Calls for school pupils to spend more time learning outdoors

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Not quite Einstein, but numeracy is improving in Scottish primaries claims Russell. Pic: Museum of The History of Science, Oxford

EXPERTS have called for more Scottish school lessons to take place outdoors.

Professor Peter Higgins of Edinburgh University says schoolchildren are “stuck in classrooms” and need to go outdoors at least once a week.

He said teachers and school bosses had failed to realise the benefits of outdoor education to childrens’ health and wellbeing, and the amount of time children spend outdoors should be a key part of inspections.

Prof Higgins echoed concerns of an architect of the new Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), who said lessons should be moved into fields and forests.

The National Trust has said mollycoddling parents are cutting off their children from nature.

Prof Higgins said support for teaching outside was “patchy.”

He said: “Despite political support, the lack of a consistent understanding of outdoor learning and its benefits by education authorities and teachers continues to limit opportunities for quality outdoor learning experiences.

“The outdoor opportunities for kids have to be frequent, regular and progressive.

“Questions need to be asked if children are not going outdoors at least weekly, particularly in nursery and primary schools.”

He stressed teachers should not be dissuaded from teaching outdoors due to health and safety fears: “I can’t think of a single example where local outdoor learning is more hazardous than indoor learning.

“In fact, you could argue that sedentary indoor learning experiences, where children are separated from the broader world and do not learn to be active nor to assess risks for themselves, are more hazardous in the long run.”

He continued: “The way teachers are trained is far more important than funding — they need to be encouraged and to become comfortable in the outdoors.

“It does not have to be costly for schools, and local outdoor learning can be made far more accessible by, for example, having a store of wellies.”

Keir Bloomer, a key figure behind the CfE, one of the biggest education shake-ups in decades, said last week schools should harness the benefits of Scotland’s outdoors and move the classroom into fields and forests.

A 2012 report by the National Trust said children were leading “sedentary and sheltered” lives over health and safety fears, preferring to play video games inside than venture outdoors.

The Scottish Government said last week it did not know how many primary and secondary schools included the outdoors in their timetable.

It said: “Curriculum for Excellence offers schools the option of combining traditional teaching methods with more innovative ways to support learning.

“However, it is up to schools and local authorities to decide what resources to use to best meet the needs of their learners.”

Education Scotland, which carries out school inspections, said the new curriculum emphasised “the importance of outdoor learning and the impact it can have on pupil performance,” but admitted it did not record how much time was spent outdoors.

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