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How to add outdoor adventure into the curriculum

Chris Lucas, Head of Outdoor Learning at Newquay Tretherras Academy, explains why the academy has a dedicated Outdoor Learning Department

Posted by Lucinda Reid | June 23, 2017 | Sports & leisure

I love the outdoors and adventure; I’ve been lucky to be able to turn my passion for it into a career. For the last 7 years, I have been developing a programme at Newquay Tretherras that dovetails outdoor learning with the core curriculum. As an example, this means our students might be reading poetry in the woods, experiencing the feelings a connection with nature provides, supporting their work within the classroom. All Year 7 students attend a summer camp experiencing a wide range of outdoor activities. This boosts their confidence and gives them a sense of the pursuits they may wish to be involved with throughout their school career. As they get older and more experienced, the more adventurous the programmes we have to offer them. At the apex we have the winter skills course for years 12/13 where we take students to The Outward Bound Trust’s Loch Eil centre in the Highlands of Scotland.

The fact that the school has a dedicated Outdoor Learning Department reflects its inclusive and forward-looking ethos. Collaboration and motivation permeates our school systems, which are designed for everyone to do their best. Not all of this is about outdoor education: we have a plethora of school clubs, with masses going on. We’re all about engagement and the way this develops character and resilience. Our mission is to give all our students the opportunity for real adventure, teaching them balanced risk and how to make good choices throughout their lives.

Cornwall is a holiday destination, but also one of the most economically deprived counties in the U.K. This means that many of our students have never ventured outside their area and are unfamiliar with the joy and challenges of different landscapes. This is an added bonus to travelling the 650 miles to Scotland to find snowy mountains as the students get to travel through much of the UK and the way!

It’s a tough, highly adventurous mountaineering course, attracting those students with some outdoor adventure experience. The students gain a huge sense of confidence from the experience - they learn that if you can navigate in the middle of the night on the top of the Cairngorms plateau then sleep out in a snow hole, then not much will faze you – its a really truly empowering experience, for some, a life-changing one.

After we arrive at Loch Eil, and get kitted up, the following morning begins with a 6am jog and dip in the loch. Being Newquay kids, they jump into the water with no hesitation, even though it’s still dark. But the course really starts when we get up on the hill, sliding around with ice-axes and learning mountain skills. The following day is the expedition itself, which includes digging snow holes and sleeping out under the stars. Sunday finishes with a review and certificates, culminating in a meal at the base of Ben Nevis to celebrate the achievements of the group together - awe inspiring. And the return journey to Newquay is where we really embed the learning in regular review sessions.

The benefits of this course are hard to describe, but I know that the young people gain a huge amount, physically, cognitively and emotionally. Trusting each other and their teachers is a huge part of it, and the bonds they make in their friendship groups are incalculable. I’ve kept in touch with students after they’ve left school and it’s not a platitude to say it has changed the course of their lives - enabling them to decide to do something they previously didn’t think possible.

For more information, visit Newquay Tretherras Academy's website. 

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