From archery to raft building, climbing to bushcraft, orienteering to crabbing – more than 860 children and young people in Orkney have been participating in the Orkney Outdoor Education’s new and exciting outdoor learning and activity programme over the past few months.
The programme is already half-way through – and will start again in August until October when more schools and young folk will be able to join in the positive outdoor and environmental learning experiences.
Each bespoke school programme is generally offered to P6 and S2 pupils (plus other age groups have benefited, where time and space has been available). The activity programme has focused on a wide range of learning outcomes in conjunction with the Curriculum for Excellence and the Dynamic Youth Awards which have been offered.
The two days of outdoor learning and activities offered to each child (during school hours) has offered not just new opportunities to get to know their peer group whilst taking part in new activities, but also provided an opportunity for the completion of nationally recognised awards such as the Dynamic Youth Award, National Outdoor Learning Award and the John Muir Discovery Award.
As part of a wider project, OIC’s Community Learning and Development Team received Scottish Government Youth Work Education Recovery funding which allowed a youth worker to support the Outdoor Education programme to enable participants to also complete a Bronze Dynamic Youth Award for participating.
Youth Scotland’s Dynamic Youth Awards are a fun and engaging way to recognise and accredit young people’s achievements and are externally quality assured by Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) and credit rated on the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) where they sit at level 3.
The awards follow a plan-do-review process, which enables young people to more effectively recognise and articulate their learning and achievements within different contexts. This increases their self-esteem, improves motivation and keeps young people engaged with learning.
Through self and peer assessment young people develop skills for learning, life and work. The awards fully support the aims, values, purpose and implementation of the youth work outcomes and the Curriculum for Excellence.
Chris Jex, OIC Outdoor Education Adviser, explained that he had to come up with a new innovative programme based in or close to each school due to the pandemic restrictions in place and not being able to use the Hoy Outdoor Centre as a residential base throughout 2021.
“The lockdown and restrictions meant that the programme was almost entirely cancelled in 2020. I’m delighted that this year – with thanks to participating schools and the Community Learning and Development team at the Council - we have been able to come up with a new programme and have, so far, offered 54 days of outdoor based activities for up to 16 young people each day competently and safely guided by two outdoor instructors and myself.
“We feel a bit like a travelling ‘outdoor circus’ packing and unpacking outdoor equipment, trailers and vehicles each day. We have definitely been more visual than ever before in each school and the local community. I hope we have been able to offer a selection of outdoor activities for everyone to enjoy. We have certainly received great feedback from the young people, parents and carers, schoolteachers and youth group leaders of the Boys’ Brigade, Young Carers’, Sea Cadets and Army Cadets.
“This is about getting young people active, introducing new learning opportunities and memorable experiences, setting them challenges, teaching them how to work independently and together as a team and most of all having fun! It is also important to understand this is still part of children’s education time and the emphasis has been on learning new physical and mental skills. At the end of each activity children completed written work which also counted as evidence of their participation which was required to complete their Dynamic Youth Award.
“We have been able to offer each school/group both land and water-based activities including canoeing, climbing, bushcraft, archery, orienteering, paddle-boarding, beach study and clean, raft building and crabbing! For example, at St Andrews School we were also able to get the children cycling to the site of the activities themselves, which was based at the nearby Community Centre.”
Despite the restrictions, Chris says they have tried to keep the outdoor experience as “near normal” as possible.
“By the nature of the activities being outside in fresh air this has generally helped negate the need for masks unless an adult is having to closely intervene during an activity. We wanted the experience to feel as normal as possible.”
Earlier this year, they moved all the outdoor equipment, trailers, vehicles and office equipment based from Hoy to the Birsay Hostel which is now the Outdoor Education temporary storage base during 2021.
“We have used two robust pop-up tents as changing facilities to avoid having to go inside the schools whenever possible, other than for a toilet stop. To date, it has all worked really well and schools have been welcoming and great hosts. We are hopeful of a return to residential trips to Hoy at some point, fingers crossed in future years.”
While schools and parents (in past years) have sometimes fundraised towards the cost of the residential trips, this year’s activity programme has enabled costs to be much more affordable for schools and parents of children and young people taking part.
During the summer programme the Community Learning and Development Team co-ordinated and offered places free of charge to organised groups of young people as part of a wider project thanks to Scottish Government Youth Work Education Recovery funding.
The Youth Work Education Recovery Fund was established to enable the sector to support young people in some of the country's most vulnerable communities engage and re-engage with vital learning opportunities.
The fund, which is administered by YouthLink Scotland, has made 64 awards to organisations across Scotland working with young people impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Over 13,000 young people in Scotland stand to benefit directly from the Fund.
Cheryl Rafferty, CLD Team Leader for Youth Services, said: “It has been a fantastic opportunity for OIC’s Outdoor Education and Community Learning and Development Teams to work closely together to offer not only an extended Outdoor Education programme encompassing the summer break but also to be able to offer an accredited Youth Work Award as part of the school Outdoor Education programme allowing participants to be recognised for taking part in an amazing outdoor learning experience.
“This has all been possible due to Scottish Government Covid funding we received that has allowed us to facilitate an enhanced youth work offer which in turn has benefited many young people across Orkney.”
The Outdoor Team will be back offering outdoor education and learning at the start of next school term for at least another 35 action packed days in both Mainland and island primary schools not yet visited in 2021.