By press office 22 October 2020

Students from Queen Margaret University have had the opportunity to immerse themselves in the beautiful woodlands as part of an exciting new learning partnership with Newhailes House and Gardens in Musselburgh.

Last year, the University launched its new BA (Hons) Education Studies (Primary) course to educate a new generation of primary school teachers. The degree course has a contingent of highly skilled and experienced lecturers who are keen to see outdoor learning embraced as an essential component within Scottish education.

The degree aims to produce new primary educators who have the skills and knowledge to assist children to develop as engaged, healthy and resilient citizens who will make a positive contribution to society. Learning to engage with outdoor environments and develop an appreciation for nature is a great way to support young people’s mental and physical health and wellbeing.

The development of this exciting new area of learning was met with great enthusiasm by Musselburgh’s Newhailes House and Gardens which is owned and run by conservation charity the National Trust for Scotland.

Chris Green, lecturer in Initial Teacher Education at Queen Margaret University, said: “We are really enthusiastic about the development of outdoor learning as part of the curriculum for our new BA (Hons) Education Studies and BA (Hons) Education Studies (Primary) courses which were launched in 2019. The University was keen to find a stimulating environment for some of its outdoor classes and Newhailes proved to be the perfect fit. Students are not just able to enjoy the entire 86 acre estate, they are benefitting from an area of beautiful woodland which has already been established as an education zone. The team at Newhailes have been great to work with and our students are loving the opportunity to acquire new skills in an inspirational outdoor setting.”

Chris Green said: “Learning is always easier when it’s fun, and it’s plain to see that our outdoor learning classes at Newhailes are having such a positive impact on our students. They are both physically and mentally engaged - they are smiling, laughing, playful, energised and active and they have become more creative in their thinking. Learning new skills in a beautiful woodland is a very different experience to learning inside the classroom, and students are experiencing that for themselves by doing activities such as creating spaces for imaginary forest creatures to live, learning how to use tools such as bow saws, and how to make large group shelters. After just one session, the students begin to understand the potential impact of outdoor learning on skills development, as well as mental and physical health.”

Forest School Leader and former teacher, Patrick Boxall, who now lectures on QMU’s initial teacher education courses, explained: “Many of the students had uncertainties about their own knowledge of the outdoors, so the course is helping develop their practical skills and teaching around outdoor learning.

“The sessions are great fun but it’s still a serious part of the degree curriculum. Students are working towards the Forest and Outdoor Learning Award (FOLA), which is a national certificate recognised by the Forest School Association and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF).

Patrick continued: “There are many pressures on primary schools, so we’re showcasing outdoor learning in a way that schools can sustain for themselves. This will help more young people develop a love and understanding of the outdoors which they can take into adulthood.”

And it’s not just student primary teachers who are benefitting from the new outdoor learning classes. Students on the University’s new PGDE Secondary (Home Economics), a one year postgraduate course, which will produce graduates to fill vital Home Economics teaching positions in Scotland’s secondary schools, are appreciating the chance to learn new skills in the woodlands.

Lecturer Chris Green, who is a former Headteacher, said: “Home Economics teachers can also learn to inspire young people about food, health and outdoor living by enthusing them about cooking and eating in great outdoor locations. Everyone loves a camp fire, so we’ve been having fun with socially distant outdoor cooking and learning events. Recently, the students really enjoyed a class which involved fire safety and preparing homemade bread dough. They then learned to prepare wooden skewers, wrap their bread around the sticks and cook it over the fire. They also enjoyed cooking campfire popcorn which always seems to taste better when you’re enjoying it with group in a magical woodland setting.”

Chris concluded: “At a time when Covid-19 has placed restrictions on education, the chance to learn in a social distant manner, within the grounds of Newhailes House and Gardens, has been an extremely positive and motivating experience for QMU students. This is especially important for our new 1st year students as it’s providing them with an opportunity to be able to meet at least some of the other students on their course.

“Newhailes is proving to be a wonderful environment for our students to acquire new knowledge and hone their teaching practice. It is very rewarding to know that students on our new Initial Teacher Education courses are acquiring additional skills and ideas which they can use in the future to improve the health and wellbeing of primary and secondary school pupils.”

Notes to Editor

Queen Margaret University’s Initial Teacher Education team has been proactive in creating partnerships with external organisations to create exciting learning opportunities for students on the BA (Hons) Education (Primary), BA (Hons) Education Studies and the PDGE Secondary (Home Economics). Recently new partnerships have developed with RSPB; The John Muir Trust, LOVE Gorgie Farm and Newbattle Abbey College. The teaching team are keen to speak with other organisations who may like to discuss /partnership collaborative learning opportunities.

Find out more about our BA (Hons) Education Studies (Primary) and our BA (Hons) Education Studies.

Find out more about our PGDE Secondary (Home Economics)

To find out more about Newhailes House and Gardens visit: www.nts.org.uk/visit/places/newhailes

For further media information please contact Lynne Russell, Communications Manager at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh on E: lrussell@qmu.ac.uk, M: 07711 011239.

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