Pupils at Kirkby Sports College (KSC) are being taught bushcraft and woodland skills as part of an innovative outdoor education project.
The Forest Schools initiative is designed to take schoolchildren from an urban environment and teach them new skills and the value of responsibility and self-reliance.
It provides an opportunity to develop confidence, independence, team working and problem solving, through hands-on learning in an outdoors woodland environment.
Ged Shutt, Director of Learning, Physical Education, Sport and Dance at KSC, said the scheme has been so successful KSC is now planning to develop the woodland behind the college into a permanent “Forest Schools” learning space.
Mr Shutt pitched the idea to the school after reading about similar initiatives in Denmark and Sweden producing positive outdoor learning experiences for children.
“I love the outdoors so when I heard about the Forest Schools initiative’s success abroad I investigated to see if there was a programme in the UK,” he said, “The school sent me on a course with Archimedes Training, which endorses the scheme over here, and when I qualified we began taking Year 7 pupils to Stadt Moers Park Country Park in Whiston.”
Each course, run by Mr Shutt and the Knowsley Green Space Rangers, lasts for one day a week, for up to two months. Pupils are instructed on a range of woodland activities such as building natural shelters, campfire construction, traditional woodland tools, woodland conservation and environmental sustainability.
“I have had pupils from every year group referred to me since we began this scheme,” said Mr Shutt. “We have helped a range of pupils from behavioural, confidence and concentration issues to rewarding good behaviour.
“When pupils first start on the course they initially just want to run around and explore the wood. So we encourage their natural curiosity but provide boundaries, safety and social rules to help let them settle in. Although we have schemes of work for the courses we run, the learning is learner-led. Activities and projects are suggested or demonstrated, but the pupils are not made to do anything. We find if the Knowsley Green Space Rangers and myself start an activity, pupils will naturally come over to investigate and the learning experience goes from there.
“We always make sure they are safe, but we give them space. If they come to us and ask, we will help them. For instance, after a while pupils learn if they can’t make a fire, they won’t have a hot drink or hot food. If they have a problem with a task, they can come to us and we help them assess why their approach has not worked this time and how they can plan to improve for successive attempts. We don’t do it for them. The idea is that the pupils develop a sense of perseverance, self-reliance and responsibility for their learning. Characteristics and expectations that we want to instil in them, to support them through their studies at KSC and their lives.
“By the end of the course what strikes you the most is the stillness. There is a big difference between pupils doing nothing and being still. Most of the time these pupils have so much going on around them in school and their lives that they don’t get to experience time for quiet reflection or conversation. To see sometimes very diverse groups working together calmly and co-operatively, sometimes even just sitting and having a quiet chat with each other over a campfire that they created, is very rewarding. The groups respond to the surroundings and the challenge very quickly.”
Mr Shutt said reports of behavioural incidents among pupils who have attended the Forest Schools initiative have fallen significantly. Now the college is looking to establish a permanent Forest Schools area on-site to open the programme up to more pupils across the whole curriculum.
“We plan to carry out a major clear-up of the woodland behind the college,” said Mr Shutt. “Once that is completed, the Forest School will maintain and manage the area as part of the programme. Successive groups of learners will take responsibility for the environmental sustainability of the woodland and it’s wildlife.
“Our intention is to continue to go off-site as well, to complement our established Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme, so that pupils can add value to their CV and boost their employment prospects when they leave KSC.”
PIC CAPTION: Ged Shutt, Director of Learning, Physical Education, Sport and Dance at KSC.
Kirkby Sports College
Kirkby Sports College Centre for Learning was officially opened in September 2009, by Steve Munby, Chief Executive of the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children’s Services, and former Executive Director of Knowsley’s Children & Family Services.
Kirkby Sports College Centre for Learning provides secondary education for pupils aged from 11-16, for up to 1200 pupils, with a maximum intake of 240 places per year.
The centre was Knowsley’s third Building Schools for the Future (BSF) Centre for Learning to open its doors to pupils, so that they, along with the community, can have a world class education with state of the art technology, as well as excellent facilities for sport, cultural and leisure activities. This centre specialises in sports and is a centre for excellence for maths.
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