A major study spanning decades has led to sweeping global strategies affecting tens of thousands of young people accessing superior outdoor residential learning experiences.
Research by University of Cumbria’s Professors Heather Prince and Chris Loynes reinforced UK government calls for all school-age pupils to have progressive opportunities and its impact reached as far as Taiwan and Singapore.
Through the Learning Away project, they identified benefits for children at 63 British schools and in the Brilliant Residentials campaign – led by the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom – have boosted annual experiences for around 1.8 million participants.
Professors Prince and Loynes looked at the impact of research on residential experiences and how they could change policy and practice.
The results have been substantial, influencing English and Welsh legislation, as well as the Taiwanese government’s education policy. The Ministry of Education in Singapore has developed a national outdoor adventure education masterplan drawing on the research.
Key findings revealed extensive gains, including mid-term intellectual and social advantages, along with enhanced life opportunities. They also showed the importance for the relationships between primary school children and their committed, confident teachers.
Learning Away was able to demonstrate how relationships, student engagement, progress and attainment were all boosted by residentials. The work has also led to seven research hubs, with memberships of between 20 and 70, representing 250 organisations which have maximised and extended the reach of studies.
According to Prof Prince, the most notable outcome has been the policy changes made here and overseas with many more openings to learn away from home in the great outdoors.
She added: “We are very pleased to have been able to help our University of Cumbria students in making a very real difference to young lives. We get a lot of feedback from teachers, both anecdotally and through our research, and want to listen to pupil and student voices as much as possible.
“Commenting on the value of outdoor learning, one teacher said life was not computer generated or all about social media. It was connecting with people, face-to-face and with environments, getting dirty, experiencing the real things and making memories. It said it all!”
“We have been very pleased in the interest our research has generated through published work, invitations to contribute to books and other publications, presentations and particularly its impact on policies.”
“We are especially proud of our alumni and their work in the outdoors. We’ve always wanted to make a difference!”
An outdoor learning tome co-edited by Prof Prince went global and has been adopted as an industry bible. It included authors and a PhD student from the university’s Ambleside campus and was the first text of its kind on established and cutting-edge research methods.
Prof Prince said the Routledge published book Research Methods in Outdoor Studies filled a void in a worldwide field of interest and was an essential text for researchers looking for creative techniques.
Her paper in the international Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning has been downloaded more than any other since its publication in 2019.
The work has been honoured in top Celebrating Outdoor Learning Awards and has an extensive impact. As well as influencing policy makers, it has particular benefit to people established in the field and wanting to refresh, along with those looking to challenge conventional approaches, students and anyone just starting out in research.
“Most of our work has focused on school pupils, but we have also looked at how sail training can help young people, and residential programmes for postgraduate students,” said Prof Prince.
“Many of these students are now leaders and practitioners working in the outdoors across the world. The reported effect of our research on practice has been substantial.”
Prof Loynes explained how progressive outdoor opportunities had a transformational impact on pupils and youth groups.
He added: “We have seen how residential experiences had a positive effect on the progress of those taking part. Crucially important was the outcome for vulnerable students who, for personal and family reasons, are likely to under achieve.
“Teachers told us how their students gained confidence while they were away from home, and how relationships were enhanced with both peers and staff.
“They found new ways of being friendly to each other, experienced a sense of achievement, motivation and learned to be part of a community with growing respect for each other, helping with tasks and being proactive.”
Only around 20 percent of students a year are offered residential opportunities and on average children get just one chance of a learning away adventure. In some urban areas, where income and prospects are low, they may get nothing.
The research showed an increase of nine percent in schools offering residential experiences by 2017, reflecting greater recognition of benefits and shifting policies.
The Glover Landscapes Review also stated that ‘every child should have a night under the stars’.
Although residentials were put on hold during the pandemic, providers said as they started to reopen there was renewed interest.
Prof Prince added: “Although it will take some time to restore confidence, we think during Covid teachers have really seen the potential of teaching and learning outdoors and we hope this remains.
“Our work continues with the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom and the Institute for Outdoor Learning. The university leads on the research-practice hubs project across the UK. Researchers and practitioners come together to make sure the right questions are being asked and answered. We encourage practitioners to become researchers themselves.”
For Professors Prince and Loynes the ultimate goal would be to see each and every pupil given the chance to learn away from home during their school years with the paybacks continuing for the rest of their lives.
Pictures: Prof Prince receiving her award from Andy Robinson, CEO of the Institute for Outdoor Learning
Picture: Children enjoying learning away
Picture: Prof Chris Loynes
Picture: Prof Loynes in an outdoor classroom