Don't lose joy of dangerous games for boys

17th September 2010 at 01:00

The BBC's broadcast of Gareth Malone's Extraordinary School for Boys has been a welcome breath of fresh air to Thursday night television viewing.

I was most impressed by Gareth's bold attempt to engage an unwieldy class of Year 5 boys who, although bright and capable, are utterly stymied by lessons in literacy. With Gareth's eternal optimism and a slightly sceptical headteacher, the eight-week learning journey away from the confines of the classroom promises to take the young boys into new and exciting realms of self-discovery.

I was delighted by the first in this series addressing concern about the worrying gap between boys' and girls' attainment in literacy. Yet it also highlights an area that many education professionals and providers of learning outside the classroom activities have been championing for years: that a creative approach to the curriculum can have a profound effect on young people's social, emotional and personal development and engagement with a subject.

We know that many teachers are reticent about taking learning outside the classroom either through lack of confidence, or concern about health and safety and paperwork. But this approach should not be overlooked, it should be embraced - the benefits will undoubtedly follow.

Gareth's ideas are a perfect example of how Learning Outside the Classroom (LOtC) can take place anywhere from the school grounds to visiting a local park and I hope, over the series, we'll see how educational visits further afield to farms, museums, theatres and activity centres can also inspire learning. With careful preparation, almost any activity can be linked to curriculum targets. Those who misbehave in class through boredom or lack of motivation often blossom when we tap into their innate desire to discover and explore in a practical, hands-on way.

Of course, LOtC also challenges the modern-day "cotton wool culture". Gareth, with support from the school's headteacher, aimed to reinstate a degree of risky activity into his lessons and successfully engaged the boisterous boys in some woodland management using bow saws and felling trees. No one was squashed, all fingers remained intact and the boys positively effervesced with enthusiasm. Exposing young people to challenging and risky activities allows them to manage their own risk, deal with difficult situations and act responsibly. More importantly, learning outside the classroom can make work feel like play and young minds more receptive to what is being taught.

Knowing when, where and how to use LOtC effectively requires careful planning but it can be used across all subjects and age groups. I commend the message of this programme and hope his efforts to raise the boys' reading age by six months will come to fruition.

Although this is only the first episode I have no doubt the final results will be positive and hope other schools will be inspired to try something new with their approach to teaching and learning.

Beth Gardner, Chief executive, Council for Learning Outside the Classroom, London.

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