Curriculum for Excellence Fact File: Outdoor Education

Outdoor Learning

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“The journey through education for any child in Scotland must include opportunities for a series of planned, quality outdoor learning experiences.”

The above is a quote from Curriculum for Excellence Through Outdoor Learning.  This is part of the governments instructions on the roles and responsibilities of schools.  It goes on to say that outdoor learning should be embedded in learning and teaching.

We have embraced this wholeheartedly at the Royal High School.


We have two dedicated, bookable outdoor classroom areas.  One location is an amphitheatre which provides natural shelter from the elements.  This has seating in the form of large wooden logs.  The second area is more open and it too has seating but slightly smaller numbers.  These areas are proving popular with staff and students alike.  As well as these dedicated areas the whole school grounds can and are used for lessons as appropriate.

There is an active twitter account (@outdoorRHS).  Information is shared here about what we are up to but there is also an opportunity to share what other people are up to that might be of interest.  Currently the number of followers has been constantly increasing but it’s always good to have some more…

We take part in the global initiative Outdoor Classroom Day.  For 2018 this took place on Thursday the 17th of May.  Pupils had a range of activities on offer.  These included talks from Stephan Helfer of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh who spoke on mushrooms and other fungi and Sarah Adamson from the Edinburgh Natural History Society who spoke on insects.  In addition to the talks there were also survival games and litter picks taking place.  Over 250 pupils took part in the organised activities on the day.  The next of these events is on the 23rd of May 2019.

Within the school we are collecting a range of resources to help people with outdoor learning.  These range from physical objects such as tables, and props for survival games through to lesson plans and ideas for as many curricular areas as possible.  Attendance at conferences, Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and meetings with colleagues also helps us build up our supply of materials and ideas.

We had anticipated taking part in the 2019 Pedal on Parliament with a school presence of staff and students.  Currently the exact nature of the Pedal on Parliament event is changing and once details have been released we will decide if we can participate as a school.  For those unfamiliar with it this is an apolitical event where representatives of all political parties attend to witness how popular cycling is and to find out how it can be promoted.

CPD is carried within the outdoor environment.  When we have visiting teachers, student teachers or probationers they are introduced to the resources we have on offer and shown how outdoor learning can be integrated into their learning and teaching.  We have used our facilities for CPD for staff at RHS and other schools and we will continue to make these opportunities available through the coming years.

Pupils have been actively engaged in tree planting recently.  This has been with the help of a charity called Tree Appeal who provided us with trees and linked us up with the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) who sponsored some of the trees.  Representatives of the SQA spent a day planting trees with some of our students.  In total over 600 native trees have been planted around the school grounds and in years to come they will enhance the appearance of the area.

Other activities within the school include elements of outdoors learning.  These can be read about on other areas of the school website, but they include an active Duke of Edinburgh award programme, at Bronze, Silver and Gold levels (Twitter account @RHS_DofE).  There is also a bike club who go cycling on Tuesdays after school.  As well as enjoying cycling (and frequent cake breaks) the pupils learn rudimentary bike maintenance and repair skills.  We are hoping to extend this so that teachers can be trained up more extensively and pass this information down to pupils.  We recently renewed our cycle friendly school award (from Cycling Scotland) and we are currently looking at upgrading our award to distinction level.  To find out what is happening with regard to cycling check Twitter at @CyclingRhs.  The school Eco Group continues to have litter picks and to promote the green credentials of the school.

So why do we do all of this?  Check Twitter for our weekly (ish) tweets on why we do outdoor learning but also here are some more quotes from the government, on why outdoor learning is a national priority for education: –

“Smarter – Outdoor learning encourages learners to understand the interplay and relationship between curriculum areas. This awareness promotes lifelong learning and develops critical thinking skills.

Healthier – Learning outdoors can lead to lifelong recreation. Activities such as walking and cycling which are ideal for physical and emotional wellbeing contribute to a healthier Scotland. Scots have a reputation for adventure activities such as mountaineering and have achieved international sporting success in canoeing, sailing and skiing.

Safer and stronger – Outdoor learning activities span social divisions and can help build stronger communities. Some organisations have therapeutic programmes where outdoor learning plays a central role. Children and young people have opportunities to develop skills to assess and manage risk when making decisions.

Greener – Frequent and regular outdoor learning encourages children and young people to engage with the natural and built heritage. Scotland’s countryside and urban areas provide ideal settings for children and young people to understand the global significance of sustainability issues and inform personal decisions that contribute towards a greener Scotland.

Wealthier and fairer – The outdoors provides excellent opportunities to use a wide range of skills and abilities not always visible in the classroom. Becoming aware of such skills can fundamentally change personal, peer and staff perceptions and lead to profound changes in life expectations and success.”

Remember you can follow the outdoor learning journey at RHS on Twitter at @outdoorRHS

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