website, include planning tools, models for lower cost trips and curriculum integration.

About the Author

Blog written by Marina Robb, Director, Circle of Life Rediscovery.
Marina Robb is founder and Managing Director of Circle of Life Rediscovery CIC, a leading outdoor learning organisation. She is Author of ‘Learning with Nature’, considered a must-have book for Forest School & Outdoor practitioners. Marina has been the recipient of funding from Natural England, Mind and The National Lottery, amongst other grant makers for her outdoor work with disadvantaged teenagers, families and young people. Marina is a senior practitioner for residential camps in Sussex woodlands, Forest School & training, nature-based training for adults, nature & health interventions, outdoor learning days and youth training programmes.
01273 814226

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Are school trip safety fears standing in the way of student learning potential?

It is widely reported that learning outside the classroom brings considerable positive impacts for students of all ages. Whether it be a visit to a local museum or a residential trip, such experiences can transform pupils’ learning by developing their skills and understanding, improving achievement and enhancing confidence and relationships.

“When planned and implemented well, learning outside the classroom contributed significantly to raising standards and improving students’ personal, social and emotional development.”

A study conducted by the action research project, Learning Away, concluded that residential trips provide opportunities for schools to enhance vital study and life skills, as well as promote resilience and responsibility. What’s more, they determined that ‘a residential learning experience provides opportunities and benefits that cannot be achieved in any other educational context or setting.’

But the impacts don’t end with pupils, staff also benefit from delivering outdoor learning experiences. Learning Away highlights that teachers’ involvement in trips offers opportunities to try different approaches to teaching, as well as strengthens relationships with their students. These experiences have the most impact when integrated with the curriculum, and are reinforced once back in the classroom.

This message is reiterated by Tim Hoyle, Head Teacher at Huddersfield Grammar School. As a school, they’re committed to offering pupils a rounded education by supporting indoor learning with inspiring experiences beyond the classroom:

“It’s improving their horizons, it’s improving their teaching and it’s improving their relationships with the children. Everything about going away on tour is a positive learning experience.”

Whilst the benefits are evident, there are barriers to teachers taking their students out of the classroom. Information compiled by the School Travel Forum highlights that for 64% of teachers, safety and risk are a concern when organising a school trip. Student safety is therefore a significant issue for teachers considering an educational visit.

The safety and protection of students whilst under the care of school institutions has to be of paramount importance, but with the right measures in place these concerns can be eased.

A strong supporter of outdoor education, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) fully recognises that learning outside the classroom brings the curriculum to life, as well as helps pupils develop their risk awareness and prepares them for their future. The HSE states that ‘striking the right balance between protecting pupils from risk and allowing them to learn from school trips is essential for realising all these benefits in practice.

When recently asked about the risk involved in schools taking pupils on trips, Chief Executive of the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom (CLOtC), Elaine Skates, asserted:

“To anyone who thinks that school trips are too risky I would ask them about the risks of not taking children outside the classroom for learning, the risks of not expanding their horizons, the risks of not helping them to achieve all they can.”

Elaine recommends that anyone arranging a trip should put their learning objectives at the centre of the planning process, rather than starting with a risk assessment.

“Think about what you are trying to achieve for your young people, what their needs are and what the learning objectives are. In doing so, teachers and students will gain the most benefits from the opportunities they are given.”

She goes on to say that pupil safety should be carefully considered through effective planning and prudent selection of providers:

“As long as you plan the school trip effectively and you are using venues and providers who you know are of good quality, perhaps because they hold the Learning Outside the Classroom Quality Badge, if anything does go wrong you will be recognised as having done everything possible.”

The safety of young people is a fundamental consideration when organising experiences beyond the classroom, but ultimately it is learning that should be at the heart of planning a visit.

Pupil safety should not deter teachers from offering their students opportunities to learn in a real-world setting. It’s these very experiences that enable students to put their knowledge and skills into practice in a new way, as well as gain considerable benefits as they develop as young people. Through effective planning and careful selection of providers, concerns over safety and risk can be mitigated.

Rayburn Tours are a proud holder of the Learning Outside the Classroom (LOtC) Quality Badge – a national accreditation awarded by the School Travel Forum on behalf of CLOtC – giving trip organisers confidence and peace of mind in the educational quality and safety of experiences provided. The majority of Local Authorities in England & Wales accept the LOtC Quality Badge which minimises or eliminates the amount of paperwork required, meaning you can spend less time form-filling and more time travelling. Find out more about Rayburn Tours by visiting

Further information is available at:!/clotc-interview

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