King’s Norton Boys’ School (KNBS) has a long history of outdoor education, which to this day is still a popular addition to the students’ school lives. While the wide range of activities on offer continues to grow, the impact remains the same, enriching students’ lives and inspiring young people to achieve at the very highest level. Engaging in the wide spectrum of experiences available provides opportunities for students to participate in new and exciting activities and to develop skills imperative for adulthood.
Outdoor education can be simply defined as experiential learning in, for, or about the outdoors. The institute for outdoor learning defines outdoor learning as a broad term that includes discovery of, experimentation with, learning about and connecting to the natural world, and engaging in environmental and adventure activities. Learning outside of a classroom involves the transformation of knowledge, skills, attitudes or behaviours through direct engagement with the outdoor environment for the personal and social benefit of individuals, families, society and the planet.
To maximise the positive impact that outdoor experiences have upon students, the Outdoor Education Advisor’s Panel have recommended that students should have access to frequent, continual and progressive experiences of outdoor learning. Over the last few years, there has been a growing body of evidence that supports the value of the ‘outdoors’ in terms of a students’ development. Indeed, in Ofsted’s 2008 report “Learning outside the classroom: How far should you go?” they recognised that: ‘When planned and implemented well, learning outside the classroom contributed significantly to raising standards and improving pupils’ personal, social and emotional development’. This impact is a key reason why KNBS promotes such an inclusive outdoor education programme.
Reasons why KNBS promotes an inclusive outdoor programme:
Health and well-being
Outdoor programmes are seen as a fantastic tool to promote the health and well-being of young people. Increasing engagement with the natural environment through the education system can produce a number of beneficial health outcomes, such as increasing levels of physical activity, helping tackle childhood obesity, promoting a greater well-being and improving mental health.
Environmental sustainability awareness
By promoting empathy and an ethic of care towards the environment, outdoor education can make a clear and significant contribution towards fostering positive sustainable behaviours and attitudes. Guided time spent in outdoor environments can help develop skills in risk-assessment, promote health and well-being and stimulate an affective relationship with the environment that promotes these sustainable behaviours.
Developed personal qualities
Through the outdoor education programme, students are able to develop and demonstrate increased initiative, self-reliance, responsibility, perseverance, tenacity and commitment. In addition to fostering academic success, KNBS goes beyond to the development of behaviours and attitudes that help set students up for adult life. Employers want young people who are enthusiastic, confident, creative and resilient. The outdoor education program focuses on developing and extending their key skills of communication, problem-solving, leadership and teamwork. By broadening their horizons, doors are opened to a wider range of employment opportunities, life choices and lifestyles.
Self-confidence and achievement
The outdoor programme provides a valuable alternative avenue for achievement, as well as opportunities for students to develop their independence and self-reliance. Through successfully facing up to the challenges which outdoor activities provide, overcoming fears and apprehensions along the way, students can make major strides in confidence, with implications for all aspects of their development. It also offers alternative avenues for physical achievement where the only ‘competition’ is within oneself against the environment (e.g. a rock face or the weather). This sort of challenge frequently motivates young people who find difficulty expressing themselves physically in a competitive ‘head-to-head’ situation.
Social and emotional resilience
Progressive exposure to learning outside provides a route for students to become more resilient. They can move from exploring the world outside their classroom onto more demanding visits and expeditions in the UK and abroad. In doing so they develop lifelong skills and attitudes that will contribute towards fit, healthy and fulfilled lives. The outdoor programmes at KNBS provides opportunities for students to develop social and emotional resilience, support wider learning outcomes and develop broader interests. The development of ‘character and resilience’ are typical outcomes of learning outdoors, and provide essential skills for life both in employment and as a part of wider society.
At KNBS the ‘STRIVE’ values of Self-discipline, Teamwork, Resilience, Initiative, Vision, Endeavour are reinforced by the work of all staff and students. These principles are core values that underpin all outdoor education. The outdoor programmes are a means of challenging students to develop their knowledge, skills and confidence. Challenge can be used to encourage all students to ‘strive’ to do their best, and, having done so, to take pride in their achievements.
Research evidence suggests that outdoor education offers significant potential in priming healthy physical activity behaviours, developing life skills, enhancing self-esteem and promoting improved academic performance. Outdoor education offers students the opportunity to learn in a different environment where real-world and progressive, practical learning skills can be developed. It provides an environment where students can develop their self-confidence and character, practically manage risk and provide truly memorable moments. For many, just being outdoors can have a huge benefit in terms of health and well-being, stimulating curiosity and developing an appreciation of the world around them. When such experiences are part of a progressive programme designed to support integrated learning in both formal and informal settings, the impact is greatly enhanced. The outdoor education programmes at KNBS has been designed to impart core life skills in the students by having fun outside of the classroom and as such we encourage all students to get involved. Our ever growing and inclusive portfolio of potential outdoor activities provide the students with opportunities to develop crucial skills that they will need now, perhaps more than ever, to survive and thrive once they leave us and go on to the next stage in their lives.