Outdoor learning

Highland Outdoor Learning Newsletter No. 3

Highland Outdoor Learning Strategy

At the Education, Culture and Sport Committee meeting on 12th January 2012 it was accepted that Outdoor Learning must be a key component of Curriculum for Excellence for Highland children and young people. Along with the Scottish Government, the Highland Council shares the vision expressed in Curriculum for Excellence Through Outdoor Learning (Learning and Teaching Scotland, 2010) that:

  • All children and young people should participate in a range of progressive and creative outdoor learning experiences which are clearly part of the curriculum.
  • Schools and centres should provide regular, frequent, enjoyable and challenging opportunities for all children and young people to learn outdoors throughout their school career and beyond.
  • Teachers and educators should embed outdoor learning in the curriculum so that learning in the outdoor environment becomes a reality for all children and young people.

Education Scotland have published a very useful guide "Outdoor Learning: Practical guidance, ideas and support for teachers and practitioners in Scotland"

From simple learning activities close to schools and settings through to residential experiences and beyond, this Outdoor Learning document illustrates how practitioners can contribute positively to the learning journey of Scotland’s children and young people.

This resource provides practical, accessible and straightforward advice on how to engage children and young people with learning outdoors. It incorporates ideas for organising learning in the outdoors, for making connections across the curriculum and for planning within curriculum areas. It also includes a CPD framework and supporting materials.

The National Trust publication Natural Childhood explains why Outdoor Learning/ engaging with nature is so very important.

Experiences and Outcomes

Outdoor learning offers many opportunities for learners to deepen and contextualise their understanding within curriculum areas, and for linking learning across the curriculum in different contexts and at all levels. The Experiences and outcomes guides for outdoor learning have been coded to enable practitioners to identify where learning outdoors is most appropriate and valuable.


Education Scotland's Self - Evaluation resource is specifically designed to support teachers and educators in pre-school centres and primary, special and secondary schools and Community Learning and Development (CLD) to evaluate the potential of their work to help children and young people learn outdoors.

Staff in other sectors who are involved in the delivery of outdoor learning for children and young people will also benefit from using this resource.

High Quality Outdoor Education

This guide above focuses on high quality in outdoor education – what it looks like and how to achieve it. It recognises that high-quality outdoor education takes place not only in schools and outdoor education centres but equally in youth services and voluntary youth organisations, as well as outdoor activity clubs that cater for young people.

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Curriculum for Excellence through Outdoor Learning

Curriculum for Excellence through Outdoor Learning has set out a vision for all schools and educational settings to provide frequent and progressive outdoor learning opportunities which are clearly part of the curriculum. It is the responsibility of all involved in education to recognise the place of outdoor learning within the curriculum and plan accordingly to ensure that all children and young people in Scotland receive these opportunities as part of their learning journey.

Here are a few quotes from the Curriculum for Excellence through Outdoor Learning document that emphasise some key points


The journey through education for any child in Scotland must include opportunities for a series of planned, quality outdoor learning experiences. Curriculum for Excellence through Outdoor Learning is designed to help teachers, educators, Community Learning and Development (CLD) and their partners, including the voluntary sector, plan such experiences to ensure that progressive and sustainable outdoor learning opportunities are embedded in the new curriculum.

All staff at every level of involvement with the education of children and young people have a responsibility to make the most of the outdoor environment to support the delivery of the experiences and outcomes of Curriculum for Excellence.

Vision and Rationale

Well-constructed and well-planned outdoor learning helps develop the skills of enquiry, critical thinking and reflection necessary for our children and young people to meet the social, economic and environmental challenges of life in the 21st century. Outdoor learning connects children and young people with the natural world, with our built heritage and our culture and society, and encourages lifelong involvement and activity in Scotland’s outdoors.

Partnerships between staff in schools...

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The place of outdoor learning within Curriculum for Excellence

...it is the responsibility of schools and their partners to bring the experiences and outcomes together and apply the national entitlements to produce programmes for learning across a broad curriculum...

These practical approaches to learning must not be seen as a ‘bolt-on’ or alternative form of provision but part of an integrated experience.’

Progressive experiences

Creative planning will allow the use of the experiences and outcomes in different outdoor contexts throughout the curriculum levels, weaving a thread of progressive outdoor learning experiences which link directly to ‘indoor’ experiences.

In the light of outdoor learning becoming more ‘regular and frequent’, current practice will evolve as more use is made of school grounds and local areas. The school grounds are often the first step in taking pupils outdoors and for staff considering progression to learning contexts further afield. Younger children,
in particular, can explore, and develop a sense of ownership of their school grounds in their own time on a daily basis.

The Scottish Government’s School Estate Strategy requires local authorities to ‘consider how to make the best use of school grounds and the outdoor spaces as an integral part of the learning environment ensuring that landscape design is at a par with building design.’


It is essential that all partners share a vision of the learning journey from 3 to 18 and beyond and there has to be clear thought and communication amongst staff across curriculum levels and between partners. Outdoor learning experiences can be particularly effective in supporting smooth transitions between stages. Planning for progressive learning experiences is aided when teachers and educators take full account of children and young people’s previous experience of outdoor learning.

Inclusion and equality

It is important to ensure that no one is denied opportunities through discrimination, prejudice or exclusion because of factors such as race, gender or disability.

Planning may require dialogue with individual participants, stakeholders and agencies or the need to seek advice from those specialising in supporting equalities groups to ensure that all learners can access the curriculum.

To assist planning, details of equality legislation and guidance on how it
applies can be found at the online resource.

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Learning and teaching outdoors

Outdoor learning can deliver sustainable development education through initiatives such as working to improve biodiversity in the school grounds, visiting the local woods, exploring and engaging with the local community and developing a school travel plan.

The use of new technology as part of the planned approach to outdoor learning will add value to the outcomes for children and young people. Experiences recorded digitally, for example, can be taken back to the classroom and used to reinforce and further expand on the experience itself. Glow is a resource which will support outdoor learning, enabling educators, young people, children and parents to share experiences.

Working with partners

Curriculum for Excellence can best be delivered through partnership working. All establishments should work with partners and share a common understanding and language around skills development and application.’

Specialist partners, who may be professionals or volunteers with expertise in areas such as school ground architecture, adventure activities or forest school practices, can offer invaluable technical knowledge and guidance.

Parent and carer involvement

The support and contribution of parents and carers is very important. They are key partners in delivery and help to prepare children and young people for outdoor learning experiences. They may also provide rich outdoor learning outwith educational settings, as well as assisting on outdoor visits.

Places to learn outdoors

Outdoor learning takes place in a range of settings – from the school grounds to historic grounds, from local parks to national parks, from villages to cities, from residential experiences within Scotland to overseas expeditions.

Residential experiences

Residential experiences include using outdoor centres or youth hostels, camping, bivouacking, snow-holing or sailing boats.

In order to maximise the benefits of residential experiences, careful planning and preparation, including work undertaken with children and young people before and after the residential experience, is key to the relevance, coherence, breadth and depth of learning. Project work to take forward during the residential experience should build on previous learning. Taking an appropriate quality task back to the school environment will maintain an important element of depth in the experience.

Overall, for children and young people to get the most out of their residential experiences it is essential that any joint planning with residential providers is rigorous.

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Recognising achievement and attainment

Outdoor learning provides fresh settings for children and young people to demonstrate what they know and can do and therefore for assessing their knowledge and skills.

Assessment of outdoor learning experiences provides valuable evidence to contribute to school improvement plans.

Whilst the opportunity to study for qualifications will be a central feature of the senior phase, there will be other planned opportunities for developing the four capacities. These will include an on-going entitlement to learning and experiences which continue to develop a young person’s literacy and numeracy skills, skills for life and skills for work

Achievement awards such as The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme, ASDAN (Award Scheme Development and Accreditation Network), John Muir Award and Millennium Volunteer Award are useful and frequently used ways of recognising and celebrating success in particular programmes.

Self evaluation resource

Self-evaluation should be integral to planning outdoor learning experiences.

Initial teacher education and continuing professional development

Initial teacher education and continuing professional development have a key role in equipping the teachers and educators with the appropriate skills necessary to deliver high-quality outdoor learning.

Health and safety considerations

A venture where all conceivable risk has been eliminated removes the opportunities for learners to develop their own strategies and attitudes
towards risk. Learners should be at the centre of the risk management process from the outset.


At local authority level, collaborative working and strategic planning across services is essential to developing or building upon an authority-wide plan for children and young people to have greater access to quality outdoor learning experiences.

Allocating time for outdoor learning during in-service training will help
develop and establish local and regional networks for outdoor learning.

Identifying or nominating a member of staff with specific responsibility can be a useful way to help raise the profile and support for outdoor learning.

The online resource has information and links to assist with planning for learning outdoors and examples of practice.


From school grounds to streets of cities, forests to farms, ponds to paths, coastlines to castles, moors to mountains, Scotland has a rich wealth of outdoor learning opportunities which will help children and young people make connections within and across curriculum areas. Outdoor learning enhances classroom learning and is a powerful means of addressing the Scottish Government’s National Outcomes.

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