Finally, it's the end of Natural Connections. Huzzah! The conclusions of the project's final report are that:
1. The project provides strong evidence that a distributed model of independent brokerage can unlock latent demand and support schools to overcome local barriers to LINE, to adopt and embed low-cost LINE practice across the curriculum, and to deliver a range of positive outcomes for teachers and pupils.
2. Selection of hub leaders with the appropriate skill set is critical to this distributed model. Hub leaders need considerable experience in education at a regional and local level, and in coordinating support and networking opportunities for schools in order to share and develop outdoor learning practice. Sufficient management capacity and skills at both central and hub level are essential to support this model.
3. The evidence suggests that demand was enhanced through whole school cultural shifts that supported the sustainable adoption of LINE policy and practice as it became part of ‘what schools do’. The fact that schools invested in their school grounds as educational places, in leadership for outdoor learning, and that they used LINE predominately for core curriculum subjects is indicative of how LINE was increasingly recognised and promoted within schools.
4. While barriers vary between schools, good relationships with hub leaders are essential to help identify appropriate forms of support. Despite a diversity of challenges for schools, these were reduced during the project and the principal barrier became time to facilitate as much LINE as schools wished to do; a clear indication of latent demand.
5. The project was able to capture qualitative insight and quantitative data on a range of positive outcomes for schools, providing motivational evidence for schools and useful information for policy makers, external funders and service providers in both the public and private sectors. In addition, detailed analysis of the relative effectiveness of the delivery model has helped to clarify the essential elements of outdoor learning development. These insights in turn will be used to inform strategies and plans to amplify support for LINE delivery in schools at both a strategic and a local level.
6. The scale of recruitment and retention of schools, and the considerable added value offered at all levels, points to the success of the demonstration project and to its participants’ commitment to LINE.
Indeed. Every commentator except me seems to think all this is all quite wonderful. Personally, I wonder where it leaves us – apart from wishing that the report might have been written in clearer English that is.
Natural England, in welcoming the end of the project, wrote:
"This report presents the key findings from the Natural Connections Demonstration Project, which identified that the fundamental challenges to learning outside the classroom in the natural environment (LINE) in schools were local and revolved around a lack of teacher confidence in teaching outside and fragmentation of LINE service provision. These underpinned the more traditionally cited challenges of curriculum pressures, concern about risks and cost."
Whilst it's always good to re-learn what we already knew – a lack of teacher confidence, multiple providers, curriculum pressures, concern about risks and cost – did we have to make such an expensive meal of re-learning it?