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From Vision to Reality: the story of outdoor learning at Ashby Church of England Primary School

“Our forest sessions have provided opportunities to grow confidence and self-esteem: students are already becoming better connected to nature, moving more and gaining mental health benefits. Our outdoor curriculum sessions provide opportunities to teach a more active curriculum and are supporting neurodivergent children to learn academic subjects more easily. On top of this, the general feedback from the children is that it is deemed more exciting, fun and different!”

12 Feb 2024

That’s how teacher, Jess Murray describes the change she’s seen in pupils in just six months since the school launched its outdoor learning space., thanks to advice, support and funding received from us.

As this primary school in Ashby de la Zouch claims the most urban setting, with the least available green space, the idea of delivering outdoor learning could have been simply rejected as presenting too much of a challenge.

However, one visionary teacher thought otherwise and so, determined to overcome these constraints, and inspired by both the academic and holistic benefits of outdoor learning, she shared her vision with the school’s senior leadership team. Jess recognized that a forest school could offer the pupils the chance to tap into learning and development that couldn't be found in a traditional classroom setting.

Jess explained: “I knew about the benefits that outdoor learning could offer children and was determined for our school to be a part of this vision. I was appointed as the school’s outdoor learning and development lead and identified a small piece of unused land on the site, surrounded by trees and bushes, that could be developed into an engaging outdoor classroom.”

After getting in touch with us to learn more about the grants and support available to them and armed with our help and guidance, the school applied for a grant which was used to clear the site and provide suitable equipment so the improvement of the area could begin. This was in addition to a training bursary which allowed Jess to undertake the Forest School Leader Level 3 qualification. With this newly acquired knowledge, she was then able to develop an outdoor curriculum that suited the needs of the school’s 310 students, to provide an engaging hands-on learning experience.

Overall, the school’s outdoor education offering has transformed the school culture, led to broader lesson content, and created a healthier and more engaging learning environment for students.

“Working with the team at the National Forest has been a pleasure,” said Jess, “and the whole process from applying for the grant to getting our forest school up and running was very smooth and easy.”

Across the country, there is a growing interest in outdoor learning and the benefits it offers children, but the uptake in primary schools is variable.

A recent study from Public Health England found that 28% of children aged between 2 and 15 are overweight or obese, and the Children and Young People's Mental Health Coalition Survey found that 1 in 10 has a mental health problem.

Data gathered as part of the National Child Measurement Programme and published by NHS Digital, reveals that more than 10% of reception-age children (age 4 to 5) were obese in 2021/22, with a further 12% being overweight. At age 10-11 (year 6), 23% were obese and 14% overweight.

Our recent YouGov survey of UK parents about their perception of their children's relationship with the outdoors and the impacts of outdoor learning was also insightful; 69% of parents say that the increasing use of technology is driving a disconnect to nature. 



We know that learning outside the classroom and contact with nature can help address these issues and improve the well-being of children and that’s why we seek to offer grant funding, advice and support to teachers and schools within the National Forest boundary to embed outdoor learning in 100% of primary schools. We’re thrilled that we have already reached over 78% and we’re continuing to engage with the remaining schools and also looking to extend support into secondary and SEND schools.

Ashby Church of England Primary School exemplifies what can happen when one person has a vision and is committed to making it a reality. Jess's passion and initiative have created a positive and inspiring change which, together with the school's commitment to outdoor learning is a shining example of how an idea can grow into healthier, more sustainable future, transforming lives and enriching educational experiences along the way.

If you have been inspired by this school’s success story and would like to help us continue supporting schools, education and training in the National Forest, then please do make a donation and play your part in a greener and healthier future for all children.

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