The Natural School Service

Following the successful completion of The Natural Connections Demonstration Project, one of the largest outdoor learning programmes in the UK, the Natural School Service has been established.

Led by Plymouth University's Institute of Education, the Natural School Service works locally, nationally and internationally to assist individuals, schools, education sector organisations, Higher Education bodies, local authorities, environmental education providers and many others to unlock the potential of the natural environment to support learning across all subjects in the curriculum, at all stages of education.

Background

The Natural School Service (NSS) arises as a part of the legacy of The Natural Connections Demonstration project, which was funded by Defra, Natural England and Historic England and led by Plymouth University between 2012 and 2016. Natural Connections supported schools to identify and overcome barriers to outdoor learning. The team worked with over 125 primary, secondary and special schools, mostly in areas of high multiple deprivation, across the South West of England. Natural Connections helped them make the most of their own grounds and local green spaces as successful learning locations across the curriculum, creating impressive impacts for pupils and teaching staff.

Building on this knowledge, Plymouth University has now set up the Natural School Service to offer a tailored service to partners across the UK and internationally. NSS offers you access to a range of skills, expertise, tools and evidence which we use to explore how best to respond to the needs of each client. We can draw on a wide range of experts to suit your requirements.

What we offer

For individuals

We offer a range of training and CPD opportunities throughout the year that are open to individuals. These range from training days and workshops to seminars and conferences. Our CPD programme is advertised at: www.plymouth.ac.uk/research/oelres-net. In addition we can offer a more personalised programme of training, a mentor, a tailored post-graduate/ Masters level course and opportunities for research in outdoor learning.

For schools, local authorities, academy chains and education trusts

We are an experienced group of experts in curriculum development and outdoor learning practice, including research, teaching, training and delivery with cross-disciplinary expertise in health, psychology and education. We can support all aspects of outdoor learning for both academic and non-cognitive outcomes in schools and partner organisations throughout the UK and overseas.

We recognise that change can be a challenge and that every organisation is different. We therefore work with each client to tailor a service that meets your needs, strengthening our team of experts by drawing on a range of specialists. This method has been road-tested through the Natural Connections project and with a range of partners. In essence we offer a number of ‘building blocks’ that can be added or modified to create the package of services and support you need. This also helps us work within your budget and timescales.

Our approach provides structure and support to help you start or develop, fund and sustain curriculum-focused outdoor learning in your school or organisation. The programme will help you plan, manage and resource your lessons and activities. It will save you time and help you avoid potential pitfalls. You will get practical advice about what has worked well for others, as well as a chance to talk through the sort of challenges which can come up. Our services are tailored to your situation - so no two packages are the same. We offer a flexible learning opportunity designed to fill gaps in the skills and resources already available to you. We are happy to work with one or two individuals or a whole team. This is a personal and friendly way to learn and we should also have some fun along the way.

Services include

  • @ Specialist professional development and training for staff, governors and volunteers on site and via distance learning
  • @ Professional skills development audit and CPD package individualised for your organisation
  • @ Bespoke curriculum design to integrate outdoor learning into learning, teaching and School Improvement Plans and Strategies
  • @ Advice on leadership and cascading outdoor learning throughout the school or organisation
  • @ Practical and creative outdoor learning activities and ideas to support lessons that engage pupils, develop academic and social skills, enhance attainment and contribute towards improved health and wellbeing
  • @ Advice on funding and partnership development
  • @ Access to a range of outdoor education providers who can help enhance your lessons
  • @ A mentoring service for teaching staff, managers and providers
  • @ Opportunities to attend workshops, networking events, conferences and seminars
  • @ Support to embed outdoor learning across large organisations or multi-site partnership
  • @ Advice on research, evaluation and impact measurement to suit each client
  • @ Access to a broad range of academic literature to support your work
  • @ Online resources which give you access to video, resources, research materials, School Improvement Plans, lesson plans, policies and risk assessment documents

"Brilliant! The best session on outdoor learning I have ever experienced."

Workshop participant

For outdoor learning providers

The services we offer are designed to meet the needs of outdoor learning providers as well as schools. We recognise outdoor learning providers can often struggle to engage with schools, and to make their offer fit to the changing demands of the curriculum and school priorities. Our team include practising specialist educators with extensive knowledge of the needs of schools.

We will tailor our work to meet your needs

  • @ Specialist professional development and training for staff, managers, trustees and volunteers on site or via distance learning
  • @ Curriculum advice to help you design services and products that will appeal to teachers
  • @ Support to embed outdoor learning across your organisation or multi-site partnership
  • @ Advice on marketing to schools, and signposting to school networks and clusters
  • @ Advice on funding and partnership development
  • @ A mentoring service for staff and managers
  • @ Opportunities to attend workshops, networking events, conferences and seminars
  • @ Advice on research, evaluation and impact measurement to suit each client
  • @ Access to a broad range of academic literature to support your work

For regional, national and international partners

The Natural School Service works with regional, national and international partners to advise on large-scale outdoor learning initiatives, giving advice, insights and practical support to ensure the smooth development of your project. We can also advise on policy, partnership development and fundraising. Fees are agreed depending on the level of input you require. Our model allows you to develop a locally-driven programme, with guidance and evidence from the UK’s largest outdoor learning project. We will work with you to embed on-going sustainability into your plans.

"I would like to tell you that your visit has been really inspiring for our Outdoor Education group, especially for those who are trying to start a new project in primary schools, taking Natural Connections as the model."

University of Bologna

Services include

  • @ Specialist professional development and training for senior managers, policy-makers and stakeholders
  • @ Strategic advice to embed outdoor learning across a large geographic area or across a large organisation or multi-site partnership
  • @ Advice on funding and partnership development
  • @ A mentoring service for teaching staff, managers and providers
  • @ Opportunities to attend workshops, networking events, conferences and seminars
  • @ Advice on evaluation and impact measurement of large-scale initiatives, including access to ‘tried and tested’ monitoring tools
  • @ Access to a broad range of academic literature to support your work

The Natural School Service FAQs

Where do you work?

The NSS works across the UK and internationally.

How much time will the consultancy last?

To make sure the process fits around you, we will discuss what sort of support you need, how often you will need our help and what your timescale is. Our work with you may last a few days or weeks, or several months, depending on your requirements and budget.

Is what you offer just for schools?

Not at all. We do work with schools - in pre-school settings, primary, secondary and special schools, as well as with Academy Chains, local authorities and Education Trusts. But we also work with a range of organisations including environmental organisations, Universities, Health sector bodies and charities of all sizes in the UK and internationally.

Can you help us evaluate impact?

Yes - we have designed and tested a number of evaluation tools for outdoor learning and project management that we can share with you as part of the consultancy.

What are your charges?

Charges are based on a daily rate. There will also be additional charges for things like course accreditation, CPD offered by others and our travel but you will be given a precise quote once we have assessed your needs and agreed the details of the consultancy.

Do we pay for initial meetings?

We charge a flat fee of £175 plus travel and subsistence costs for an initial half day meeting in the UK. This will be an exploratory meeting, an opportunity for us to discuss your requirements and how we might help. There is no charge for initial discussions via phone or email.

Do we have to come to Plymouth?

No - although the Natural School Service is based at Plymouth University, we have a specialist team located across the South West and nationally. We are also developing on-line resources you will be able to access. You will be invited to events in the South West and elsewhere in the UK, and we can do some aspects remotely, for example through email, phone or webinars, but we will also come to you regularly.

Do I have to pay the fee all at once?

We will agree the budget well in advance. We will then invoice you for 25 per cent of fee before the consultancy starts. Payments will be staged at regular intervals during the consultancy.

Please feel free to contact us

If you have any more questions please contact us at oelresnet@plymouth.ac.uk.