Where the wild things are

A former rector has donated an outdoor education centre to Kelvinside Academy

Kelvinside Academy has opened a new Wilderness Campus in the Cairngorms National Park, thanks to a generous six-figure donation from former rector, John Duff.

The launch of the Wilderness Campus is part of a wide-ranging educational strategy implemented throughout the school since the appointment of Rector Ian Munro two years ago, which seeks to add genuine breadth and innovation to the curriculum.  

The 36-year-old, who is the youngest Headmaster of any HMC independent school in the world, said, “We are indebted to John Duff. His generosity will play a defining role in the education of our pupils for generations to come.” 

“John Duff has travelled and explored all of his adult life – there are only two countries in the world he has not set foot in. His spirit of adventure will form the bedrock of the curriculum at our Wilderness Campus,” continued Ian. 

“A growing body of educational research provides a clear rationale for working with youngsters in the outdoors. Doing so brings the curriculum alive, it aids an understanding of the natural environment and related issues of sustainability, and it supports the development of confidence and resilience through adventure and expedition. Indeed, I believe a significant part of learning and growth should happen outside the classroom.”

Situated in Strathdon, just two miles from the Lecht Ski Centre, the campus will give pupils year-round access to mountain ranges, glens, forests and rivers. A full-time Head of Outdoor Learning, Bex Currie, has been appointed to head-up the campus. 

Bex has eight years’ experience of leading learning in the outdoors at both a domestic level with the likes of The Prince’s Trust, and internationally in the UAE, Oman and Kenya. She has qualifications in a variety of outdoor activities, including mountaineering and a range of paddle sports. 

“My new role has an important part to play in this digital climate. Kids don’t play outside anymore and often struggle to think outside the box. They’re consumed by smartphones, video games and social media. Outdoor education provides opportunities for pupils to guide their own learning, develop critical thinking skills, fitness, and help ensure the health and wellbeing of pupils,” said Bex. 

Thanks to the substantial donation from former rector of 18-years, John Duff, the school has converted a hotel with extensive outbuildings into dormitories, teaching spaces, group catering facilities and relaxation areas. An associated bothy is being renovated into a classroom and field lab for use by biology and geography departments. 

The new campus and appointment of Bex Currie will allow outdoor education to be embedded deeply within the school’s core curriculum. It will also support existing co-curricular activities such as Duke of Edinburgh expeditions and Combined Cadet Force (CCF) field trips, and with art retreats and writing weekends in the pipeline, the campus will enrich the school’s traditional subject offering.  

Outdoor education is playing an increasingly important role at the 140-year-old school. Last year saw the official opening of Kelvinside Academy’s outdoor nursery campus for children aged one to five, while the Balgray nursery campus in Glasgow’s West End includes a Forest Kindergarten. Pupils also have access to the school yacht, which is berthed in Greenock.