Learning outside the classroom: How far should you go?

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What the resource is:

This is a report by Ofsted which aims to evaluate the importance of learning outside the classroom. It analyses outcomes from schools where there is good, excellent or rapidly improving practice in learning outside the classroom, as well as Ofsted inspection data. The report identifies strengths and weaknesses in practice, and aims to show how schools and colleges can overcome barriers. The links to outcomes defined in Every Child Matters are explored to show the way that learning outside the classroom is a valuable way to achieve these.   


The resource considers: the ways that learning outside the classroom can be managed in schools; how work in and out of the classroom can be integrated; the roles of day visits, residential visits and work related placements; evaluating learning outside the classroom, and overcoming barriers. The report acknowledges the workload implications of learning outside the classroom and suggests ways this can be managed.


The aims of the resource:

The aim of the resource is to identify strengths and shortcomings in practice in learning outside the classroom, and how schools and colleges can successfully build it into their curriculum. Learning outside the classroom is taken to mean all activities outside the classroom: in school buildings and grounds; in special events such as drama and concerts; clubs in breaks and after the school day; educational day visits; and residential visits including work placements.      


Key findings or focus:

The report is based on inspections of 12 primary, 10 secondary and one special school as well as one pupil referral unit and three colleges. This was a purposive sample of centres known to show good, outstanding or rapidly improving practice in learning outside the classroom. Data was also collected from 13 providers such as arts organisations, museums and residential centres.


The report's findings suggest that, when well-planned, learning outside the classroom contributes to raising standards and improving personal, social and emotional development. However, at the time of the survey, May 2007 to March 2008, less than a quarter of schools and colleges in the survey knew the details of the Government's Manifesto Learning outside the classroom. Generally, primary schools made better use than secondary schools of their own buildings and grounds for learning.


As is usual with Ofsted reports, claims are illustrated with examples of good practice. These examples cover curriculum subjects such as mathematics, language and science, as well as claims that learning outside the classroom helps to "make subjects more vivid and interesting for pupils and enhance their understanding. It can also contribute significantly to pupils' personal social and emotional development" (p7). The resource presents data from inspections between 2005 and 2007. This shows that 81% of schools with outstanding achievement had an outstanding curriculum. In schools that were satisfactory in terms of achievement, more than two thirds had a satisfactory curriculum, yet only 0.27% were judged outstanding for their curriculum: "This evidence suggests that a high quality, well planned curriculum promotes high achievement" (p9).


The resource shows the importance of leadership. Leaders saw the value of a broad motivating curriculum and were "passionate and confident about improving learners' achievement" (p12). Out-of-hours activities contributed to health, wellbeing and excellence, for instance in sport and music, "especially those in danger of underachieving" (p13). On day visits, when all accompanying adults were clear about the learning objectives, children's knowledge increased. Secondary schools were usually clearer about how the visits fitted the schemes of work. Of the sample, only three schools had analysed rigorously the contribution of learning outside the classroom, and senior staff rarely observed it in any of the schools to assess quality. Analysis of which children took up opportunities was only done in three of the schools. These three schools tried to widen participation, e.g. by rearranging school transport or the timing of sports clubs. These centres were thus working towards the requirement to promote community cohesion and equality of opportunity.


There is a section on health and safety issues; good procedures were in place for these, as well as briefings for accompanying adults. It seems that staff provide extra work and goodwill for organising visits and value the outcomes. To reduce workload, "the most effective single strategy was the use of well trained administrative support staff to organise transport, make bookings, collect money and contribute to preparing risk assessments. This allowed teachers to concentrate on the educational planning and preparation" (p23).


The quality, authority and credibility of the resource from your subject perspective in relation to ITE:

This report is based on inspection data, not a controlled trial. To support the argument for learning outside the classroom, the report provides data on the link between planning and quality from other reports. It might be argued that a curriculum could promote high achievement without including any learning outside the classroom. However, evidence during the survey showed that well organised activities outside the classroom contributed much to the quality and depth of learning (p9). The report claims that schools had evidence that learning outside the classroom had improved standards. Pupils certainly appeared to enjoy it, as shown by observation and interview data.


The implications for ITE tutors/mentors:

This resource could be used in initial teacher education as a way of thinking about different types of outcomes in pupils' learning such as knowledge and understanding, behavioural, social, emotional and motivational, etc. Tutors could discuss how learning outside the classroom achieves outcomes that sometimes appear harder to see in the classroom.


There is a good bibliography of recent official publications on learning outside the classroom.


IMA Associates (2003) provide a review of initial teacher education and how to incorporate work with museums, archives and libraries into ITT.


The relevance to ITE students:

Student teachers might try to see how such a variety of outcomes fit with a rational planning model and a focus on developing knowledge and understanding. They could be introduced to ways to plan so that some learning outcomes might be left open (Eisner 1985, Parker-Rees 2000). Students could also think about how they manage their work life balance against issues such as extra time for activities that have a range of positive outcomes. Williamson and Payton (2009) offer a good introduction to discussion of different types of curricular outcomes.


Reviewed by:

Charly Ryan


Related Resources

The following might be useful to read in conjunction with this resource:


Williamson B and Payton S (2009) Curriculum and teaching innovation. Bristol, Futurelab



Parker-Rees, R. (2000) Time to relax a little: making time for the interplay of minds in education, Education 3-13, March pp29-35

Eisner, E. (1985) The Art of Educational Evaluation: a personal view. London Falmer