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How a school turned around its GCSE results by taking learning outdoors

Julie Hazeldine, headteacher of Flixton Girls School in Manchester, explains how her school has utilised the challenges and adventures of outdoor learning to widen students' horizons

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Julie Hazeldine, headteacher of Flixton Girls School in Manchester, explains how her school has utilised the challenges and adventures of outdoor learning to widen students' horizons

When I joined Flixton Girls School in 2007, only 39 per cent of the school’s students achieved five or more GCSEs. In 2015, 74 per cent of students got five or more A* to C grades, including English and maths, putting us in the top 7 per cent of schools in the North West.

What was behind such a dramatic turnaround? A major factor was that we decided to move learning outdoors.  

Back in 2007, one of the first things I did was conduct a survey of all students asking how they felt about the school and their education. A common theme among the responses from the girls who were underachieving was a lack of self-esteem, self-belief and confidence. 

There were several ways we could have addressed this, but one route in particular caught our eye: the programmes run by educational charity the Outward Bound Trust. The trust runs a variety of outdoor learning programmes to develop young people and help them to become more confident, effective and capable at school and in the workplace.

The approach aligned perfectly with our school vision of creating a culture that gives students an opportunity to discover hidden talents, let them know what’s out there in the world and really widen their horizons. 

Teachers are encouraged to take part in all the activities from overnight camping, fell walking, climbing and canoeing to a wide range of teamwork challenges and this certainly contributes to the programme’s success. The staff and the instructors use every opportunity to teach the girls new facts and give them new experiences from blackberry picking to learning about glaciation and U-shaped valleys

And from a personal perspective, standing in the sea at Aberdovey in a wetsuit in February promising to catch the girls as they jumped off a boat really has done wonders for my relationships with them. 

I’d encourage any headteacher to explore the potential benefits that outdoor learning programmes can have on their school. Especially if, like Flixton when I joined all those years ago, there are any underlying issues of underachievement, and lack of self-belief and self-esteem.

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