Education in glorious transit

27th April 2007 at 01:00
Sean McPartlin is depute head at St Margaret's Academy in Livingston

One of the pleasures of looking back on 30 years in teaching lies in the various settings in which I've operated. I started out in a school housed largely in 19th-century buildings overlooking the Meadows in Edinburgh. This was followed by a youth strategy centre on the Royal Mile, where the antiquity of the building was highlighted by the stream of camera-touting tourists asking which was the room in which Adam Smith died (it was the one with the pool table). More recently, I taught in a school dating from the 1970s and my current workplace is a mere 10 years old.

All these locations had their advantages and disadvantages, but I am tempted to suggest that the setting which has provided most highlights over the years has been the consistently present Ford Transit minibus.

There is something about the atmosphere in these 22-seaters, especially when trundling along a darkened motorway or a country road after a day in the outdoors, that lends itself to memorable moments. Pupils seem more open and trusting of each other and staff; shared experience and well-earned fatigue combine to encourage reflection, discussion and bonhomie - and a disregard for the driver being a teacher.

Over the years on these homeward journeys, pupils have made me laugh and cry, feel pride and confusion, and stunned me with their insights, bravery and fortitude.

So it's reassuring to see that the thrust of A Curriculum for Excellence supports the flexibility of "education in transit". Without a doubt, the four capacities and the means of addressing their development speak loudly of the need for continued and improved education outdoors. The recent publication, Taking Learning Outdoors, formalised this approach and made it clear that 21st-century outdoor education has progressed beyond a narrow definition of extreme sports and outward bound pursuits.

Helping pupils become environmentally aware, encouraging staff and students to look outwith the classroom to develop social understanding, and adopting a flexible approach are all ideas whose time has come - though they never went away in the best of our learning environments.

In a week when a radio report suggested that high percentages of our pupils have no idea where most of their food originally comes from, it's clear we need to be heading for the minibus. Education outdoors is for life - no way Sic Transit Gloria.

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