Earth Education UK

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Monday, 2 May 2016

Evaluating High Quality Outdoor Learning Experiences.

In earth education we have spent a great deal of time creating very high quality learning experiences to help our participants develop a relationship with the natural world, to understand the broad principles of how our world works and to identify ways in which our own everyday lives are impacting on these life support systems and enabling them to make an informed commitment to reducing their negative impact on the planet to whatever degree they choose.

These activities have been crafted, piloted, honed and polished so we know that they work. This has not always been the case in other fields of outdoor learning. There has been a tendency for people to assume that if an activity takes place in the outdoors and if the youngsters enjoy it then it must be good. With pressures on school timetables and budgets, tightening of government budgets and increased competition for young people’s time and money from every direction the outdoor learning movement has become a great deal more professional and focussed across the board. This has manifested itself in accreditations as the Quality Badge from the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom (CLOtC). Initially focussing on safety of participants it was quickly realised that the assessment for the badge should also look at the quality of the learning.  This together with other pressures has given rise to a number of tools that providers can use to both evaluate and improve their provision.

The Outdoor Education Advisors Panel (OEAP) brings together expertise from experienced Education Advisors from Local Authority Children’s services and they have produced a range of national guidance. . While this guidance has tended to focus on safety in outdoor education of the physical and adventurous sort (understandably as this is where many of the risks lie) much of this is also relevant to those of us working in the less risky and gentler (but nevertheless essential) field of outdoor environmental learning within both the formal and informal sectors.

The English Outdoor Council have published a very useful document written by members of the OEAP called High Quality Outdoor Learning. This can be downloaded at

A range of organisations including AHOEC, FSC, IOL and the Scout Association have backed the production of a summary leaflet to support this document. (Attached). This includes a checklist which is useful for earth educators to evaluate their own delivery of individual earth education activities within a programme. Imagine that an onlooker, perhaps an Ofsted Inspector is observing your group while you are conducting the activity. This checklist (below) enables leaders to self-evaluate the learning that is going on during the session. Even the most finely crafted earth education activities may fall short of the highest quality depending on the leader. This checklist is being used by several centres for each of their staff to reflect on each session straight after they have led it. This enables reflective practitioners to look at what they have just led from the perspective of an external observer and steadily improve the quality of what they offer. It is designed to evaluate individual activities as they are led. To evaluate the scope of a complete earth education programme see “The Real World Learning Model” which I described in an earlier blog.

A high quality outdoor learning experience should exhibit the following


The session is designed to have clear learning outcomes that are discussed with the group from the beginning and regularly re-visited throughout the session...

 The session is inclusive and shows differentiation to meet the needs of all learners within the group

The session leader creates a safe and positive learning environment using an appropriate level of risk

The group are involved in the discussion on safe practice and risk management of the activity. 

The session is linked to wider curriculum outcomes and objectives through a clear transfer of learning.

The activity is delivered in a way that maximises achievement of the learning outcomes.

All participants play an active part and are engaged in learning throughout the activity.

A positive, professional and consistent relationship is built between the session leader and the participants.

The session is well paced and shows progression and clear development of skills, behaviour and knowledge from the participants.

Participants have the opportunity to be creative and apply what they are learning.

Participants can describe what they are learning as opposed to what they are doing.

Reflection and review time is built in to the session where application of learning is discussed and achievements are recognised.