SCHOOLS in Prudhoe and Ponteland have been involved in a study which has shown the benefits of learning in the outdoors.

As part of the research, 11 schools from across Northumberland, Newcastle and County Durham followed the Wilderness Schooling programme, which delivers the core curriculum in maths, science and English using the outdoors as a classroom.

Among these were Highfield Middle School in Prudhoe and Richard Coates Middle School in Ponteland.

Wilderness Schooling, based in Hexham, was set up by Toby Quibell, a teacher, therapist and visiting fellow at Newcastle University, in 2013.

Dr Quibell teamed up with Jenna Charlton and Dr James Law, both of Newcastle University’s School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences, to look at how outdoor learning affects outcomes in childrens’ achievements.

Children taking part in wilderness schooling complete activities such as treasure hunts, plotting co-ordinates and calculating distances for maths.

For English, children work on using the environment for poetic inspiration, and for science, tasks such as insect safaris and building birds’ nests and dens are part of the programme.

The achievements of the 223 pupils who took part in wilderness schooling were formally measured against the achievements of 217 pupils of the same ability, from the same schools, who remained in the classroom.

Classroom lessons were replaced by adventures outdoors one day per week for six weeks.

The children who took part were said to “significantly improve” their attainment in maths, science and English.

A report, Wilderness Schooling: a controlled trial of the impact of an outdoor education programme on attainment outcomes in primary school pupils, was compiled and it recorded a 19 per cent increase in reading attainment, a 12 per cent increase in writing attainment, and a 16 per cent increase in mathematical attainment.

Dr Quibell said: “This is the first time we have had the data to prove that teaching children outdoors, using the natural world as a classroom, can raise attainment in core subjects.

“Our study shows that wilderness schooling and school attainment are compatible. We have been collecting data and the results are clear – children who take part in wilderness schooling do better in their Year 6 SATS.”

Learning in the outdoors is a technique schools across the Tyne Valley have been adopting in recent years.

Some schools have taken part in the Teaching Trees educational programme, including Corbridge Church of England First School, which teamed up with Matfen Estate earlier this year to use its woodland as a base for lessons.

Shotley Hall estate in Shotley Bridge is also used by surrounding schools for the programme.

The sessions provide a range of creative seasonal activities which link the care and management of woods to the national curriculum.

Greenhead C of E Primary School took part in the ‘It’s a Forest School’ project last year, where they used the school’s rural setting to learn about the rich history of Hadrian’s Wall.

And since 2014, Slaley Hall has worked in partnership with Slaley First School to provide an environment where teachers can bring curriculum subjects to life, while pupils enjoy the health benefits of being outside in the fresh air.

The youngsters often study subjects such as drama, science and numeracy in the open air.

The benefits of using the outdoors as a classroom appear to stretch beyond academic achievement.

Staff at Slaley First School said that its learning outdoors programme enabled children to engage with and explore the world, stimulating their curiosity.

And according to the Wilderness Schooling report, teachers with pupils engaged in the study also reported improved behaviour and decreased hyperactivity. They said children were happier in themselves after six weeks of spending one day per week learning in the outdoors.

Richard Oades, headteacher of Highfield Middle School in Prudhoe, said: “Our curriculum is good, but this project offered something different.

“Our SATS for this group were very encouraging and their experience of Wilderness Schooling helped to accelerate progress, both academic and social.”

The report from the study was presented to teachers and health professionals at Children North East’s Poverty Proofing Conference: Tackling Poverty, Inequality and the Attainment Gap at Linden Hall, Morpeth yesterday.

The conference marks the start of a new partnership between Wilderness Schooling and the charity.

Jeremy Cripps, CEO of Children North East said: “We want every child to fulfil their potential in education and this is an effective way schools can provide a boost for under-performing children and help develop them as better learners.”