Bespoke outdoor programmes can help to ease transition issues

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Outdoor activities and pursuits can help pupils who have recently moved from primary school to settle into secondary, according to new research.

Outdoor activities and pursuits can help pupils who have recently moved from primary school to settle into secondary, according to new research.

The study, by academic at Leeds Metropolitan University, looked at the impact of specially designed experiences and adventures, such as hill-walking, “scrambling”, open-boat canoeing and abseiling.

They found that the youngsters who participated in the programme felt increased levels of self-determination, confidence and independence, compared with a control group of pupils who took part in an “off-the-shelf” outdoor scheme.

Most children are thought to feel some affects of moving from primary school to secondary, with aspects such as the size of their new school, timetables, different teachers for each subject, new classmates, and carrying books and other equipment being among the hardest to adjust to.

The study, which has been published in the journal Physical Education Matters, looked at the experiences of 285 year 7 pupils. 

Of these, 110 completed a bespoke outdoor and adventurous (OAA) residential programme. Another 35 children undertook a “stay at school” induction programme, while 140 took part in “off-the-shelf” outdoor activities.

The research compared the impact of each approach on pupils’ levels of self-determination, a trait researchers argue is important when individuals face new challenges such as starting secondary school. 

Overall, the study found that the bespoke programmes had the most positive impact.

John Allan, senior lecturer in physical education and sports pedagogy, and the lead researcher, said: “Transferring to secondary school represents a pivotal period of adjustment in a young person’s life. We already know that transitions are enhanced when schools develop strategies that help pupils to become more responsible for their own learning, help them create new friendships and promote curriculum interest and continuity. 

“The use of OAA residential experiences may be a key way for helping pupils to develop skills that make transitions effective. This is especially relevant at a time where an increasing number of children are spending less time being exposed to challenges in natural settings. In earlier days, these experiences would have developed pupils’ capacity to adapt.”

Fellow researcher, Jim McKenna, professor of physical activity and health, said: “Pupils on each programme were invited to reflect upon their development.  The sharpest positive increases were recorded by the ‘tailor-made’ programme which increased autonomy almost twice as much as other programmes.

“It also achieved significantly higher increases in feelings of competence (11 per cent). In the bespoke programme, for every pupil who experienced no benefit or a negative change in autonomy and competence, three reported a positive change. In the ‘stayed at school’ programme, more than two thirds of pupils recorded no change or a reduction in their relatedness to others.”

He continued: “While all three programmes provided some benefits, the ‘tailor-made’ programme provided the greatest and most consistent improvements to self-determination for the largest number and widest range of pupils.  This suggests that OAA can produce gains that help transition into secondary school.

“To do this, the programme needs to help pupils to experience three main things: independence, being good at something, and being valued by the group.”


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