For many years now, it has been documented and championed that it is important to take children out of the traditional classroom, away from traditional “chalk and talk” teaching, and provide them with challenging, exciting and different experiences. Such methods have been proven to raise attainment and achievement, improve behaviour and improve the engagement of all groups of pupils, including those who find it hard to engage inside the traditional classroom environment.
In these challenging times, when we are being limited more and more with social distancing measures and having levels of restrictions imposed on our personal lives, it is difficult to see how such experiences outside the classroom could be achieved. However, with careful planning, it can and must continue to happen.
The ‘places’ where learning happens can have a significant effect on how a young person engages with a subject or an idea. There is almost no limit to where learning outside the classroom can occur – outdoors or indoors: in the school grounds, on the high street, in the local park, in museums and art galleries, on mountain tops and rivers, in Britain’s remote places or elsewhere in the world.
There are two crucial tests of an effective education system: how well children can apply what they learn in situations beyond the bounds of their formal educational experience, and how well prepared they are to continue learning and solving problems throughout the rest of their lives. In order to achieve this, education must be broad and deep. Broad because it must include a wide range of learning experience, those which mirror roles we value in society. Deep because it must nurture greater understanding in children, of themselves, their motivations and goals in life and of the subjects and disciplines they study.
Over the last few decades, the way we live, work and communicate have been transformed and this pace of change is likely to increase. Learning is only effective when it relates meaningfully to a wider social context. Living in a time of rapid and sometimes unsettling change brings about a curious paradox. On the one hand we want to guard and protect our children more tightly, in a bid to control them more and pass on what we value to ensure they do not fall prey to risks and threats. Conversely we want them to be creative and enterprising, to learn from the mistakes of previous generations and to solve problems where we have failed.
In order to prepare children for successful adult lives, we must provide them with opportunities to apply their learning outside the four walls of their daily classroom. Learning outside the classroom should be built into planning for all learners, every week and all year round. It is a powerful tool that is proven to raise attainment, bolster social, emotional and personal development and contributes to the health and well being of children.
We are very lucky at Yateley Manor to have outdoor spaces that can provide myriad opportunities for learning: story-telling under the Big Top, camp-building and nature investigations in the Woodland Learning area, studying trench warfare of World War 1 on the school field, enjoying drama on the outdoor stage to name just a few.
Experiences outside the classroom can nurture the “softer” but no less important skills that we all want our children to develop such as communication, empathy, compassion, understanding and collaboration. Just this week, I have had the pleasure to work with two different groups of children outside the classroom and see the impact of a broad curriculum at Yateley Manor. On Wednesday evening we held a virtual meeting for parents to find out about the rich opportunities on offer to children in Years 7 and 8. As part of the presentation, Hazel and George from Year 7 and Sarah-Jane and Oliver from Year 8 agreed to field questions from parents. Their adaptation to a completely new environment was incredible to observe. They spoke with confidence, undaunted by the fact they were speaking only to a camera and could not see the recipients of their messages. They were articulate, showed incredible clarity of thought and smiled throughout.
Yesterday I accompanied a group of children from Years 5 and 6 to Windsor Castle. The new Education Centre was being launched and we were the first school to be welcomed. The children demonstrated flair and confidence in their drama skills. As they toured the castle they were respectful of their environment, showed high levels of interest with continuous questions and consistently showed behaviour which made me very proud.
An education at Yateley Manor is so much more than learning to read and write. It extends far beyond the sciences and languages, the arts and the sports. It is an education for life and therefore cannot be solely based on learning within four walls of a classroom. We will continue to challenge children in as many ways as we can, beyond the classroom, so that we can support their individual journeys and prepare them for the next decades.