Professor Mick Waters, former director of the Curriculum at the QCA (Qualifications and Curriculum Authority), explores how a qualification for learning outside the classroom could work. 

Teachers know that children enjoy a good educational visit. They also know that, well used, the visit can flick the switch that gives some children a life-long fascination with a subject discipline or clear away a fog of misunderstanding that has surrounded them in classroom attempts to explain.

Being in touch with the authentic helps the artificial world of classroom, text and screen to make sense. Teachers also know that on return to the classroom, the outdoor experience can be a catalyst for study or presentation, building understanding, intrigue and confidence in children.

Teachers are also incredibly busy, constrained by an accountability agenda that can stifle their very professionalism as they dance to the tune of data and evidence gatherers intent on grading schools.

Too often the valuable time outside the classroom is seen as respite for children and staff, much as ‘trips’ were seen after the war when kindly staff took children out for the day to have some fun as part of an annual calendar of breaks from routine.

Today, educational visits are still seen by too many as an ‘interlude’. We all know they are vital but they still carry that image of being ‘not real work’.

They are too often an add-on or one-off experience, rather than embedded and crucial.

Initial training for teachers carries barely a reference to learning outside the classroom, let alone any consideration about how to do it well. Teachers often turn to organisations to help them to provide a quality learning experience beyond their school but doubt their ability to use the experience well back in the classroom.

Governors are pleased when the school has a coherent programme of visits but often debate the cost and the fairness of the programme rather than the benefit to learning. We all know instinctively that it matters but rarely lever learning outside the classroom into discourse about school effectiveness.

A group of young pupils with a teacher showing them an exhibit

Prof. Waters believes a Learning Outside the Classroom qualification would help staff make the most of memorable learning experiences. 

Over the last 40 years the English education system has gradually been centralised. At present there is a disputed move by central government to control the agenda for the training and development of teachers. The push for an evidence-driven basis in practice with a suite of qualifications becoming the ‘golden thread’ of professional development is reshaping the way schools work.

The initials of the National Professional Qualification (NPQ) precede many aspects of teaching to signify that the teacher has secured the expected understanding in, say, music or behaviour (the pupils’ rather than their own).

Might this be the right time for the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom to produce the template for a professional qualification? It would need to ensure teachers know the best way to exploit and develop a learning experience through effective preparation and follow-up.

Teachers would be versed in how to use any fieldwork or study visit to extend all children in line with their talent and needs. Of course it would focus on issues of management but it would draw out how to make a memorable experience affect learning profoundly.

Should there not be at least one highly qualified and respected person in every school to whom others can turn for expertise and advice in linking the actual with the intellectual and the affective with the effective?

The NPQLOtC would certainly be the qualification with the longest set of initials!