It’s snowing in East Manchester and Year 4 are outside.
In most schools across the country the children would be unprepared for the conditions and bundled inside for wet-play activities but for Millbrook Primary School, and Headteacher Elizabeth Turner, (BA (Hons) Primary Education and English with QTS, 1996) it’s far from being a concern.
“The pupils stay outside in all weathers,” says Elizabeth, “It’s something they’ve dealt with from the age of three, and so they’re completely prepared.”
Millbrook Primary in Stalybridge is a Forest School, one of a small but growing number of schools with a focus on outdoor learning, a concept which was founded and popularised in Scandinavia, and introduced to the UK in the 1990s.
“At Millbrook, each year group spends either a full morning or an afternoon outside each week. It’s an integral part of the curriculum alongside English, Maths, Science, and all of the subjects you would expect us to cover.”
“Working in the forest allows pupils to develop their social and emotional skills. They work differently outside. Through building dens, making knots, creating traps and learning how to build fires, the students learn about how to work safely, how to reflect and how to resolve conflict.”
Elizabeth has worked at Millbrook since she graduated from Edge Hill, initially as Deputy Headteacher, before becoming Headteacher in 2013.
“When I first started working here we had a very small building, with a lot of outdoor space which wasn’t really used at all.
“A member of staff was carrying out a research project on Forest Schools in education, and
using outdoor education to raise levels of attainment in boys’ writing skills. This meant that we were able to secure lottery funding to develop the outdoors as a classroom. We planted trees, excavated the ground and managed to transform the landscape around the school so that it was perfect for outdoor education.”
Pupils at Millbrook Primary now have access to a large outdoor space where they engage in age-appropriate outdoor activities, from outdoor storytelling and treasure hunts to working with fire and tools and playing in the mud kitchen.
“Some pupils struggle to flourish in a traditional classroom environment, so having the
opportunity to engage in outdoor learning can be transformative. We see some pupils who would usually be quiet completely change when they’re learning in the forest. Students with speech and language difficulties gain self-confidence, shouting instructions to their peers and having a positive impact.
“We’ve also found that it has begun to close the gender gap between pupils in our school.”
With tree climbing, outdoor cooking and woodwork on the agenda, you could be forgiven for assuming that a Forest Schools have their fair share of risks, but Elizabeth suggests that this is not the case.
“I would argue that the pupils at our school are far more aware of how to behave safely than the average person. From early on, pupils are taught how to assess risk and make informed decisions when they’re climbing a tree or crossing a bridge. They also know about how to behave around fire and adverse weather. When proper preparation and education are involved there is very little risk at all.”
Elizabeth credits Edge Hill for her preparation for a career in teaching,
“I really enjoyed my time at Edge Hill. Studying there for four years made me feel really well-prepared when I graduated, I would recommend it to anyone hoping to get into teaching.”