This case study describes how one individual has been inspired by Learning Away and the concept of brilliant residentials to set up a Community Interest Company (CIC) to provide young people with equal access to low-cost and therefore affordable outdoor experiences, locally, nationally and internationally. It will be of particular interest to others thinking of going down a similar route.
Caroline Carr set up Outdoor Learning Schools (OLS) to provide curriculum-based brilliant residential experiences for young people in schools in the east of England. Her approach adopted the Learning Away principles of affordability, inclusivity and integration, thus enabling more young people to have these experiences whatever their economic situation. Caroline says
OLS aims to enable equal access to affordable, yet quality, outdoor learning experiences for young people. Currently many schools offer a range of opportunities to develop young people’s personal and social development through residential experiences. Unfortunately however, for many young people their economic situation excludes them from taking part in events that could change their lives. At the same time the potential of many residentials to support the teaching of the curriculum, develop effective relationships and promote pupil engagement with learning are missed.
OLS provides teachers with the skills, training and experience to ensure they can fully engage with outdoor and environmental programmes that enhance and build both pupils’ knowledge and understanding about the natural world and develop their self-esteem and inter-personal relationships. The residentials take the form of local camping experiences that promote independence and provide exciting and engaging activities such as den building, low ropes challenges, bouldering, orienteering, bushcraft, canoeing and kayaking.
Training for teachers
Teachers have the opportunity to access a range of training courses provided to support an increased participation in the activities and camping experiences. Following the example of the South Hetton partnership, training has included the Outdoor Education Advisors’ Panel (OEAP) Outdoor Learning Cards course that developing team building, orienteering, bouldering skills and journeying in the outdoors. Additional courses cover environmental activities, den building and the Royal Life Saving Society Water Safety Management Programme. Through training teachers to deliver curriculum-based outdoor activities the cost of staffing OLS residentials is low, enabling more pupils’ access. Caroline also found she was getting many of the impacts reported by Learning Away, including an increase in positive relationships between pupils and teachers and teachers integrating the content and teaching approaches from the trips into their classroom work.
As a result of the Outdoor Learning Cards course, a secondary school ‘journeyed’ 100 Year 7 pupils to one of OLS’s camps. They carried all their kit and walked in from a local wood to the campsite for three days of camping and activities led by both OLS staff and the school staff team. The school leader facilitated his staff team to provide a range of PE and team activities based on the OEAP resource and OLS provided low ropes, bouldering and archery sessions. In this case the school funded the residential.
As part of Caroline’s vision to engage teachers in outdoor learning, OLS also runs a range of ‘Go Adventure’ programmes aimed at providing teachers with challenging outdoor experiences to inspire their own adventures. These include expeditions to Portugal for canoeing and stand-up paddle boarding, expeditions to Morocco to climb Mount Toubkal and Scottish canoe journeys. Caroline believes that offering such experiences provides the confidence, experience and motivation for teachers to provide similar experiences for young people. Expeditions take part in school holidays and can also provide sponsorship opportunities to further fund the work of OLS in enabling outdoor and adventurous activities that are accessible to all.
Ethos of OLS outdoor residential camps
A typical three days camp consists of between 20-50 pupils, who arrive on day 1 to the task of putting up their own tents and settling in with kit, sleeping bags and roll mats. Activities over the next few days include den building, orienteering, low ropes course, bouldering, a night-line, archery, local environmental walks and the famous last night campfire. Schools can opt to buy in additional adventurous activities such as a mobile climbing wall or canoeing and kayaking.
The youngest pupils we’ve had camping are Year 2s, who have experienced both adventure programmes and curriculum linked themed camps based around night-time to inspire their writing back in school. The majority of campers are Years 3-5 who have the opportunity to experience two nights under canvas away from home to develop their independence, whilst having an adventure in a beautiful natural environment. As most schools provide this opportunity across two year groups pupils get the chance to come back a second time. This supports a developing sense of place and pupils get even more from a second visit as they reconnect with the environment. Their confidence from knowing what to expect just grows and grows.
Caroline believes the model of a CIC as way to support schools into offering brilliant residentials on the Learning Away model has been highly successful.
As a CIC, OLS aims to increase funding streams into the company to provide a greater range of both adventurous activities for young people whilst maintaining the low costs of current residentials. As this project grows staffing becomes more of an issue as logistics require more support from sorting and managing tents, to shopping and cooking for young people. Resourcing higher numbers also results in a demand for better quality equipment and resources, all issues that add to the battle to keep costs down. OLS has also been fortunate to gain additional staff through the government’s ChangeWorks scheme that supports wages through a 50% bursary fund. The challenge now is to maintain and improve the offer without compromising by increasing costs. We are currently using the crowd funder approach to raise funds.
“OLS creates opportunities to develop the skills, knowledge and confidence that will enhance young people’s future economic prospects through learning in the outdoor environment. We train school staff in fully developing the potential of outdoor experiences to ensure their pupils get access to exciting, life changing experiences in outdoor environments that raise their self-esteem, increase skills for life and inspire aspirations for future learning.”
Caroline Carr, Director of Outdoor Learning Schools CIC