The two rural schools that make up the Lavington Park Federation in West Sussex use the rich resources of the outdoor environment to help build students' understanding of, and enjoyment in, geography and other subjects.
Helen Martin became head of Graffham Infant School and Duncton Junior School in 2007. She felt that the curriculum had become stale and outdated. As a geographer, she wanted to use the schools' beautiful location near the South Downs as a resource for outdoor teaching by creating a Forest School a mile away.
The old ways were scrapped and teachers were given the freedom - and challenge - to plan creatively. The initial focus was on geography, concentrating on the local area. The outdoor environment was used as the "spine" of a high-quality, revitalised curriculum developed over the next two years.
The federation joined the Forest School network. Children learn practical and social skills through a range of outdoor activities, including building a fire, searching for pirate treasure and finding a safe shelter in the rain. They are helped to take calculated risks outdoors, and their experiences are used in the classroom to improve literacy and numeracy, and as a starting point for imaginative written and creative work.
For example, William, a Year 3 student, led a class project to find the best place to build a bridge across a stream. This led to fruitful group work outdoors and in the classroom, and boosted his language skills and self-confidence.
Students learn about sustainability and the need to look after their environment for future generations. They also share their own knowledge: one student, for example, explained to her teacher which fungi were edible mushrooms and which were poisonous toadstools.
All students get the chance to experience the outdoors. Each class has a six-week block of outdoor learning every year while the Early Years Foundation Stage and Reception classes use the resource all year round.
Signs of success
In June 2011 Ofsted found that there had been "a marked improvement in the overall quality of teaching and in pupils' progress across a range of subjects". Students had become "confident writers who (knew) grammatical conventions well" and were "independent and highly motivated learners". Activities across all subjects led to an improvement in literacy skills, especially writing. In addition, the federation has been given a Healthy School award and is nationally recognised for its work as a Forest School.
What the inspectors said
"Pupils become confident learners and enjoy being at school; positive relationships are fostered and the outside environment acts as a 'leveller' which improves the self-esteem of all students. Parents and carers remark on the opportunities available to their children, how well their interests have been developed and how effectively they are used in the Forest School curriculum. There is a strong focus on freedom to learn and to develop a sense of belonging and empathy with their local environment."
Read the full Ofsted case study report at bit.ly10ei38F
Name: Lavington Park Federation: Graffham Infant School and Duncton Junior School
Location: West Sussex
Type: Mixed infant and junior schools
Age: range 4-11
Number of students: Around 100
Intake: Mostly white British.