Jon Clarke is the Shadow Headteacher of Walsall Academy. WE spoke to him to find out more about the school’s approach to using outdoor learning to improve outcomes for white, working-class boys.
Walsall Academy is a secondary academy in the town of Bloxwich in the West Midlands. It opened in 2003 as one of the first academies in the UK and is now over-subscribed, with over 1,200 pupils on roll.
The Academy serves one of the most deprived areas in the UK (with IDACI scores in the highest 5% and pupil premium at over 50%) and low number of pupils speaking English as Additional Language (4.1%).
The school has worked to use outdoor learning, and embed the lessons students learn during outdoor learning, as an approach to tackling the underperformance of their cohort of white, working-class boys (listen to Whole Education’s debate on a curriculum that works for white working-class boys here).
What does a whole education mean at Walsall Academy?
What is Walsall Academy’s stand out practice?
- Every day, students are out of the classroom learning in different environments from art galleries to waterfalls and car manufacturing plants.
- All 208 pupils in Year 7 have an induction course at the Outward Bound Trust, and through fundraising there is no barrier to any student taking part.
- The practice has been highly integrated with use of Expeditionary Learning approaches. Find out more about another EL influenced school, XP in Doncaster, in their spotlight.
- Find out more in the DfE Character Education case studies document.
Why was outdoor learning a priority for Walsall Academy?
- The school discovered that the boys struggle with things like extended writing, where they run out of steam.
- Resilience was identified as one key challenge.
- Peer pressure is also a factor, with boys maturing later than girls and possibly more likely to see learning and working hard as ‘uncool’. For some boys, it seemed cool to appear that they were not academic.
What has the impact of outdoor learning been?
- A pilot group of 24 boys per year were selected all with an average key stage 2 average point score of over 5, alongside a control group of 24 boys.
- In 2019 the boys on the outdoor learning course gained 0.5 on average higher progress 8 score than the control group of same ability boys measured on entry. They also out performed the girls control group.
What’s next for Walsall Academy?
- Demand is higher and higher for social skills, mental health and personal wellbeing.
- The school will investigate how this can be further achieved with outdoor learning.
How is Whole Education helping on this journey?
Find out about more stand out whole education practice in our spotlights.