Countryside Classroom - Connecting schools with food, farming and the natural environment

Growing Schools has been re-launched as Countryside Classroom, the largest ever partnership of organisations who are committed to helping children learn about food, farming and/or the natural environment.

It is the vision of Countryside Classroom that schools and teachers across the UK will embrace food, farming and the natural environment as essential components of a broad and balanced curriculum, incorporating them into day-to-day learning. As a result of this, every child will have the opportunity to learn about and experience these topics in diverse ways that are increasingly supported by experiences outside the classroom.

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Making the Case

Research Papers

A Research Review of Outdoor Learning

Rickinson, Dillon, Teamey, Morris, Choi, Sanders and Benefield, National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) 2004.

The review critically examined 150 pieces of research on outdoor learning published in English between 1993 and 2003. The literature encompassed three main types of outdoor learning with primary school pupils, secondary school students and undergraduate learners: fieldwork and outdoor visits; outdoor adventure education; school grounds/community projects. Key findings on the impact of fieldwork and visits were that w hen properly conceived, adequately planned, well taught and effectively followed up, these experiences offer learners opportunities to develop their knowledge and skills in ways that add value to their everyday experiences in the classroom. A full version of the report costs £8 +£2 p&p from the Field Studies Council http://www.field-studies-council/


Aspects of Good Practice

Ofsted 2004.

An evaluation commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) of the personal development aspects of outdoor education with specific focus on the work of outdoor education centres. This report concentrates on the opportunities in outdoor education provided for students aged 9-16 years, linked to aspects of the National Curriculum in PE.


Benchmarking the views of children on food, farming and countryside issues Childwise Farming and Countryside Education (FACE), June 2011

How much do children understand about food and farming, and how do they learn more?

Children aged from 7 to 15 were asked about their attitudes to various aspects of food, farming and the countryside. 2500 children from 65 schools completed online questionnaires and there were 11 discussion groups. The research covered England, Scotland and Wales and included children from urban, suburban and rural areas with varying abilities and backgrounds. Similar research was carried out in 2006/7 and 2008.

This research was commissioned by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) which was the primary funder, in conjunction with Farming & Countryside Education (FACE).


Changing Minds: the lasting impact of school trips

Peacock, Alan University of Exeter 2006.

Report on the positive impact on schools taking part in the National Trust’s Guardianship Scheme. 


Educational opportunities from outdoor learning as children begin the primary curriculum: briefing report 2012

During the Foundation Stage, children have many opportunities to learn outside as the Early Years Foundation Stage guidance promotes a play - based pedagogy both indoors and outdoors. As children move into statutory schooling at age 5 or 6, their educational experiences are guided by the requirements of the national curriculum. Opportunities to learn experientially outside become restricted as increasingly teacher - directed lessons focus on prescribed learning outcomes. Within this curricular context, our research asked, how and in what ways does being outside extend play - based learning into the primary years? Can outdoor play and learning opportunities support learning in the period of transition from the Foundation Stage to Key Stage 1?


Education Outside The Classroom: An assessment of activity and practice in schools and local authorities

National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER). DfES with Natural England and Farming and Countryside Education (FACE) 2006.

An assessment of the extent and nature of learning outside the classroom activity and practice in schools and local authorities in England. There was a general perception, across both school and local authority respondents, that the extent of provision had either increased over the last five years, or had remained broadly the same. Most commonly reported activities were school-site activities or off-site day visits, primarily to man-made environments, while residential or day visits to natural environments were less frequently mentioned. Secondary school pupils seemed less likely to be offered opportunities in schools with higher levels of deprivation, lower levels of achievement and higher proportions of pupils with special educational needs.


Education Outside The Classroom: Research to identify what training is offered by initial teacher training institutions

National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), DfES, in collaboration with Natural England and Farming and Countryside Education (FACE) 2006.

A study to provide information on the extent and nature of training in learning outside the classroom in initial teacher training (ITT) institutions, across curriculum subjects and across different types of teacher training courses. The results suggested substantial variation in the amount of training across courses and across institutions. Learning outside the classroom was explicitly addressed in nearly 90 per cent of primary and secondary ITT courses. The majority of respondents said there was an expectation that trainees had some practical experience of learning outside the classroom , either as a course requirement or a preferred option.


Engaging and Learning with the Outdoors - the final report of the outdoor classroom in a rural context action research project

Dillon Justin et al, National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER).

Case studies and analysis of effective practice, based on observing students and teachers at work in school grounds, on farms and in outdoor study centres across England.


Every Experience Matters, an evidence based review of the role of learning outside the classroom on the development of the whole young person

Professor Karen Malone Faculty of Education University of Wollongong, Farming and Countryside Education (FACE) 2008.

This review provides evidence that ‘every experience matters’ and that learning outside the classroom can contribute to children’s whole development and to the achievement of the five Every Child Matters outcomes. Additionally, it serves to acknowledge the important role that Learning Outside the Classroom (LOtC) could have in raising young people’s achievement. The report draws on research from around the globe and provides evidence that children engaged in LOtC attain higher levels of knowledge and skills, have greater levels of physical fitness and motor skill development, increased confidence and self-esteem, show leadership qualities, are socially competent and more environmentally responsible. The review confirms that, when children experience the world through explorative play and experiential learning activities in school grounds, wilderness camps, art galleries, parks, or community settings their lives can be positively changed.


Geography in Schools: changing practice

Ofsted 2008.

Presents good practice in the teaching of Geography. The report also highlights the way successful geography teachers are using outdoor fieldwork activities to boost understanding of the subject, raise standards, and motivate pupils. It includes example case studies.


Green Attitudes or Learned Responses?

Morris,M with Schagen,I, National Foundation for Education Research (NFER)1996.

Environmental education was highlighted as an area for research support under Phase III of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) research programme into Global Environmental Change (GEC). This report is one of a series of outcomes of a project which addressed one of the central aims of the GEC programme: 'Can people be persuaded to make changes in behaviour - through reducing consumption, recycling or conserving resources?' The research drew on survey data from staff in 294 schools in England and Wales, interviews with staff in 40 schools, and semi-projective questionnaires administered to 428 young people in Year 11.


Growing in Schools - A vital tool for children's learning.

Dr Simon Thornton-Wood (RHS) and National Foundation for Education Research (NFER)2010.

Shows the enormous impact gardening plays in a child’s wellbeing, learning and development. Commissioned by the RHS from independent researchers the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), the report highlights how schools which actively use a garden, develop ‘resilient,’ ‘ready to learn’ and ‘responsible’ children – 3R attributes that make up well-balanced, happier, healthy, rounded individuals. The RHS believes these 3 R’s can be learnt when gardening is used as a teaching tool, not just an extra-curricular activity.

Download the Research Document


Leadership for embedding outdoor learning within the primary curriculum:

NCSL Research Associate report 2012  

This study considers a range of leadership strategies that can be employed to successfully embed the use of the outdoors in children’s learning throughout their primary school education. Within the current context of the potential for greater flexibility in curriculum design, school leaders have the opportunity to exert greater influence over their particular school’s approach. This might include a greater emphasis on learning outdoors.


Measuring Success: A guide to evaluating school grounds projects

Learning Through Landscapes 2004.

Aimed at schools and school grounds practitioners, the Measuring Success pack includes an introduction to evaluation concepts; a range of activities to get children and adults fully involved in evaluation; questionnaires for staff and pupils; and feedback forms to share your findings with Learning Through Landscapes.

Cost £9.95, order from Learning through Landscapes at


National School Grounds Survey

Learning through Landscapes 2003.

The research was conducted by LTL using a postal questionnaire first piloted in London. 700 schools were selected for survey across the country, each having actively taken steps to improve their grounds during the past four years. 351 schools responded (50%). Of the schools surveyed, 65% believed that school grounds improvements had increased overall attitudes to learning and over half have seen improved academic achievement (52%). The results also show considerable improvements in behaviour (73%), social interaction (84%) and self-esteem (64%) as well as a significant reduction in bullying (64%). The research highlights increases in children enjoying and having fun in their grounds (90%) and improvements in active play and games (85%).

Further information from Learning through Landscapes: 


Natural Childhood

Stephen Moss: National Trust publication 2012

This report presents compelling evidence that we as a nation, and especially our children, are exhibiting the symptoms of a modern phenomenon known as ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’. We look at what this disorder is costing us, why it’s proving so difficult to reverse, and gather current thinking on what we must do to eliminate it, before opening up the question to the nation for consideration.


Outdoor Education in Scotland: A summary of recent research

Robbie Nicol, Peter Higgins, Hamish Ross and Greg Mannion, Scottish Natural Heritage and Learning and Teaching Scotland 2007.

A report on seven research projects carried out between 2005 and 2007. It illustrates how outdoor education in Scotland is responding to significant curricular developments and makes numerous observations that are relevant to the development of policy across the UK.


Pupils’ experiences and perspectives of the National Curriculum and assessment

NFER for QCA 2006.

A review of the research on pupils’ experiences of and perspectives on the curriculum (including the whole curriculum, individual subjects, assessment and work-related learning) published in the UK between 1989 and 2005. A key finding was: enjoyable and ‘fun’ learning might be further addressed through more visible relevance to daily life and work, even greater emphasis on practical activity, and opportunities for responsibility, autonomy and personal choice.


Raising Achievement through the Environment

Dr Stuart Nundy, National Association of Field Studies Officers (NAFSO) 2001.

This paper presents a synopsis of the evidence to date, together with the results of recent research, which shows that work in field centres has the capacity to allow pupils to operate at levels of learning higher than those attainable within the classroom alone, thus significantly enhancing achievement. As a consequence, this document will provide evidence to argue for centres to be viewed as a central and integral part of education provision.

Cost £6, order from NAFSO at


Residential outdoor education

English Outdoor Council 2013


Review of social and economic benefits and barriers to learning in the natural environment.

Natural England commissioned report 2012

The Natural Environment White Paper The Natural Choice: securing the value of nature (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 2011) sets out the need to strengthen the connection between people and nature, and gives an explicit call for every child in England to be given the opportunity to experience and learn about the natural environment. To help achieve this ambition, Government sets out several key reforms which include a commitment to removing challenges and increasing teachers and schools abilities to teach outdoors.


Taking the first step forward towards an Education for Sustainable Development : Good practice in primary and secondary schools 2003

Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) 2003.

In 1998, the government brought together a panel of experts to provide advice on education for sustainable development (ESD), in particular, to recommend what action should be taken in schools to promote ESD in order to ensure that ‘pupils are fully-equipped to be active citizens for the new millennium’. The revision of the National Curriculum in 2000 raised the profile of ESD and schools are now asked to promote pupils' commitment to sustainable development.

The impact of school gardening on learning

NFER report to the Royal Horticultural Society 2010

Following the launch of the Campaign for School Gardening in 2007, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) commissioned the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) to assess the impact of school gardening on children’s learning and behaviour. This report presents the findings from the qualitative study of a representative sample of ten schools participating in the Campaign.


What's the use of Research in Environmental Education?

National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) 2003.

This paper aims to raise questions and stimulate discussion about the use and usefulness of research for improving practice in environmental education. It reports findings from a recent collaborative project entitled ‘Education for Sustainable Development – Making Research Count’. This involved a researcher and seven practitioners working together to explore connections between research and practice in environmental education. Examples and experiences from this project are discussed in relation to various models of research utilisation. Consideration is given to the kinds of research ideas that interested the practitioners, and the ways in which these were used by the practitioners in their individual contexts.The paper ends by suggesting that questions of research utilisation need to be seen within the context of wider debates about professional learning, research-engaged schools, pedagogical change and collaborative inquiry