The results of a four year study find in favour of outdoor teaching.

If you’re one of the many teachers (or TA's, or parents) who believes that outdoor learning is a good thing, but feels fettered by timetables, targets and tests… we’ve got some brilliant news. Not only are you right, but you are more right than you probably realised.

And, if you want to push for change in your own school, if you want to move outdoor learning from the periphery and into the heart of your school’s ethos, now you’ve got top education experts on your side. 

The Wild Network went to the launch in Bristol last week of a report from the Natural Connections Demonstration Project, which looked at outdoor learning in schools. Here’s what we came away with.

Outdoor learning should underpin everything.

“It’s not about going off to the moors for days, but about engendering a culture where teachers try and get Wild Time into every lesson,” said project manager Ian Blackwell.

To achieve this, the Plymouth University researchers are calling for nothing less than a complete change of attitude and culture to outdoor learning in schools.

They go further, and say that this should be formally adopted. Embedding this in policy “gives that extra reassurance to teachers that this is something justifiable to do,” said co-author Sue Waite.

As part of the project, 125 schools (some 2,000 teachers and teaching assistants) got help from local experts to embed outdoor learning into the curriculum.

Of the 87 schools that were surveyed in May 2016:

  • all now use outdoor learning for ALL areas of the curriculum
  • 90% of staff found outdoor learning useful 
  • 75% of schools now have outdoor learning included in their school development plan or have a separate policy for it.

Here’s what staff in the scheme said:

“Children look at teachers differently… the relationship changes.”

“We have so much fun it’s almost a surprise when it’s time to end the lesson.”

“It allows me to use different skills and helped me gain confidence in a range of teaching methods.”

 Teachers reported significant impacts of outdoor learning on children:

  • 93% said it improves social skills
  • 92% said it improves pupils’ health and wellbeing
  • 85% said it had a positive impact on behaviour
  • 94% said it led to a greater understanding of nature.

And what did the children think?

  • 92% enjoyed lessons
  • 90% felt healthier and happier
  • 62% felt they learned better
  • 72% got on better with others.

So if you do want to steer your school towards outdoor learning, this is the sweet spot you could try working in: showing your colleagues how outdoor activities are linked to learning outcomes. That way, as Sue Waite said, there is “no need to find extra time” for outdoor learning.

Kick start your school's outdoor experience

You could start by taking a look at our own Wild Time for Schools,  a web-based tool (prototype) to help you take learning outside. The site gives you learning activities tagged against curriculum learning topics and key learning stages - all set out by time. Whether you want to try out an easy 10-minute activity for KS1, a one-hour version or a whole day exploring data handling, writing, or investigating with KS2, there is something there for you. We’re still working on this, so let us know what you think, and what you get up to.

And standby for much more from us on this around the start of the new school year.


Natural Connections is a four-year project working with 125 schools in South-West England, funded by Defra, Natural England and Historic England, delivered through Plymouth University.

FULL REPORT: Read the full report online at Natural England's website.

Malone, K. and Waite, S. (2016) Student Outcomes and Natural Schooling. Plymouth: Plymouth 

Natural Connections: www.naturalconnectionsblog.wordpress.com 

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