Why learning outside the classroom?

School improvement

Learning outside the classroom is highly motivating. Learning in the school grounds, the locality, visiting sites further afield and residential experiences all stimulate interest, curiosity and passion for ‘doing’. These activities broaden young people’s horizons, enable them to develop new skills and build relationships. They make young people more engaged with learning and therefore more likely to do well.

Teaching and Learning

Girl in tudor costume learning outside the classroom

Learning outside the classroom can support areas that are difficult to cover in the classroom

For teachers, learning outside the classroom can support areas that are difficult to cover in the classroom. Teachers value its inspirational quality because it enables young people to understand better — for example, what is the point of learning how to do a survey for geography if you never actually do it?

Learning outside the classroom capitalises on and develops different learning styles, particularly kinaesthetic. Experiencing something — as opposed to hearing it described or reading about it — can also help improve young people’s recall and reflective skills, as they can relive the event in their heads.

The switch from primary to secondary school can be a major stumbling block for some children. Headteachers of schools where learning outside the classroom is well embedded cite out-of-school trips, including residential stays, as an important part of Year 7 induction. In particular, it helps children to build friendship groups. Research from Cambridge University (DfES Research Report) shows that more attention needs to be paid to pedagogic strategies that improve pupil attainment and motivation, and learning needs to be exciting — both aspects that can be supported by learning outside the classroom.

Staff-pupil understanding
It is unusual to find a school rated outstanding by Ofsted where the quality of relationships between staff and pupils is not also outstanding. Learning outside the classroom activities are key ways in which those relationships can be cemented. Working with children in a different environment enables headteachers, governors, teachers and support staff to see, for example, how the children respond to teamwork, what their different friendships are, and what challenges them.

Independence and Social Skills
For young people with learning difficulties and disabilities, learning outside the classroom will increase opportunities for interaction with people in the local community. This helps to develop independence and social skills which will in turn raise attainment for these students who may otherwise have limited opportunities to feel a part of the community.

High-quality leadership is critical to school improvement. Learning outside the classroom affords adults in a school the chance to develop new leadership skills. Also, schools which run student leadership programmes speak powerfully of the benefits of learning outside the classroom in making young people more engaged in the life of the school and acting maturely in both social and learning contexts.

The Innovation Unit has carried out research into student leadership as part of Next Practice projects — see www.innovation-unit.co.uk.

The National College for School Leadership (NCSL) has looked at the benefits of student leadership linked to school improvement — see www.ncsl.org.uk.