Student Outcomes & Natural Schooling Report

Student Outcomes & Natural Schooling – a Pathways from Evidence to Impact Report 2016  looks at 21 inter/national school-based outdoor learning case studies from 11 countries – highlighting challenges and opportunities, and making recommendations for improving delivery and evaluation of programmes. Executive summary is below. Full report can be downloaded here.

Over the past ten years there have been five significant reviews conducted around 
the focus of children learning in natural environments in the UK and further abroad (Rickinson et al. 2004; Malone 2008; Gill 2011; Dillon & Dickie 2012; Fiennes et al. 2015). All these reviews identified significant evidence that outdoor learning can, and has made,
 a significant impact on improving children’s quality of life. These reviews coincide with a time when there is evidence that childhoods are dramatically changing, and children are experiencing limited opportunities to be outdoors in formal or informal learning settings, with consequent negative effects.

The evidence especially reveals that lack of exposure
 to natural environments denies children the opportunity to develop understandings and experiences that will have a long term impact on the quality of their lives, particularly 
in relation to their physical health and wellbeing and ‘character capabilities’ such as application, self-regulation, empathy, creativity, and innovation, and their capacity to be successful learners and active contributing members for a sustainable society.

This report responds to an urgency to address this social predicament – the childhood disconnect from nature and importance of learning in natural environments – with a view of encouraging policy makers to recognise the value of outdoor learning and the opportunities that it provides to overcome these contemporary challenges to children’s education, health, wellbeing and future success in life.

This report signposts pathways from evidence to impact in learning in natural environments by:

Presenting the practice context through evidence from 21 national and international school-based outdoor learning case studies reported from eleven countries – highlighting challenges and opportunities, and making recommendations for improving delivery and evaluation of programmes to better support policy and practice; and

Proposing pathways to impact for policy transformation, and highlighting how developing more productive exchange between policy and research in outdoor learning might support these pathways by highlighting critical gaps in evidence and recommending ways to address these gaps.

In response to the studies reported at the conference, substantial literature review and 
a survey of the policy context for outdoor learning within England, we have proposed 
a Framework for 21st Century Student Outcomes (p.19) that could be attained through sustained learning in natural environments. We have termed this embedded practice
 of progressive forms of outdoor learning ‘Natural Schooling’ in this report. The student outcomes included in the Framework are grouped under five themes:

  1. A healthy and happy body and mind;
  2. A sociable, confident person;
  3. A self-directed and creative learner;
  4. An effective contributor and
  5. An active global citizen.

For each outcome, relevant theory, research and practice are aligned to show how each could be achieved. Recognising the crucial role of policy makers in achieving these aims, the report then addresses some challenges particularly relating to the research/policy interface, research gaps and how research can better respond to a variety of policy needs. A model is presented that focuses on the research needs of policy makers at different stages in the process of developing public policy (p.27).

In concluding, the report offers a series of recommendations (p.34) to help improve the impact of policy and research underpinning the implementation of the Framework for 21st Century Student Outcomes from outdoor learning summarised here:

The framework proposed in this report should be discussed in policy and research groups to re ne its parameters and relevance. The consultative process should be facilitated by an existing network or organisation that can access the full range of interested communities, using the questions raised in the report.

The resultant framework should form the foundation to collate on-going research and review research priorities, and enable better alignment between research and policy. A database of policy and research papers should also be developed and maintained by a funded group.

Development of a practitioner toolkit of common research tools and guidance that would enable practitioners undertaking small scale research to aggregate their ndings across contexts to capitalise on the valuable qualitative insights from these forms of research should be considered.

Funding for longitudinal studies and Randomised Controlled Trials should be set aside to provide robust comparative datasets for different forms of outdoor learning, including the in uence of cultural contexts, yielding the quantitative evidence that is so often required by policy makers to initiate and inform policy change.