Outdoor learning key to school’s continued success
When head teacher Sam Coy took over the reins at Benjamin Adlard Primary School, it was struggling to say the least.
Rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted inspectors in 2014, it was not a job for the faint-hearted with improvements required across the board.
Just a few years later however and the school has been transformed, now rated ‘good’ overall by the education regulators and with an added bit of outdoor adventure to help keep pupils stimulated and interested in their continued learning.
An innovative on site ‘forest school’ classroom now allows children to thoroughly embrace the great outdoors, get some fresh air in their lungs and offers the perfect accompaniment to regular indoor activities.
Mr Coy said pupils at the school in Gainsborough, near Lincoln, have really relished the chance to get outside a bit more.
“I have been head for nearly three years now but when I took over the school was in special measures and was the 27th worst performing school in the county,” he said.
“Some of our pupils come from very vulnerable backgrounds so we have added the forest school to help us nurture and develop our pupils into even more rounded people by providing them with a wealth of different experiences.
“Our school motto is ‘creating a haven in which pupils flourish’ and we believe the forest area is another way for our children to develop and grow.”
The transformed section of the school encompasses a large area of wild meadow, wildlife, grasses and trees, and although slap bang in the middle of an urban area to the south-west of Gainsborough, offers a true rural escape for pupils.
Overlooking the town and miles of rolling Lincolnshire countryside, it enables outdoor learning to help pupils develop skills such as resilience, teamwork, problem solving, confidence and academic knowledge through a range of adventurous opportunities.
These are currently delivered by the school’s forest leader, Neil Groves, and include den building, fire making, outdoor cooking, orienteering, wildlife and nature watches, bug hunts, gardening and willow weaving to name just a few.
Mr Groves leads activities in school on Mondays and Tuesdays and classes have an hour-a-week each term in the area. The rest of the time it is used for social, emotional and behaviour interventions and also for practical learning for the school’s special educational needs pupils.
“The outdoor classroom cost us around £5,000 and came about as a result of the hard work of the school staff along with colleagues from nearby Carlton and Mount Street academies in Lincoln, who we are part of a three-school trust with,” added Mr Coy.
“We were delighted to be successful in a bid to the IGas Energy Community Fund, which helps support local conservation projects and all the schools’ staff came together to help create the project.”
Staff took part in an inset day where they tidied up and helped weave willows to make the space useable. It was a real team effort with all staff mucking in and Mr ‘outdoors’ Groves has been working with the children ever since to continue to develop and use the land.
“Neil is a real inspiration and acts as an amazing role model for our pupils. His creativity and enthusiasm for the forest school and his commitment to outdoor learning really inspires and captures our children’s interest,” added Mr Coy.
“The children absolutely love the den building, just generally getting dirty and the nature hunts.
“One child recently told me that he ‘loves going to the forest school on a Tuesday afternoon so much’ as it helps him to behave all week as he never wants to ‘not’ be able to go.
“Another said that ‘the forest school is fab, I sometimes struggle with work in the classroom but in the forest school I am amazing.’
“It has had a really positive impact and help to give pupils new experiences. The language and talk used in this area has also been a real development in helping pupils to improve their vocabulary.
“Some of the discussions that are stimulated by being out there are just incredible. It has broadened our pupils’ understanding of nature and the world around them.
“For many it has also helped them to improve their behaviour and develop confidence and resilience.
“It’s an opportunity for them to release built up energy or frustrations and channel this into something useful. They are proud of it and believe they are helping to make the school a better place for others.
“The feedback from our parents has been really positive who are all pleased to see the area being used and have embraced the experiences that are now available for their children - they can really see the benefits.
“It’s just one of many things we now do to ensure the best for our pupils and make sure that they don’t miss out.”