Inspired by….Learning Outside the Classroom in Religious Studies – Claire O’Neill

When I was first developing my masters research project investigating the educational impact of visiting sacred spaces for GCSE RS students, I held the assumption that ambitious trips to faraway and historic temples or cathedrals would provide students with memorable and vivid encounters with the ‘lived reality’ faith. My viewpoint was that a liminal experience so different from their everyday norm would leave a significant lasting impression, and therefore would be the most effective for their academic progress and engagement in the subject. However, as I began delving into the Learning Outside the Classroom (LOtC) research literature, I discovered that my perspective was rather misconceived.

The first reason why local trips were repeatedly recommended above taking students further afield was that utilising familiar settings appears to enable an easier transferral of knowledge from the LOtC experience back into the classroom. Beames, Nicol and Ross (2011) discuss the cultivation of a genuine connection between the local area and the reality of students’ lives; contrastingly, trips that promoted the ‘novelty factor’ had limited cognitive benefit for students as they struggled to appropriate and contextualise such experiences. This chimes with other research which suggests that trips within the school’s locality are more likely to be integrated with curriculum aims, and because they are more readily repeatable, have a greater capacity for enhancing student progress and identity formation.

Another reason why the use of the local area for LOtC was encouraged both in policy and in research was for the establishment and maintenance of community relationships between schools and other institutions. Some have described these partnerships as an educational ‘duty’ to ensure that curriculum provision is holistic and dynamic. Nearby LOtC can be used to dissolve the artificial barrier between school and the outside world, and the formation of joint educational enterprises can promote community cohesion – also a broader goal of Religious Education. Although there are challenges that accompany the formation of these types of partnerships, such as a possible change to the teacher’s traditional role for the duration of the visit, the sourcing and upholding of such relationships is far more pragmatic and sustainable when entered into within the locality.

A final reason why local LOtC should be prioritised is that its usage has been shown to be particularly beneficial for students from deprived backgrounds; both for raising their future aspirations and attainment. It is a central aim to mitigate the attainment gap for typically underachieving students, and LOtC’s ability to generate ‘cultural/social capital’ is often referred to as an aim of such trips and visits. However, it is this particular cohort who are most likely to not participate in LOtC due to its regular reliance upon parental subsidy; the more ambitious or ‘grander’ the trip, the more likely it is that costs will be incurred and this cohort could be excluded. Therefore, trips in the local area are generally more inclusive and any costs could potentially be absorbed by departmental budgets or other sources of funding.

Although I had planned for three trips to local sacred spaces to take place as part of my research project, unfortunately due to the pandemic outbreak, only one proceeded as planned and so I could only arrive at rather limited conclusions about how effective the innovation had been.

Limited Reference List:

Beames, S., Higgins, P., and Nicol, R. (2011). Learning Outside the Classroom: Theory and Guidelines for Practice. London: Routledge.

Department for Education. (2006). Learning Outside the Classroom: How Far Should You Go? London: DfE.

Fagerstam, E. (2014). High School Teachers’ Experience of the Educational Potential of Outdoor Teaching and Learning. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 14:1, 56-81.

Hawxwell, L., O’Shaugnessy, M., Russell, C., and Shortt, D. (2019). Do you need a Kayak to Learn Outside? A Literature Review into Learning Outside the Classroom. Education 3-13, 47:3, 322-332.

Mackenzie, S. H., and Goodnow, J. (2020). Adventure in the Age of COVID-19: Embracing Microadventures and Locavism in a Post-Pandemic World. Leisure Sciences, 42:2, 1-8.

Marchant, E., Todd, C., Cooksey, R., Dredge, S., Jones, H., Reynolds, D., et al. (2019). Curriculum-Based Outdoor Learning for Children Aged 9-11: A Qualitative Analysis of Pupils’ and Teachers’ Views. London. Available from: [Accessed 25/08/2020].

Smith, G. A., and Sobel, D. (2010). Place and Community-Based Education in Schools. London: Routledge.

Claire O’Neill Head of RS/Philosophy and Ethics at The Crypt School Gloucester, MSc Learning and Teaching 2018-2020. Twitter: @cryptphileth



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