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Learning outside the classroom is a great way of helping pupils with SEN to reach their potential

With increasing pressure on schools to raise standards and attainment, there are growing concerns that teachers have less time to devote to planning engaging educational experiences beyond the classroom. However, embedding learning outside the classroom (LOtC) in a school’s ethos can really help get results for pupils. It can also be crucial in providing evidence to Ofsted.

The majority of teachers already recognise the benefits of LOtC. In a survey conducted by TeacherVoice on behalf of the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom in November 2010, 70 per cent of teachers said LOtC is more effective than classroom teaching in engaging different learning styles, and 77 per cent of teachers said LOtC is more effective than classroom teaching in motivating and enthusing children with regard to learning.

Why LOtC?

LOtC helps children relate what they learn at school to the world around them and is known to motivate young people, raising attainment and improving behaviour. Educational visits form some of the most vivid memories from childhood and these experiences bring learning to life whilst engaging students’ interest.

LOtC appeals to different learning styles and is particularly effective in engaging children who do not respond well in the traditional classroom environment. It improves the quality and depth of learning and reinvigorates learning back inside the classroom walls.

Learning outside the classroom has particular benefits when it comes to helping pupils with SEN to reach their potential. Children with SEN often learn best through doing, and the opportunity get out into the school grounds, local community or further afield can provide pupils with real life experiences that can help them lead an independent or semi-independent life in adulthood.

In the school grounds, natural and urban environments there are many opportunities for sensory learning that enable pupils to see, hear, smell, touch and explore the world. Such experiences help pupils with profound learning difficulties expand their horizons and become more alert and aware of the world around them. As a parent of a child at Red Marsh School commented, “There is so much for them to explore. [LOtC] makes the world of our very special children a bigger place; life should not just be restricted to what we feel is safe”.

For a child with physical disabilities, the opportunity to participate in adventurous activities such as canoeing or horse riding can bring a powerful sense of freedom and have a dramatic impact on their self-confidence. At Mary Elliot School, the school’s annual tall ship sailing residential has resulted in many students demonstrating significant and lasting advances in their personal development. For example, one student found the communal living very challenging to deal with, but he coped extremely well and demonstrated a positive desire to join-in in a way not seen at school. Another young man with considerable physical difficulties demonstrated an immediate and noticeable leap forward in his personal confidence and gross motor skills both in school and at home.

Children love using their senses to explore the world (photo: Kalil Zibe, rspb-images.com).Many mainstream schools would learn a lot from the excellent practice in SEN provision in using LOtC to develop skills for life. Life skills can be practised in the school grounds – one school has a bedsit where pupils learn about safety, cooking and cleaning – or further afield on visits to the shops, restaurants, the doctor, dentist, post office and library. Work experience can prepare pupils to enter the world of employment. Residential visits can also give children unique experiences away from home to help them build their independence, self-confidence and communication skills.

Conflicting pressures?

There is widespread concern that the increasing pressure on schools to raise attainment and respond to the new Ofsted inspection framework could result in schools spending fewer resources on LOtC opportunities. This would be counterproductive, though, given how effective LOtC is at engaging young people with different learning styles and improving results in all subjects and for all learners.

There is a strong correlation between a planned and integrated curriculum-based approach to LOtC and raised attainment. Far from being seen as an add-on, Ofsted views LOtC as an essential element of a broad and balanced curriculum, and is urging schools to make explicit reference to it in their self-evaluation and other evidence presented during the inspection visit. Demonstrating a planned and integrated approach to LOtC has never been more relevant.

In 2008, Ofsted published a report, Learning Outside the Classroom – how far should you go?, which found overwhelming evidence that LOtC contributes significantly to raising standards and the quality and depth of learning. Speaking at the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom Annual Conference in November 2011, Her Majesty’s Inspector Robin Hammerton said that the 2008 report into LOtC was the most compelling piece of evidence he had ever seen because “in all cases the learning was improved and in all cases the young people benefited from the experience.”

LOtC and Ofsted

Responding to the requirements of the Ofsted inspection framework has its own challenges for special schools, which are often working with children who may never be able to read or write, let alone sit a GCSE. However, it is possible to demonstrate how to achieve the best results possible for the pupils in these schools. When considering how LOtC provision supports the drive to improve standards, it is important to ask the following questions:

  • how does LOtC raise the achievement of pupils at the school?
  • how does LOtC support the quality of teaching at the school?
  • how does LOtC improve behaviour and promote the safety of children at the school?
  • how does a planned and integrated LOtC programme demonstrate the effectiveness of leadership and management at the school?
  • how are LOtC opportunities utilised to support the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils at the school?
  • how is LOtC used to ensure the needs of a range of pupils at the school, in particular disabled pupils or those with SEN?

These questions are related to the key judgements that Ofsted inspectors will be making during the course of a visit, so it is vital that staff and governors understand how LOtC provision supports these areas. Remember that LOtC is relevant to demonstrating good/outstanding practice across all four areas of the Ofsted inspection framework:

  1. the benefits of LOtC in raising attainment and achievement are well recognised. Does the school have any examples where LOtC can be directly linked to raised attainment? Has the progress of a pupil or group of students been measurably improved as a result of targeted use of LOtC?
  2. LOtC supports quality of teaching. Does LOtC that is well-planned and integrated into the curriculum demonstrate teachers’ effectiveness in extending the knowledge, skills and understanding of pupils over time? How is LOtC used to ensure pupils with a range of different needs and ability levels are engaged in their learning?
  3. LOtC has a positive impact on motivation and behaviour because it offers a different kind of stimulus from the formality of the classroom. LOtC can also promote the safety of pupils, as teaching young people to manage risks for themselves makes them safer
  4. the process of embedding LOtC can be used as powerful evidence for the effectiveness of leadership and management at a school. How has successfully embedding LOtC into school policy and the development plan improved the quality of teaching and learning at the school/setting? How is the effectiveness of LOtC provision evaluated and used to promote improvement?

Integrating LOtC

Ofsted is clear that the more planned and integrated LOtC is, the more effective it is. LOtC should not be about a once-a-year school trip, but about frequent, continuous and progressive opportunities to learn outside the classroom that build on knowledge and skills gained during previous experiences both inside and outside the classroom.

LOtC should occur across all subjects and areas of learning and be built into curriculum planning. However, it should never be undertaken for its own sake. As Ofsted’s 2008 LOtC report said, the LOtC objectives must be “well defined and evaluated for effectiveness”. This means that schools must set clear learning objectives that consider not just what the young people will learn, but how it is best learned (learning styles) and where the best place is for the learning to take place (the location).

Ofsted recommends that schools evaluate the quality of LOtC to ensure that it has maximum impact on learners’ achievement, personal development and wellbeing.

Finally, in order to embed LOtC into the everyday life of the school it is vital to clarify strategic direction and provide vision and leadership. LOtC should be included in school policy, underpinned in the school development plan, and supported by effective administration and CPD for the whole team. It is also vital to mobilise support from governors, staff, parents and the local community.

LOtC accreditation for schools

To support schools in improving their LOtC provision for the benefit of young people, a new accreditation scheme has been launched. LOtC Mark is the first national accreditation for educational establishments which recognises and supports the development of learning outside the classroom across all subject areas. The award is intended not only to recognise existing exemplary provision, but also to assist and support schools in developing their LOtC offer to enable all children to have access to meaningful LOtC experiences. To find out more and view the criteria, visit:
www.lotc.org.uk

Finding quality venues for educational visits

The LOtC Quality Badge is the national benchmark for the provision of educational visits. The accreditation helps schools find venues offering good quality educational experiences where risk is effectively managed. Search for venues in your area at:
www.lotcqualitybadge.org.uk

Further information

Elaine Skates is Deputy Chief Executive of the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom, a charity providing LOtC guidance, training and resources for schools:
www.lotc.org.uk

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