Educational policies and drivers for learning in local greenspace

Highlight to senior leaders and colleagues how learning in local greenspace can help address the priorities of the National Improvement Framework; where learning in local greenspace fits with the How Good is our School Framework (HGIOS4) and how it can help young people realise their full potential through Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC). 

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National Improvement Framework

Our priorities

Learning in local greenspace has potential to meet the priorities of the National Improvement Framework for Scottish Education.  It can:

  • improve attainment, including in literacy and numeracy;
  • help close the attainment gap between the most and least disadvantaged children;
  • improve children and young people’s health and wellbeing;
  • enhance employability skills and contribute to sustained, positive school leaver destinations.

The Framework’s drivers for improvement can also be drivers for learning in local greenspace. 

School leadership and learning in local greenspace

The National Improvement Framework recognises the quality and impact of leadership as one of the most important aspects of the success of any school.  

School leaders can offer practical support for learning in local greenspace, particularly regarding the development of school policies and procedures for learning in local greenspace.  They can facilitate the development of a shared vision and ensure this is embedded through school improvement planning.  Leaders can support and encourage professional development and collaborative enquiry. 

Leadership is, of course, not only the responsibility of Management; all staff (teaching and support), pupils, parents and the wider community can take on leadership roles, for example: 

  • pupils could undertake much of the planning work, e.g. they could survey the local community; take their buddy class to their greenspace; the Eco Committee or Pupil Council could take a lead in certain areas of your school’s learning in local greenspace action plan
  • teachers can take different roles, e.g. planning for a specific curricular area or level; finding funding; leading on engaging the community; taking responsibility for CLPL; or undertaking collaborative practitioner enquiry, for example on evidence of impact
  • parents can contribute to planning and implementing learning in your local greenspace, leading where appropriate
  • support staff can often contribute expertise and local knowledge
  • the wider school community can also be a great source of knowledge and support.  They should be encouraged to collaborate and lead when appropriate e.g. land owners, community wardens

Teacher professionalism and learning in local greenspace

The National Improvement Framework recognises that the quality of teaching is a key factor in improving children’s learning and the outcomes that they achieve. 

The GTCS Standards for teachers are underpinned by the themes of values, sustainability and leadership. Teachers are expected to be enquiring professionals, continually self-evaluate and “engage in lifelong learning, reflection, enquiry, leadership of learning and collaborative practice”

Through learning in local greenspace, teachers could:

  • take part in career long professional learning (CLPL) to help them improve the quality of the learning they offer outdoors;
  • undertake self-evaluation and self-reflection to inform future practice;
  • carry out collaborative enquiry, e.g. into whether taking Literacy into your greenspace raises attainment a curricular area;
  • undertake professional reading on Outdoor Learning, Learning for Sustainability or Outdoor Play, including its place in relevant policy;
  • consider outdoor learning pedagogy, including assessment – and reflect to inform future practice;
  • work towards Professional Recognition in Outdoor Learning, Learning for Sustainability or another area;
  • take a whole school approach to the delivery of STEM subjects in a real world context;
  • link with many other educational initiatives.

Parental engagement and learning in local greenspace

The National Improvement Framework highlights that providing parents and carers with opportunities to contribute to leading improvements and making decisions that affect the school; and using the skills of parents and carers to enrich the curriculum can help all pupils achieve, reduce inequity and close the attainment gap.  It encourages family members to learn together, fostering positive attitudes to lifelong learning.

Education Scotland’s Engaging parents and families toolkit aims to help schools achieve and sustain high levels of parental involvement.

Engaging parents in learning in local greenspace could: 

  • add variety to the ways in which parents, carers and families can engage with teachers and partners to support their children and increase the voice of parents and carers in leading improvements.  Outdoor activities may attract parents who don’t normally engage;
  • tap into valuable local knowledge and experience that will greatly enhance learning;
  • contribute to family learning;
  • support learners to gain an award;
  • forge links with partners, who may be able to help with various elements of your challenge;
  • make links with the wider community.

Assessment of children’s progress and learning in local greenspace

The National Improvement Framework acknowledges the need for more robust evidence that will help in raising attainment and closing the gap.  Schools should gather a range of evidence on what pupils learn and how well this prepares them for life beyond school. 

Learning in local greenspace provides the opportunity to learn in a real and relevant context, developing skills and attributes of value at school and beyond. 

Through learning in local greenspace, schools could:

  • employ a wide range of assessment techniques e.g.:  film; blogging; Pupil Profiles; floor books; displays; sharing events/ performances; teacher observation;
  • involve pupils in sharing their learning via, e.g.:  assemblies, displays, a  newsletter or community leaflet; hosting visits from families and the wider community;
  • carry out collaborative enquiry, e.g. into whether taking Numeracy into your greenspace raises attainment in that area, or whether Health and Wellbeing improves – and share the findings widely;
  • consider wider achievement; often, when taking learning outdoors, you achieve more than you set out to!;
  • look at how the experiences you provide in your greenspace help young people develop interests, strengths, skills and aspirations that can help prepare them for the world of work;
  • link to the School Improvement plan, ensuring assessment and evaluation techniques measure what you need them to;
  • feed in to National Improvement Framework Performance Information gathering.

School improvement and learning in local greenspace

To ensure the success of learning in local greenspace you should include your work in your school improvement plan.  Here is just one example you could use.

Priority: Raising Attainment Target: To raise attainment in literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing through learning in local greenspace.
Implementation Strategies Success Criteria/Outcomes
Identified key numeracy and literacy concepts will be taught outdoors, in a local greenspace

Long term retention of key concepts will increase.

Application of key skills will become more secure, particularly in new contexts.

We make regular visits to greenspace to build connections to nature and place, enhancing social and emotional skills and engagement with learning.

Pupils could achieve a nationally recognised certification.
Building capacity with staff through training and partnerships Supporting teacher professionalism and leadership through career long professional learning will enable staff to feel more confident about using pedagogical approaches in the outdoor context, defining clear links across Literacy and Numeracy to real-life learning opportunities. Some teachers may consider aspects of professional development such as Practitioner Enquiry or Collaborative Enquiry in Literacy or Numeracy.  Some may work towards achieving Professional Recognition from GTCS.


Performance information and learning in local greenspace

The Performance Information gathered via the National Improvement Framework aims to build a sound understanding of the range of factors that contribute to a successful education system.   The Framework highlights that there is no one-size- fits-all approach to gathering this information, just as there is no one-size fits-all approach to improving equity or raising attainment.

Schools can gather data on their learning in local greenspace to:

  • assess children’s progress;
  • involve pupils in their learning;
  • plan targeted interventions;
  • provide a wider range and type of feedback to parents;
  • share good practice amongst their cluster, Local Authority or nationally;
  • strengthen the evidence base on the role of learning outdoors in raising attainment. 

How Good is Our School 4 (HGIOS4) and learning in local greenspace

The How Good is Our School (HGIOS) Framework provides a suite of quality indicators that support staff in all sectors to self-evaluate and reflect.  There are a number of references to Outdoor Learning in the HGIOS4 document.  Ones that may be of particular interest are listed below.


Level 5 illustration: Impact of career-long professional learning

  • We support staff to access high-quality professional learning linked to cross-cutting themes such as sustainable development education, global citizenship, outdoor learning and international education.  (Page 22)


Features of highly-effective practice:

  • All available resources, including digital technologies and outdoor spaces, are used effectively to create and sustain effective learning environments. These are used well to support learning.  (Page 29)


Challenge questions:

  • How well do we use our community and spaces to deliver high-quality outdoor learning?  (Page 37)


Challenge questions:

  • What progress and achievement do children and young people gain from our outdoor learning experiences? (Page 51)


Features of highly-effective practice:

  • Outdoor spaces are used effectively to promote positive relationships and wellbeing. Staff take account of research linking benefits of outdoor learning and green space with wellbeing.  (Page 49)

Find out more

More detail on Outdoor Learning and Learning for Sustainability in HGIOS4

Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) and learning in local greenspace

Flowchart showing guidance for teachers and practitioners
Adapted from Education Scotland, Outdoor Learning: Practical guidance, advice and support for teachers and practitioners in Scotland (2011)
Click for a full description


  • Provide opportunities for formal recognition of achievement such as ASDAN, John Muir Award, Duke of Edinburgh Award, Eco School etc;
  • Provide opportunities to access natural areas and attend residential courses or expeditions where young people experience intrinsic rewards;
  • Plan activities that appeal to the naturalist intelligence within young people and allow them to achieve in a range of real-world contexts.


  • Listen to and observe children outside away from the perceived stress of school.  This can give a measure of how nurtured they are;
  • Demonstrate respect for living things and the environment and model appropriate behaviours;
  • Allow children to run off excess energy in line with an agreed approach;
  • Use nurture group principles and apply in outdoor settings.


  • Ensure children have opportunities to spend regular time in natural settings.  This could be parkland, beaches, woods or other green-space;
  • Enable children to have the freedom to enjoy unstructured play, providing physical challenge and a self-chosen level of risk;
  • Provide big, open-ended resources such as guttering, planks of wood;
  • Encourage children of different ages to play together.


  • Ensure children have access to outdoors during intervals and lunchtimes;
  • Provide time to walk and talk and spend time just being outdoors, engaging with nature in green spaces;
  • Find ways to provide regular experiences in natural settings;
  • Provide plenty of opportunities for physical activity outside.


  • Involve the children in outdoor projects that interest them and develop a sense of ownership and belonging, for example, growing plants of their choice in containers or gardens or improving play facilities in the playground;
  • Listen to children and involve them in decisions at their level of understanding in a familiar context.  Some children are more talkative outdoors;
  • Use a variety of consultation techniques so that everyone can have their feelings and responses noted.


  • Enable children to take calculated risks that allow a sense of achievement and exhilaration;
  • Actively involve learners in the risk-benefit assessment process;
  • Ensure that health and safety guidelines are followed and interpreted sensibly;
  • Be aware that child protection procedures must be in place outside too.


  • Look for interests a child displays indoors and extend the possibilities outside;
  • Create opportunities for children to make decisions that have clear consequences.  Group challenges or team-building activities can help;
  • Have seating and shelter available.  Children need to feel comfortable outside;
  • Provide extended opportunities to be outdoors and have lots of multi-sensory experiences.


  • Create a collaborative learning environment, indoors and out, that enables children to have and take responsibility for themselves, resources and the environment;
  • Encourage children to keep the grounds well maintained, organised and litter-free;
  • Develop routines around going outside that encourage responsibility, for example involving children in the planning of work outside, including risk benefit assessments and learning how to manage in different situations (traffic, communication etc).

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