City Council offers up green spaces to be used as 'outdoor classrooms' in Edinburgh

Edinburgh parks, woodlands and natural heritage sites have been offered up to schools as ‘outdoor classrooms’, in a City Council effort to increase pupil capacity when schools reopen in August

The move comes following news that 11 parent councils across Edinburgh have sent a joint letter to the council voicing “deep concern” at current plans for blended learning, which will see student only be in schools either one or two days per week.

Schools have been sent a list of outdoor spaces available for use at their discretion. The list includes Marchbank Park, Ferry Glen, Ravelston Woods, Moredun Park, Redhall Park and Pilrig Park, among others.

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The council hopes that with the option of access to extra space, schools will ramp up the amount of face-to-face learning time their pupils will get.

Green Party councillors have been pushing the concept of outdoor learning for some time, and have now requested it be “part of the picture” when it comes to educating the city’s pupils going forward.

Green Education spokesperson Cllr Steve Burgess said: “From the First Minister to councils, it’s already clear that the very limited plans to re-open schools in August are going to have to be developed to make sure that children and young people are able to get closer to something that looks like normal schooling.

“To do that safely needs a lot of different pieces to be put in place including more use of community venues and extra staff. But much more outdoor learning can also be part of the picture as we have seen in Denmark and the Netherlands.

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“The good news is that Edinburgh is well-placed to see a big ramping up of outdoor learning. Many schools have fantastic green spaces nearby. Many of our staff already have qualifications like Forest Schools accreditation and the city has dozens of community and voluntary organisations who have the staff, programmes and settings to be able to help.”

The prospect of outdoor learning has received mixed reviews from Edinburgh parents. While many are enthusiastic about the idea, others have questioned its viability, particularly when it comes to pupils in upper high school years preparing for exams.

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Edinburgh parent Fiona Scott said: “My child in P4 would enjoy outdoor learning and, provided the teachers were properly engaged in it, I’m sure would benefit from it. For my sons in S2 and S4, I’m not convinced this would work. Primarily they need to be in class working towards qualifications and I just don’t see that the secondary curriculum is set up to provide this outdoors.”

Meanwhile, Carol Ann said: “Not for my S4 daughter going into the first of her exam years. In fact, I don’t think outdoor learning should be considered for senior pupils at all unless they are pursuing some kind of outdoor career such as sports, horticulture etc.”

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Ellie Hutchinson, a mother to two young children, said: “I’m a big supporter of the potential for outdoor learning; Edinburgh has so much beautiful green space that is incredibly underused by formal education providers at the moment.

“We know outdoor learning is so valuable to children and young peoples’ health and wellbeing, and we have a real opportunity to rebuild better for all our children and young people. Drawing on our existing resources, Edinburgh schools have a fantastic opportunity to trial tried and tested approaches to outdoor education, learning from colleagues across the globe and here in Scotland.”

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Council Education Convener, Ian Perry, said: “It’s important we’re creative and innovative with our plans for maximising space so as many pupils as possible can safely return safely to schools in August.

“Teaching doesn’t just have to take place in buildings and being outdoors opens up a huge new world of learning opportunities for our children and young people. We’ll build on our existing successful outdoor learning projects and are issuing schools with guidance and resources to make sure lessons they provide are creative, enjoyable and challenging.”

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Council Education Vice-Convener, Alison Dickie, said: “Edinburgh is fortunate to have so many award-winning parks and green spaces which are ideal for outdoor learning. We’ve already identified dozens of potential areas in the city that schools can use ranging from parks to natural heritage sites and woods. We’ve also been in regular contact with a number of partners who provide outdoor learning to see how we can use their skills and expertise when schools reopen.

“The outdoor environment offers exciting and accessible opportunities which we need to embrace and I’m sure as a result even more of our young people will value and appreciate all the natural heritage and outdoor spaces that Edinburgh has to offer.”