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Conference Programme 2023


Sustainable Estate

15 Nov 2023
Stage 1

This session will explore the learning opportunities provided through place-based experiences outdoors, to support learning for sustainability and the skills children and young people need to meet the challenges of a changing world. We will consider limiting factors within Scotland’s school estate and discover how we can make better use of use of school grounds to address climate change using a new design and learning toolkit. Survey findings will paint a picture of changing trends in practice and help make recommendations for better practice in all our learning places.

Introduction: a place-based approach to learning
Penny Martin, Outdoor Learning Advisor, People & Places, NatureScot

We are facing the twin emergencies of climate change and biodiversity loss. This introduction will present the provocation to participants on whether the school estate currently meets our learners’ needs in this challenging context. How can we design and use our learning estate to the fullest extent in terms of place and space, in order to support an outdoor pedagogy to equip children and young people with the skills needed to meet the challenges of their changing world?

We need to deliver nature-based solutions to address the climate and nature emergency, so we will explore how we can use learning environments to support the development of these skills in children and young people.

An Ecology of Learning Spaces: Play and Education in the Outdoors in Scotland Post-Covid
Dr. Greg Mannion, Senior Lecturer in Education, University of Stirling & Claire Ramjan, Lecturer in Outdoor Learning and Learning for Sustainability, University of the West of Scotland

There is a need to provide young people with opportunities to learn outdoors. In recent research (Children’s parliament, 2022), children have called for the chance to learn about climate change and the natural world through connections with the outdoors. In Scotland, outdoor learning is a key component of the curricular entitlement of Learning for Sustainability (LfS). In this presentation, we describe the results of a study which looks to demonstrate experiences of outdoor learning provision by schools and early years establishments.

The research described here is a unique cross-sectional analysis of evidence collected in the summer term of three years, 2006, 2014 and 2022. The raw data was collected by teachers and early years practitioners, recording each individual outdoor learning event in their establishment during the designated survey period. Collating and analysing this data allows us to accurately document the changing picture of outdoor provision over these 16 years. In 2022, we found that early years outdoor learning provision has increased compared to 2014, however in primary schools, this has decreased.

For each outdoor learning event described, practitioners told us about the length of time outdoors, the location(s) of the activity, related costs, and curricular connections. In the 2022 study, we asked specifically about outdoor responses to the post-covid return to school settings. Drawing out an ecology of learning places through this data, we are able to describe and make connections between the places that schools and early years settings have access to outdoors, and the length of time children are able to spend outdoors. We are also able to describe some of the factors which support outdoor provision (in particular, post-Covid). The implications for the design of schools and early years settings, their grounds and the greenspaces locally to them will be explored and recommendations for future practice identified.

Climate Ready School Grounds
Matt Robinson, Scotland Director, Learning through Landscapes

Climate Ready School Grounds (CRSG) is a partnership between Architecture and Design Scotland (A&DS) and Learning through Landscapes (LtL).
This workshop will take participants through an inspiring project, highlighting the opportunities for us all in adapting our schools for the future and in doing so educating future generations about how to take action, climate science and adaptation measures. With insight into our project, and others across the world, this session will transform how you view school grounds in the future.

The school estate in Scotland covers an area the size of Dundee city, with most of the outdoor spaces being hard surfaced or maintained grasses. These spaces do little to mitigate the impacts of climate change, and are poor areas for biodiversity, learning and play. Our Learning Estate Strategy does not currently expand on the role of school grounds in practical detail, around climate mitigation and adaptation, or indeed as part of learning for sustainability.

We set out to share the possibilities of using school grounds as a climate adaption measure – whether a new build or existing school spaces. The project has drawn together information from partner schools, and technical knowledge from across the UK. We will then share a practical suite of tools, aimed at two different audiences - Designers and Facilities Managers, as well as teachers and pupils.

The A&DS webpage will host technical advice and case studies in one location, based around our 6 technical areas. Intended as a ‘one stop shop’, these resources will assist in the design, specification and management of sites.

The LtL website will host resources which will help teachers and pupils understand and develop their grounds within the 6 technical areas, and to take practical action on climate change and mitigation. These experiences connect strongly with Learning for Sustainability within our Curriculum.


Penny Martin, Outdoor Learning Advisor - NatureScot
Greg Mannion, Senior Lecturer in Education - University of Stirling
Claire Ramjan, Lecturer in Outdoor Learning and Learning for Sustainability - University of the West of Scotland
Matt Robinson, Scotland Director - Learning through Landscapes
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