Does your school incorporate the natural environment into its teaching? Countryside Classroom, an organisation that connects schools with food, farming and the natural environment, has recently reported that teachers want to do it more, according to research commissioned by Farming & Countryside Education (FACE). FACE, which is the lead partner for Countryside Classroom, discovered that there was a clear appetite amongst primary and secondary teachers to incorporate these topics regularly into teaching, with 79% wanting to do it more often.
So, if the majority of teachers want to engage with the outdoors, what’s stopping them?
This question led me to Steffan Griffiths, Headmaster at Norwich School and Trustee of Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association (RNAA), who has an active interest in getting young people outside to learn about the environment.
At Norwich School, how is the outdoors incorporated into the curriculum?
Outdoor learning is a big part of our formal curriculum, and has been for many years. For example, we have an outdoor classroom which is based near our lower school and it is integrated into lessons. There is a pond and an insect hotel, which the younger children really enjoy, and we have a couple of raised beds for our gardening club. For the senior school, there is a community service programme which involves horticulture and we have a conservation group. Learning about the environment and doing so outside is a big part of what the school does.
How is the RNAA encouraging schools to engage with subjects like farming?
Education is one of the charitable objects of the RNAA and it is something that we take very seriously. We know that a five-year-old needs to learn something different to a 15-year-old, so we look at it as a matrix that changes. For example, the RNAA has a series of events which tries to cope with those different needs at different ages. For KS1 and KS2 there is a ‘Spring Fling’, which is an introduction into animals and tractor rides, and then for KS4 the RNAA organises a careers and skills festival so that young people can learn about the land-based industries. The idea is to provide an overall scheme of education that takes children all the way through from 5 to 18.
Why it is important that young people learn about the great outdoors?
We live in a world where the connectivity of young people to the land around them is ever more precious, and ever more misunderstood. Therefore, it is imperative that we teach young people how these issues affect them already and how they will impact them more as they go into adulthood. This isn’t something that you can learn in the classroom, as by learning outside in a field with a farmer will speak a lot more strongly to the child.
From your experience, do pupils engage with nature?
Yes! We have a ‘Green Group’ at Norwich School and the pupils are very passionate about their relationship with the environment. Our children go to the Royal Norfolk show in great numbers, but we have to make sure that it remains relevant to them. This then goes back to the RNAA matrix.
What advice would you give to schools who want to embrace the countryside?
I would say that they should contact FACE and also their local agricultural association. They will have the links with farmers and land based-industries that they need to get their pupils out of the classroom and learning about the world around them.