Outdoor pursuits help pupils in transition between schools
The study - published in leading Physical Education journal, Physical Education Matters - was led by John Allan, Senior Lecturer in Physical Education and Sports Pedagogy and Professor of Physical Activity and Health, Jim McKenna.
The research saw 285 Year Seven pupils take part. Of these 110 completed a bespoke outdoor and adventurous activities (OAA) residential programme. This programme was designed by teachers from the physical education (PE) department in a secondary school working alongside academics and outdoor practitioners from Leeds Metropolitan's Carnegie Great Outdoors team. It was hosted by the Youth Hostel Association in the Lake District. To create two comparison groups, one group of 35 children undertook a 'stay at school' induction, while another 140 took part in an 'off the shelf' outdoor activities programme. The research compared the impact of each programme on pupils' levels of self-determination. Self-determination is considered important when individuals face new challenges, such as when pupils start secondary school.
Overall the study found that the bespoke programme of tailor-made activities generated the most positive impact on the pupils.
Speaking about the findings, lead researcher John Allan said: "Transferring to secondary school represents a pivotal period of adjustment in a young person's life. The contrast of being taught in a single room by one teacher to having many - all unfamiliar - teachers, a timetable, a large space to be re-navigated every 50 minutes or so, and a diverse curriculum, is bound to test even the most adaptive of 11-year-olds. Importantly, we already know that transitions are enhanced when schools develop strategies that help pupils to become more responsible for their own learning, help them create new friendships and promote curriculum interest and continuity. The use of OAA residential experiences may be a key way for helping pupils to develop skills that make transitions effective. This is especially relevant at a time where an increasing number of children are spending less time being exposed to challenges in natural settings. In earlier days, these experiences would have developed pupils' capacity to adapt."
"For our bespoke programme, the school's PE department and academics tailor-made outdoor activities - such as hill-walking, scrambling, open boat canoeing and abseiling - and embedded these alongside subject-specific curriculum subjects. The activities were further developed to maximise opportunities for pupils to express themselves and to feel in control."
In addition to the qualified staff, 16 undergraduate Leeds Met PE student volunteers were recruited to act as an interface between the schoolchildren and teachers during the bespoke programme.
Professor McKenna added: "Pupils on each programme were invited to reflect upon their development. Beneficial increases were evident for both the bespoke and the 'off the shelf' OAA residential programmes. The sharpest positive increases were recorded by the 'tailor-made' programme which increased autonomy almost twice as much as other programmes. It also achieved significantly higher increases in feelings of competence (11 per cent). In the bespoke programme, for every pupil who experienced no benefit or a negative change in autonomy and competence, three reported a positive change. In the 'stayed at school' programme, more than two thirds of pupils recorded no change or a reduction in their relatedness to others.
"Importantly while all three programmes provided some benefits, the 'tailor-made' programme provided the greatest and most consistent improvements to self-determination for the largest number and widest range of pupils. This suggests that OAA can produce gains that help transition into secondary school. To do this the programme needs to help pupils to experience three main things: independence, being good at something and being valued by the group."