Learning inside a classroom is a tried and tested method of organising schooling. However, teachers and learners have always valued the additional opportunities for learning provided by a range of activities conducted outside the classroom. These include day and residential visits, field studies, investigations conducted in the local area, sporting events, and music and drama productions. In organising such activities, schools and colleges have often drawn on the services of a range of providers, including commercially run outdoor education and sport centres, as well as the education departments of museums, art galleries, theatres and concert halls. Recently, the Government has placed increased emphasis on such activities with the publication of the Learning outside the classroom manifesto and the training and guidance associated with it.1
This report evaluates the impact of learning outside the classroom in 12 primary schools, 10 secondary schools, one special school, one pupil referral unit and three colleges across England where previous inspections had shown that curricular provision, in particular outside the classroom, was good, outstanding or improving rapidly. Inspectors also visited or contacted 13 specialist organisations, including providers of learning outside the classroom, and held discussions with representatives from five local authorities.
All of the schools and colleges surveyed provided exciting, direct and relevant learning activities outside the classroom. Such hands-on activities led to improved outcomes for pupils and students, including better achievement, standards, motivation, personal development and behaviour. The survey also found examples of the positive effects of learning outside the classroom on young people who were hard to motivate.
Only six schools in the survey had a detailed knowledge of the Government’s manifesto and even they were unsure how it linked with other national programmes and guidance. Despite this, the most effectively managed schools and colleges included learning outside the classroom as an integral part of a well planned curriculum which ensured the coherent and progressive development of knowledge, skills and understanding.
The management of learning outside the classroom was not consistently good and the schools and colleges surveyed did not always exploit its potential or evaluate its impact sufficiently. However, they had all been successful in overcoming several common barriers to learning outside the classroom, including concerns about the health and safety of participants. The approaches they adopted provide useful models that other schools and colleges could consider.
1 Learning outside the classroom manifesto (DFES-04232-2006), DfES, 2006; www.teachernet.gov.uk/teachingandlearning/resourcematerials/outsideclassroom/.
Learning outside the classroom
When planned and implemented well, learning outside the classroom contributed significantly to raising standards and improving pupils’ personal, social and emotional development.
Only six schools in the survey had a detailed knowledge of the Government’s Learning outside the classroom manifesto and even they were unsure of how other national guidance and programmes, such as the National Strategies, linked to it.
Learning outside the classroom was most successful when it was an integral element of long-term curriculum planning and closely linked to classroom activities.
The primary schools in the survey made better and more consistent use of their own buildings and grounds and the neighbouring area to support learning than the secondary schools.
Too many residential and other visits considered during the survey had learning objectives which were imprecisely defined and not integrated sufficiently with activities in the classroom. This was particularly the case in primary schools.
The schools in the survey relied very heavily on contributions from parents and carers to meet the costs of residential and other visits and had given very little thought to alternative ways of financing them.
Of the schools and colleges visited, only three had evaluated the impact of learning outside the classroom on improving achievement, or monitored the take- up of activities by groups of pupils and students. The vast majority in the sample were not able to assess the effectiveness, inclusiveness or value for money of such activities.
The schools and colleges had worked hard and successfully to overcome the barriers to learning outside the classroom, including those relating to health and safety, pupils’ behaviour and teachers’ workload.
Schools and colleges received valuable support from local authorities and local Learning and Skills Councils (LSCs) in meeting health and safety requirements for visits. They received limited support for assuring the quality of the learning resulting from such activities.
The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) should:
reinforce the message to schools about the value of learning outside the classroom and support its appropriate use more widely across its programmes.
Learning outside the classroom
Local authorities and their partners should:
build on their successful work in assuring appropriate health and safety practices by better supporting and encouraging schools in enhancing the quality of learning outside the classroom as a means of raising achievement.
Schools and colleges should:
ensure that their curriculum planning includes sufficient well structured opportunities for all learners to engage in learning outside the classroom as a key, integrated element of their experience
evaluate the quality of learning outside the classroom to ensure that it has maximum impact on learners’ achievement, personal development and well- being
ensure equal and full access for all learners to learning outside the classroom by monitoring participation in activities by different groups of learners and removing any barriers.