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Wilderness Schooling: A randomised controlled trial of the impact of an outdoor education programme on attainment outcomes in primary school pupils

Lookup NU author(s): Toby Quibell, Dr Jenna Charlton, Professor James LawORCiD


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Background: Gaps in education attainment between high and low achieving children in the primary school years are frequently evidenced in educational reports. Linked to social disadvantage, these gaps have detrimental long-term effects on learning. There is a need to close the gap in attainment by addressing barriers to learning and offering alternative contexts for education. There is increasing evidence for beneficial impacts of education delivered outdoors, yet the majority of programmes are un-structured and evidence is anecdotal and lacks experimental rigour. In addition, there is a wealth of social-emotional outcomes reported yet little in the way of educational attainment outcomes. The current study explores the educational impact of a structured curriculum-based outdoor learning programme for primary school children: ‘Wilderness schooling’. Method: A randomised-controlled trial including two groups: Wilderness schooling (n=223) and typical schooling (n=217). Attainment data in English Reading, English Writing and maths were collected at three time-points: Pre- (T1) and post-intervention (T2) and at a 6-week follow up (T3).Results: Children in the Wilderness schooling group significantly improved their attainment in all three subjects compared to controls. Trajectories of impact indicated attainment continued to increase from baseline in the following weeks after the intervention concluded. Conclusions: Results allow the case to be made for the core curriculum to be conducted outdoors in order to improve children’s learning. However it is important to consider that the structured aspects of the programme such as multiple-day delivery and targeted curriculum activities are likely to provide for these positive outcomes.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Quibell T, Charlton J, Law J

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: British Educational Research Journal

Year: 2017

Volume: 43

Issue: 3

Pages: 572-587

Print publication date: 01/06/2017

Online publication date: 07/05/2017

Acceptance date: 11/11/2016

ISSN (print): 0141-1926

ISSN (electronic): 1469-3518

Publisher: Wiley


DOI: 10.1002/berj.3273


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