Developing learners’ skills through real life experiences

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Pupils at Ysgol Y Bynea led a project to develop an outside learning village. Learners developed a range of skills from designing architectural models to budgeting and placing orders.

Number of learners: 155
Age range: 3 - 11
Date of inspection: January 2017

Information about the school

Ysgol Y Bynea is in the village of Bynea near Llanelli, in Carmarthenshire.  The school has six mixed age classes and about a third of the children are eligible for free school meals.  There is also a Gypsy Traveller Service and Welsh Government funded Flying Start facility housed in the school building. 

Context and background to sector-leading practice

The school has grown rapidly in the last four years and, whilst there was very little spare space available inside the building, there were extensive school grounds.  The school already utilised the outside orchard area for Forest School activities but unpredictable weather and the need to store suitable clothing and equipment created the basis for the challenge of creating an outside learning village.  The school has a strong community focus and is proactive in the local community.  The school attempts to involve as many parents as possible in its work, and is lucky that its parents are always willing to come on board when staff ask them to do so.  There are a number of businesses in the local area that have proven to be a great asset and often support the school in fund raising when needed.  The school also involved its local comprehensive school and colleges as it needed a range of expertise for all the different elements of the project. 

The pupils invited the manager in charge of school modernisation for Carmarthenshire to come on board and he explained to them whom they needed to contact in order to plan their village and where they could get materials, and provided them with the basic rules of building regulations. 

Bynea School values all types of learning and staff believe that children need a wide range of real life experiences in order to grow and develop into responsible adults.  Children sometimes feel that those pupils who have strong numeracy and literacy skills are the clever ones.  In order to clarify these misconceptions, the staff needed to show the pupils that there are many different types of learner and that different skills are important in different situations. 

Description of nature of strategy or activity

The project originally started when staff gave the pupils a brief to design and make an outside learning village where they could take their learning outside the classrooms.  They had to be mindful of the school’s Eco Status and the need to ensure value for money.  The school applied for grants and was fortunate to receive funding.  Pupils spent much time discussing and drawing what they thought their ideal outside learning environment should look like.  Having discussed the project with the school council and older key stage 2 classes, the pupils were really enthusiastic and adamant that they should lead the project themselves.  They felt that they were old enough to take most of the responsibility.  They had the opportunity to meet and work alongside many professionals and learn the importance of how to communicate with others.  They had opportunities to email people, fill in forms, place telephone orders and write letters; all skills that they will need in their everyday life.  They also kept a photographic diary of their project and made an electronic presentation to governors and visitors at the end of the project. 

Pupils created scaled models to ensure that their designs would fit onto the piece of land designated to the project.  Once that had been completed, they looked at the type of structures they would like and what they could afford; they decided to call these structures learning pods.  The pupils had an original budget of fifteen thousand pounds and because they were responsible for the whole budget they had to keep accurate accounts for every penny they spent.  They calculated the cost and quantity of materials they needed and looked at value for money.  Once they had decided which structures they needed and had sourced what they could afford they were ready to start on the foundation bases for their pods or sheds.  They invited parents and the community in to help them measure and dig foundations and move chippings. 

Once the learning pods were in place, the pupils had to design and make dedicated paths between each structure so that they could use the village in all kinds of weather.  Parents and families came to paint the learning pods with weather proofing stain to ensure that they would last in good repair.  Each structure needed to have a curriculum area focus such as mathematics, language, science, creative arts, Welsh or a combination of learning areas.  Some pupils suggested that, if the science pod could have a sensory garden and possibly a solar panel, it would need more space around it than say the language pod.  This developed pupils’ thinking skills well.

Once the pupils had designed and built the main structure of the village, they had to decorate and resource the pods.  They had individual budgets dependent on the curriculum area and had to design and decorate the interiors of each pod.  They had to make the learning experiences suitable for all ages and try to ensure that activities taking place were largely focused on independent learning.  They worked with subject co-ordinators, artists and advisers to ensure that the activities they chose were worthwhile and demonstrated value for money.  They also recycled tables, chairs, display boards and other resources from another school that had recently closed. 

Once they ensured that the main structures and paths were in place, the outside physical play area of the village was designed by lower key stage 2.  They followed the same format where they created designs and then looked at what was affordable and practical.  Leaders gave them a budget of five thousand pounds and made it clear that they needed to keep money for labour and foundations for their structures.  They gained an understanding of using scale and the value of resources and the satisfaction of creating something useful.  They have since worked with parents to improve the area further and have recycled tyres into flower planters and are growing their own vegetables. 

What impact has this work had on provision and learners’ standards?

During this project, pupils had opportunities to develop skills used by designers, architects, accountants, builders, landscape gardeners, graphic artists, and many others.  Pupils led their own learning and took responsibility for inviting people to work with them, ordering materials and balancing budgets.  The staff at Bynea take a holistic approach to learning and want all pupils to be well rounded members of the community to which they belong.  Witnessing them respond to this challenge showed levels of maturity and understanding that exceeded the high expectations of the staff. 

Pupils learn best when they have a broad and balanced curriculum.  They all need to find something they are good at and, through a range of learning opportunities, they had an opportunity to respond successfully to a challenge and achieve success.  Staff challenged pupils with additional learning needs appropriately and supported them to achieve success.  Many pupils who succeed easily in reading and writing tasks often experienced frustration at not always getting things right first time.  This project further developed their levels of perseverance and understanding. 

The pupils viewed this as a very grown up project and they relished the challenge.  They developed mature skills and made relationships with a range of different audiences.  Creating this village will provide all pupils at Ysgol Y Bynea with an exceptional, extended outside-learning environment. 

How have you shared your good practice?

The school has shared this good practice with many other schools across the local and neighbouring authorities.  A number of schools have made use of the learning village by bringing classes of pupils to use this wonderful resource as a catalyst for independent learning.