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Forget textbooks: it’s orienteering that can really get students places

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You may think that orienteering is about finding your way around the countryside on a soggy day in November. While that might be part of it, the skill of not getting lost in the rain would be just one benefit your students would gain if you introduced orienteering lessons in your school.

In reality, orienteering brings numerous benefits to learners. Practical skills often fill in the gaps that education can miss out. They can connect the dots between theory and practical, while revitalising students’ interest in academic studies such as English and Maths.

I work for a UK-based educational charity offering young people vocational training and development. A key element of our DfE-funded Schools Partnership Project is orienteering and map reading. Supervised by one of our instructors, students spend a day navigating to a number of waypoints across a piece of land local to them. 

We find that what they come away with is not just map reading skills, but a greater appreciation of how their immediate surroundings fit together and the ability to think laterally when the need arises. It offers problem solving lessons in a very practical environment rather than in the cerebral classroom setting.

Indeed, perhaps most vitally, orienteering offers a chance for those who are not necessarily suited to the education framework to demonstrate their talents. Young people must leave school with a positive outlook, knowing that there is always an outlet for their skills, whether academic or vocational.

Does it work? In short, yes. 92% of students surveyed felt their academic studies had improved as a direct result of being on the course, which is hugely encouraging and proves that the project is achieving its aims.

But in today’s world, practical skills, such as map reading and orienteering, aren’t typically a part of most schools’ curriculums. We hope to change the perceptions of school leaders and highlight how broadly beneficial orienteering could be.

Guy Horridge was talking to Freya Smith. He is the chief executive of vocational education charity CVQO.

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