EDUCATION: Doing the return to school differently in Argyll and Bute

By Aileen Maclennon

Argyll and Bute Council has taken an innovative approach to ensure that young people feel safe, secure and resilient as they settle back into school-life after lockdown.

With pupils in Cardross, Helensburgh and the LOchside having spent a lot of time away from friends in recent months, and many no doubt feeling anxious, the council teamed up with Scout Adventures Lochgoilhead and Ardroy and Benmore Outdoor Education Centres, to develop an itinerary of outdoor learning activities for children and young people across Argyll and Bute, focussing on positive health and wellbeing.

Scout Adventures Lochgoilhead, were asked to deliver activities for the council’s school hubs during last summer’s lockdown. Due to the number of schools involved, the company enlisted the help of Ardroy and Benmore Outdoor Education Centres too, and together they put on a number of hugely popular outdoor activities. Because of this success, the trio are working with the council once again to deliver further outdoor learning for all Argyll and Bute pupils, from now until the summer break.

The Council’s Policy Lead for Education, Councillor Yvonne McNeilly, said: “The last 12 months have been a challenging time for everyone, not least our children and young people.

“We know how important outdoor learning is in education, and we have no shortage of stunning natural resources around us, so I’m delighted that we’re working in partnership with these local centres again to provide pupils with amazing experiences.

“It is vital to us that activities are flexible and focus on delivering what our pupils need. For some schools this means orienteering in the playground, for others it means being able to go mountain biking or hillwalking. It is also really important that every school has the chance to benefit from these type of activities, regardless of their location. Argyll and Bute has a diverse geographic landscape so it’s vital that all our children have the same opportunities, whether they live on the mainland or one of our islands.

“Outdoor learning has many, many benefits. It helps physical and mental health, enables young people to connect with the world around them and encourages independence; all things that are equally important as we enter into this recovery phase. I look forward to hearing about some of the exciting adventures our young people get up to.”

Judith McCleary, Head of Outdoors and Adventure at Scout Adventures Scotland, said: “The evidence for outdoor learning is long established; it builds confidence and helps with mental health and wellbeing. The stories we have heard from pupils, teachers and the instructors have really brought this evidence to life. One young person had never walked up a mountain before, which is quite unusual in a place like Argyll and Bute, but all his peers gave him a guard of honour when he reached the summit and the cheers could be heard from afar.

“Allowing young people to connect with nature gives them the chance to flourish in a way they have never been able to before.  We are so glad that we have been able to help deliver this programme. The last year has been extremely hard but, through these outdoor experiences, we are helping young people to recover and assisting Argyll and Bute Council in putting the wellbeing of pupils at the heart of their return to school.”

Although the programme has only been in place for two weeks, there has already been some very positive feedback from schools including:

‘The way the instructors interacted with the children was so positive, encouraging them as individuals and as partners and teams.  They got to know the children and developed their trust and helped them to push themselves and take risks.

Families have also commented:

‘Both girls came back from the outdoor sessions with instructors buzzing with excitement.  Some of the highlights were ‘going wild with the charcoal, drinking delicious hot chocolate and building fires’ and Sophie reported back yesterday that she ‘couldn’t believe it when she was trying to find her way around with a blindfold on, and was told there were flying hedgehogs around her head.’

‘What a great couple of days.’

‘The kids loved making their dens and playing the blind fold game, it’s so lovely the children got so much out of these two days thank you.’

 

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