The arrival of a new teacher after the Easter holiday will mean pupils at a Derby school taking part in lessons outside on a regular basis – making the school one of the first in the country to employ a full-time outdoor education teacher to get pupils away from technology and out into the fresh air.
Steve Noake aims to teach pupils at Kingsmead Pupil Referral and Special School all areas of the curriculum in the great outdoors. Many of the students have social, emotional and mental health issues and the school believes its students will respond well to a different learning environment.
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Having taught at schools all over the world – including a decade in Bangkok – Steve has seen the benefits of teaching children outside first-hand. He said: “It’s absolutely international, children all over the world have one thing in common – they behave differently when they are outside. But in some other countries there is more emphasis on outdoor education and the benefits are extraordinary.
“Education is not just about lessons within the four walls of a classroom. The outdoor environment encourages skills such as problem solving or negotiating risk which are important for child development.
“Being outside allows you to teach differently too and there’s no end to the possibilities. You can give pupils the smallest part of a plant and invite them to use descriptive language to find out who has the matching piece. Then you can ask them to come up with a name for the plant – not the Latin name, but something descriptive and imaginative.
“We’ll be exploring the flora and fauna, talking about the mitigation of deforestation, the purification of water, how to take measurements, the list goes on and on.”
Having spent 18 years teaching English, Steve was looking for a new challenge which would fuse his passion for education with his love of nature. So he underwent training through Forest Schools and at Rural Pride in Radbourne and getting closer to nature took him back to his own childhood growing up in Normanton.
He said: “I loved nothing better than jumping on my bike and cycling over to Markeaton Park where I’d whittle some wood or just enjoy being outside. I used to take myself off camping with nothing but a tent on my back and a storm cooker. These opportunities for children to access the natural environment just aren’t the same anymore. Children spend less time outside because of concerns about safety or because they are too attached to their technology.
“Modern environments have reduced amounts of open green spaces too, which means schools have arguably the greatest potential – and responsibility – to give children access to natural environments.”
Although outdoor education is becoming increasingly popular among primary schools, it is not often offered in secondary schools in the UK. Once Steve has settled into his new role, other schools in the city will eventually be able to buy sessions through Kingsmead School’s Junction 16 programme, which offers alternatives to mainstream.
He added: “The first thing students ask is ‘how will I manage without phone signal?’. But they soon engage in other things and forget the need to spend every five minutes checking social media – which is the least social activity in the world.
“There’s loads of research that shows technology increases our cortisol (stress hormone) levels and being outside increases serotonin, which reduces those stress levels – the benefits are physiological as well as psychological. Some other members of staff have also shown interest in learning more about outdoor education too and I honestly believe that using our natural world as a resource is an important movement, which is going to grow and grow.”