The value of outdoor education

In the seminal 1986 John Hughes film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the eponymous hero utters the line:  “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Now, I realise that I am on dangerous ground in using a quotation from a notorious school avoider, but I’m going to plough on despite the risk.  Why? Because I believe that it is important for us as a school community to rec-ognise two things; the benefit of doing something different and the importance of adventure in young lives. If we don’t provide these opportunities then we miss chances for growth. Whilst Ferris didn’t use his day to white water raft, to ascend a rock face or to ride a horse, he did go and do a range of things that he didn’t normally do (including eating pancreas).  Our school expeditions have perhaps allowed many of our pupils to stop and look around, to consider other priorities and to learn from these experiences.  I suspect that for many it was a chance to learn something about themselves.
Learning can occur in the most unlikely places.  I hope that the last fortnight has given many pupils the opportunity to think beyond the exam hall or classroom and to use the great outdoors as a place of development.  If we are to learn well we must first know ourselves.  In my view spending time in a wild place away from the intrusions of a 24 hour digital media culture helps our young people grow as people.

The experience of communal living away from parents is also a vital part of growing up. Having to spend time with a range of people and to learn to co-operate despite potential differences of world view or custom allows for the moulding of a mature world view.  The challenge provided by say rock climbing has valuable lessons regarding facing difficulty.  The simple fact of being away from home develops both confidence and resilience.  Taking responsibility for your own dirty pants rather than relying on someone else to pick them up is a vital part of growing towards later adolescence and living communally provides this challenge.  I understand from my colleagues that these obstacles have been overcome and that the past fortnight has seen learning through adventure which we know from experience will have lasting effects.

In saluting the learning achievements of our expeditioners, I would be remiss in not acknowledging the role of their teachers who have given so fulsomely of their time to provide this experience.  For them it is time away from home and family and their efforts are given to enhance the opportunities the School offers to its pupils.

I am sure that parents will join with me in thanking them for all that they have done to ensure that this year’s range of expeditions have been so fulfilling for the participants. Next week we return to something like normality.  No more Alps or Ardeche.  Back to pens and desks rather than ropes and canoes.  It remains to be seen how our young people will make use of the learning that has taken place this week, but whatever the learning outcome they have certainly spent their time more profitably than Ferris.

Nicolas Hammond,