Take a walk on the wild side to get chal­leng­ing pupils on track

Chil­dren with be­havioural is­sues are of­ten shunted out of main­stream ed­u­ca­tion, but sim­ply tak­ing them out of the class­room en­vi­ron­ment can be enough to turn their lives around, writes Ge­orgie Sweet

TES (Times Education Supplement) - - BEHAVIOUR -

Simon suf­fered from a pro­nounced stut­ter and was quiet and with­drawn. He lacked con­fi­dence. Staff strug­gled to en­gage him in lessons. But one day, he sud­denly started tak­ing every op­por­tu­nity to read aloud in class, his stut­ter al­most dis­ap­peared, and his con­fi­dence and en­thu­si­asm for learn­ing be­came ob­vi­ous.

Then there’s Emma. She has a con­sid­er­able track record of be­havioural is­sues and has been at risk of ex­clu­sion. Bad de­ci­sion-mak­ing and a fail­ure to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for her ac­tions of­ten led to con­fronta­tions with staff mem­bers and stu­dents. Now she’s at­tend­ing vol­un­tary af­ter-school re­vi­sion sessions to im­prove her school grades. She’s more fo­cused, makes bet­ter de­ci­sions, and is be­ing po­lite to her peers and to staff.

What hap­pened to th­ese two in­di­vid­u­als to change their tra­jec­tory? Quite sim­ply, tak­ing them out­side of the class­room en­vi­ron­ment.

Every teacher recog­nises the young per­son who strug­gles to thrive in a con­ven­tional class­room. They might be very bright, but they can’t set­tle. They “bounce off the walls”, chal­lenge au­thor­ity, drown in dis­trac­tions. They don’t see any point in school – or, at least, they claim not to. In th­ese cases, schools nor­mally re­sort to be­hav­iour man­age­ment or con­tain­ment, but it rarely works and th­ese chil­dren tend to exit the main­stream sys­tem and en­ter al­ter­na­tive pro­vi­sion.

There is a bet­ter way of help­ing th­ese stu­dents. I am a mem­ber of sup­port staff for chil­dren with spe­cial ed­u­ca­tional and be­havioural needs. At our school, we’ve put in place in­ter­ven­tions in which the most be­haviourally chal­leng­ing stu­dents are of­fered out­door and ex­pe­di­tionary ex­pe­ri­ences, and it has had a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact.

Out­door ed­u­ca­tion is, thank­fully, a grow­ing el­e­ment of many schools in the UK. Few now do not of­fer an out­door ed­u­ca­tion pro­gramme, even if it is purely ex­tracur­ric­u­lar. We have tai­lored the cur­ricu­lum at our school so that out­door learn­ing is a reg­u­lar part of the timetable and we have seen some of our most chal­leng­ing stu­dents thrive.

Anx­i­ety al­le­vi­ated

The out­door ex­pe­ri­ence comes in the form of six weekly sessions of climb­ing, moun­tain bik­ing and ca­noe­ing, spread across the year and to­talling 24 days. Chil­dren in care, those with spe­cial ed­u­ca­tional needs and dis­abil­i­ties (SEND) and those at risk of ex­clu­sion have an op­por­tu­nity to take part in a weekly for­est school through­out the year, too. Out­door ed can be taken as a BTEC. We also run a very suc­cess­ful Duke of Ed­in­burgh’s Award (Dofe) pro­gramme with an in­take this year of more than 120 stu­dents for the Bronze award alone.

The first ef­fect has been a re­duc­tion of stu­dents’ anx­i­ety lev­els. Poor be­hav­iour of­ten stems from anx­i­ety about the en­vi­ron­ment in­side the class­room. By tak­ing them­selves out­doors, stu­dents of­ten find this anx­i­ety is lifted and they feel more in con­trol. They also avoid fall­ing into the typ­i­cal be­hav­iour pat­terns – which of­ten be­come ha­bit­ual

– that are trig­gered by their en­vi­ron­ment.

The sec­ond ben­e­fit has been a con­se­quence of the first: with some of the bar­ri­ers re­moved, the stu­dents be­come more en­gaged and in­volved. The group-based na­ture of out­door ac­tiv­i­ties en­cour­ages team­work and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, which helps de­velop the stu­dents’ con­fi­dence and self-es­teem.

But while out­door learn­ing in school builds a foun­da­tion for growth, have you ever con­sid­ered a real ex­pe­di­tion for your stu­dents? You might see it as shock ther­apy, jolt­ing the young per­son out of a be­hav­iour pat­tern. I pre­fer to see it as an op­por­tu­nity for them to change. Ei­ther way, what I’m re­fer­ring to here are not trips or even out­ward-bound ex­cur­sions. Rather, I am talk­ing about hard, gru­elling ex­pe­di­tions.

In my spare time, I work as a leader with the Bri­tish Ex­plor­ing So­ci­ety – a char­ity that de­vel­ops pro­grammes to take 14- to 24-yearolds into wild and re­mote lo­ca­tions to sup­port per­ma­nent change in their at­ti­tudes, skills and self-ef­fi­cacy. Those with very chal­leng­ing be­hav­iour are a key tar­get of the pro­gramme.

Lead­ers from many walks of life – sci­en­tists, pho­tog­ra­phers, doc­tors, mem­bers of the armed forces, those in out­doors ed­u­ca­tion al­ready, mountaineers, en­gi­neers and

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