How to keep your outdoors learning inclusive

  • How to keep your outdoors learning inclusive

Learning outside the classroom opportunities such as educational visits, residentials and trips overseas can have a transformational impact on personal development, relationships and learning. But is your provision missing out the pupils who need these experiences the most?

I never went on a residential during my whole time at school. For some reason, the usual week-long adventurous activity residential at the start of secondary school ‘missed’ my year group, maybe due to staffing or budgetary restraints. My parents refused to pay for the ski trip, and by the time I was offered the chance to do the optional Duke of Edinburgh and a trip to Germany later on my relationships with my peers and my self confidence had plummeted to the extent that I couldn’t think of anything worse than spending so much time with the kids who made my daily life so unpleasant at school.

Looking back, I lament these missed opportunities and wonder if my school had had a more inclusive and integrated policy for learning outside the classroom (LOtC), whether this would have helped me to improve my self confidence and relationships with my peers during my time at school.

As well as pupils struggling with social and emotional development, disadvantaged students such as those on free school meals are another group most likely to miss out on the opportunity to experience the world beyond the classroom in many secondary schools today.

Disadvantaged students may lack experiences beyond their own housing estate, let alone further afield. However, with most schools relying on parental contributions to fund visits, the pupils who stand to benefit the most are often the least likely to access these opportunities. A 2014 survey from the School Travel Forum found that schools with high numbers of pupils qualifying for Free School Meals had lower numbers of students participating, but were more likely to place value on the educational content. As one teacher responded: “Cost of trips and equality of access are the biggest barriers we have to the organisation of trips.”

Residentials and overseas trips are rich and inspiring learning opportunities, but not for those left behind! Schools must consider whether, by only offering these opportunities to those whose parents who can afford to pay, are they further widening the gap between disadvantaged students and their more fortunate peers.

Counting the costs

Schools who have achieved the LOtC Mark accreditation are tackling this issue by ensuring that overseas visits and residentials are offered as part of a programme that also includes regular, affordable and free opportunities for LOtC for all pupils, integrated across all subject areas.

Bay House School and Sixth Form is a large academy in Gosport that holds the LOtC Mark (Bronze) and is recognised for its good practice regarding learning outside the classroom. Bay House offers learners a comprehensive programme of activities including a variety of day trips and overseas visits to places such as Malawi and China.

As Head of Operations and Ethos Richard Thomas says: “Being awarded LOtC Mark is a real coup for all the staff and governors here as it shows that we are really making strides in providing our pupils with potentially lifechanging opportunities. We’re thrilled to get official recognition for our efforts and are now building on this award to integrate LOtC into the everyday life of the school”.

“Learning outside the classroom has many benefits for young people in schools,” explains Richard. “These include improving pupils’ personal, social & emotional development as well as raising attainment, reducing truancy and improving discipline. It is also evident that many young people do not travel very far within or outside of their local area during recreational time.”

Bay House was keen to ensure that all pupils were involved with learning outside the classroom and therefore analysed participation. Following statistical analysis, it was evident that some learners, including pupil premium, were not regularly or ever engaging in learning outside the classroom opportunities, with cost being the main barrier.

Accessible activities

The Senior Leadership Team discussed this and decided to plan two days of inclusive and free learning outside the classroom in which the whole of year 7 (350 pupils) would take part.

“There is no doubt that ski trips and visits abroad benefit the learners involved, it is however unfortunate that these opportunities are often only accessible and affordable for a small minority,” says Richard. “We wanted to address this and ensure that an increased number of pupils benefited from LOtC, with the opportunity to experience a memorable, meaningful and cost free visit”.

During the two days, pupils participated in a round-robin of activities, all of which took part within walking distance of the school. The activities included a hike, den building (with materials sourced from the school’s maintenance team), beach combing (with an emphasis on learning about the impact of marine pollution), a scavenger hunt and a visit to the local lifeboat station (Gosport and Fareham Inshore Rescue Service).

During the planning phase activity spaces within the local area were found and possible problems were identified and addressed. Having worked out the logistics – including group sizes, the walking route and the timings of the days – key issues were considered including risk/benefit, what to do in a bad weather situation and the management of the groups when travelling between locations. The school had previously adopted the national guidance provided by the Outdoor Education Advisers’ Panel which supported the planning of the activities.

All year 7 pupils benefited from two days of free learning outside the classroom, with one of them commenting “The two days felt like a real adventure, we visited places where we had never been before and it was great to spend the time outside with my friends”. Pupils developed their resilience during activities such as the hike, team building skills when participating in den building and knowledge of a local charity when visiting the lifeboat station.

After the success of the days, Bay House is now planning other free activities with local organisations, including charities and local business. “We aimed at and succeeded in providing two days of inclusive learning outside the classroom,” comments Richard Thomas.

“The involvement of every single year 7 pupil was not expensive and our careful management of the risks meant that learners took part in varied and engaging adventurous activities. Schools do not have to travel far to facilitate outdoor activities. Forming relationships and links with local organisations whilst tapping into our internal expertise has been the key to developing inclusive learning outside the classroom”.

Everyone’s a winner: tips to help you achieve inclusive LOtC

  • Recognise the value of LOtC in achieving the outcomes you want to achieve for your young people. This will make it easier to prioritise and resource LotC.
  • Reduce the cost of transport by making the most of the free and low cost opportunities in your school grounds and local area.
  • Take a whole school approach to budget planning. What will have the most impact on attainment – a low cost residential to improve relationships between teachers and students, or those new i-Pads for the maths department?
  • Utilise Pupil Premium funding to finance trips for disadvantaged pupils. n Offer payment plans to collect parental contributions for trips in smaller installments.
  • Access cheaper rates by scheduling visits and residentials out of peak season – in the autumn and spring rather than summer term.
  • Investigate low cost residential models by reading the case studies on the Learning Away website

For free online guidance on planning, running and evaluating LOtC and for information about LOtC Mark visit


Elaine Skates is Chief Executive of the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom.