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Outdoor learning – the journey

The journey began in Autumn 2000, when I was appointed as Headteacher, a few weeks before the school fell into Special Measures – 7 key issues, including leadership, standards and behaviour, highlighted the extent of the challenge that lay ahead.


Boston West Academy – The Journey 2000 – 2016

2016-sept-hive

The journey began in autumn 2000, when I was appointed as Headteacher, a few weeks before the school fell into Special Measures – 7 key issues, including leadership, standards and behaviour, highlighted the extent of the challenge that lay ahead.

Within a strongly held belief that children learn best when engaged in a range of meaningful, hands-on learning experiences, the mission to provide our children with ‘the best’ education began under the banner ‘Working Together for Success’.

The first step was to give pupils a voice, listen to them and respond with action in order to build their feelings of self-worth – after all, it was their school and their future!!

The school grounds had great potential and were seen to be the ideal vehicle to begin changing the whole culture of the school. The children were consulted, their views considered, an Eco-Club established and an action plan produced. The work began, with Eco-Days at weekends creating wonderful occasions when the whole school community rolled up their sleeves to ‘get stuck in!’

Step-by-step, over a period of years, and with additional support from local businesses and organisations, the school’s Eco Warriors led a transformation of the grounds from a canvas of plain green and grey to a kaleidoscope of beauty, interest and inspiration, where pupils can relax, socialise, reflect and learn in total security.

Our passion and determination to promote outdoor learning has never faltered – its impact on children’s learning and behaviours cannot be underestimated. Activities beyond the classroom, across the whole curriculum, are now embedded in routine weekly practice and enjoyed by and influence every child in the school.

Brand photography at Boston West Academy School, Boston, Lincolnshire. PHOTO MATT WRITTLE © copyright Matt Writtle 2015.

Seven Eco Schools Green Flags and three successful Ofsted inspections on from the start of our journey, the hearts and minds of children and the wider school community have been transformed – standards are high, pupils attitudes and behaviour outstanding (Ofsted 2008 and 2012), parents supportive and the school oversubscribed.

In response to population growth in the locality and the continuing high level of demand for places, the school itself has been refurbished and expanded, increasing capacity from 280 to 420 children.

Whilst eco-work continues in all its forms, our curriculum has been developed to include Bush-craft activities, adding another dimension to our children’s active outdoor learning experience, whilst developing their direct connection with and understanding of the natural environment.

As always, central to everything we do now and as the school grows is our special word ‘CARE’ – for self, each other and the environment.

In September 2013, ‘The Hive – Centre for Learning Beyond the Classroom’ was completed. This modern, self-contained building sits neatly as an integral part of the grounds, providing a base for our children’s outdoor learning and a teacher training / meeting / small conference venue. In front of the Hive, a wonderful Garden of Inspiration has been developed, which includes interactive sculptures for music making, so connecting our passion for the Arts and Environment, with wildflower meadow to one side and allotments, poly-tunnel, bottle greenhouse and fruit orchard on the other.

2013/14 proved to be a memorable year, during which our children and staff enjoyed many hours in our grounds, engaged in exciting, motivational activities that have supported high levels of positive social interaction and performance across the whole curriculum. It has been truly inspiring to watch them in action! As well as providing consultancy for schools, Emma, our Outdoor Learning Leader, planned and delivered a series of outdoor learning courses for teachers and teaching assistants, which were extremely well received and will support other schools in developing their own approach to learning beyond the classroom.

Steve Munby (CEO CfBT Education Trust) 2013:

‘..I recently visited Boston West Academy and was impressed to see the excellent progress being made there – especially in the further development of the outdoor learning aspect of the school which is truly leading edge – the best I have ever seen.’

Sir Jim Rose CBE 2014 ‘Boston West Primary School amply demonstrates the huge benefits for children of outdoor learning. It is one of the best examples I have seen of the innovative use of the environment for enriching virtually all aspects of the curriculum.’

Our children’s ‘growing’ enthusiasm for gardening resulted in a visit to Chelsea Flower Show where some of their own plants were on display in the Miracle Gro Garden, which achieved a Silver-gilt medal!

Soon afterwards, we received confirmation that we had achieved the RHS Level 5 School Gardening Award – their highest award for primary schools!

It’s also been rewarding to see our partnerships with local organisations flourish and expand through mutually beneficial projects and events, utilising our inspirational learning environment. Once again, we were delighted to support Boston Borough Council’s quest for Britain in Bloom Gold. The Hive and gardens provided a venue for the RHS Judges and many guests from Team Boston and helped our town to achieve a Silver-gilt award, whilst our own gardens / grounds received RHS Gold and Best School Gardens in the whole of the East Midlands!!!

The school year ended with a very special accolade, when we became the first educational establishment in Lincolnshire and only the 6th school nationwide to be awarded Learning Outside the Classroom Mark at Gold level.

Awarded by the national Council for Learning Outside the Classroom, LOtC Mark (Gold) recognises exemplary LOtC provision in schools and indicates that a school is a leader in ensuring that all pupils have access to frequent, continuous and progressive learning outside the classroom.

Another EcoSchools Green Flag was confirmed as the school opened for another year, closely followed by Arts Mark Gold, both very important to us as they recognise the sustained level of quality provision in key areas of our philosophy and practice.

A few months later, Emma was ‘crowned’ LOtC Inspiring Educator of the Year, a personal award that was so richly deserved! Then I had the pleasure of attending the Independent Academies Association Conference and Awards Evening, which culminated in Boston West receiving the IAA Best Practice Award for Achievements in Learning Beyond the Classroom.

Brand photography at Boston West Academy School, Boston, Lincolnshire. PHOTO MATT WRITTLE © copyright Matt Writtle 2015.

Through 2015, you could say it was fairly ‘quiet’ by our standards! However, I was very proud to be invited to Defra HQ in London to receive the Bees’ Needs Champion of Champions Award from Lord Gardiner. The award recognises our work in developing the school grounds as a rich source of food for pollinators. Our passion to promote hands-on / outdoor learning across the whole curriculum was a key element in successfully achieving the Primary Science Gold Award early in the Autumn Term.

In June 2016, we ‘enjoyed’ a highly successful Ofsted inspection, which resulted in being judged ‘outstanding’ in every category. It was particularly pleasing that the team recognised the quality of the learning environment that has been created over time and impact of our work and passion to take learning beyond the classroom at every opportunity.

The visionary senior leaders have created a school garden and grounds that are highly impressive. Teachers make the best use of this fabulous resource so that pupils have exceptional learning opportunities. One member of staff summarised the exceptional experiences pupils have when they are learning by explaining, ‘they create memories here that will be with them for a lifetime’.

Pupils work hard and concentrate for lengthy periods of time because they are interested in their lessons and want to achieve well. They understand how the lesson is helping them to improve their knowledge or skills. For example, pupils in Year 2 were choosing items from a selection of flowers, twigs, leaves and pebbles. They worked in small teams to create a visual representation of the life cycle of a frog. Pupils explained, ’this helps us to understand it and remember it much better than just writing in a book’. (Ofsted, June 2016)

As we enter the new school year in 2016, we were very proud once again, to be awarded RHS East Midlands in Bloom Gold and Best School Garden.

We’re also buzzing with anticipation, as our bee hive area moves towards completion, in readiness to introduce two beehives and colony of pollinator friends!

Although there will always be new thinking, developments and projects, our work is now focused on deepening and improving our practice further, on the bedrock of experience that has brought us so far since our ‘mission’ began way back in 2000.

Our journey has presented many challenges but with determination and relentless hard work over many years, whilst many initiatives have come and gone and within the demands of continuous school improvement, we have kept our philosophy central to our work. Barriers are there to be broken down – what are we if we don’t follow and stick to our principles and beliefs?

As I frequently say to our children, ‘If you believe, you can achieve!’

I believe we have a responsibility to ensure that our children have a real connection and understanding of the natural world. The tide of technological innovation, amazing and essential as it is in the modern world, must not suffocate this and future generations – it’s not natural!

Let’s all ‘Get out there’ and make a difference for every child!

In the meantime, if you are working in a school and interested in visiting / discussing outdoor learning within the school grounds, view our website for information or call to discuss training and consultancy opportunities that we can provide.

 

Mike Schofield

Headteacher, Boston West Academy

Website: www.bwacademy.co.uk

Twitter: @BWHive