The Good Practice in Detail
Inspectors identified the ‘forest school’ as an outstanding feature of environmental education at the school. All the children are involved in activities in the outdoors and in the woodland, but it is the youngest and oldest children who spend most time there. Children are allowed to climb trees and build fires. They listen to the heartbeat of trees (sap rising) and identify bird songs. They make and use tools ranging from potato peelers to knives, axes and mallets. They create environmental art, maintain the grounds and plant trees. There is a thriving ‘bug hotel’ and older children are involved in more complex tasks such as hedge-laying and pond maintenance.
While it’s clear that pupils’ knowledge and understanding of the environment improves, the school’s ‘forest school’ teacher, identifies the real benefits of this outdoor learning as: increased self-esteem; improved social skills; the development of language and communication skills; improved physical motor skills; and improved motivation and concentration.
“We focused on the natural environment provided by the school grounds as a learning opportunity and a way to enrich children’s experiences. The grounds were originally established about 15 years ago but had not been actively used by the children. They were used for science lessons and the greenhouse was used for growing some plants, but we found opportunities to do much more. It has been made easy by the enthusiasm and the expertise of staff and is now a regular part of this school’s work.” John Belshire, Headteacher
Children enjoy taking risks, but the school recognises that safety is paramount. Skills are learnt carefully, and safety equipment is always used. By its nature, practical work is not a mass participation activity. Children work in groups of around six at a time to ensure that they have a quality learning activity which is safe. Once the children have been taught to use tools, they will expand the quality of their ideas and plans because the range of what they perceive to be possible has expanded.