Learning Outside the Classroom [LOtC] is a collective term under whose umbrella sit a wide variety of different providers, venues and approaches. The Tide~ LOtC liaison group meetings were a time to come together, shelter from the (metaphorical) rain and talk, both about what made the different organisations around the table unique, but also about what they held in common.
One of the primary themes to emerge from these discussions was the breadth of educational agendas, initiatives and curricula LOtC work linked into. These connections read like an A –Z of learning - Community Cohesion, Early Years Foundation Stage Framework, Extended Schools, Family Learning, Global learning, Healthy Schools, Intergenerational learning, Sustainable Schools. LOtC was felt to be a central means by which many of these initiatives could converge, providing schools and educational settings with a complementary way of organising learning. Working to combine different educational agendas was also seen to reflect the ethos of the new primary and secondary curricula, as well as providing schools with a valuable stimulus for ongoing classroom based learning.
What appeared to be at the heart of LOtC, that enabled this pulling together of different strands, was the sector’s commitment to principles that could be applied across a range of contexts:
These provided not only a means of unifying learning, but also of defining a shared philosophy for the sector.
These broadly fell into the following categories:
There was a strong desire amongst the liaison group that the value of services provided by LOtC organisations be recognised. However it was felt that an awareness of much of the good practice in existence had not permeated up to a strategic level and that the sector in general did not significantly register on the radar of local authorities. The Quality Badge was seen as a welcome redress to this, but those organisations that had gone through the application process felt it to be slow and at times unwieldy.
However the way in which the badge involved teachers in negotiating learning outcomes for off-site visits was seen as a positive move, and indeed the relationship between teachers, schools and provider organisations was perceived as being a critical factor in ensuring successful LOtC. Where strong school partnerships existed, opportunities offered by providers were reported as being embedded within a wider programme of learning. In these instances, rather than being viewed as ‘one off’ events, LOtC stimulated and linked in to other learning areas and activities.
As a result of this, all the organisations present at the liaison group meetings were keenly aware of their responsibility to continually seek out new ways of engaging schools in dialogue and partnership. This issue emerged strongly in discussions about the make up of a future liaison group and whether membership should extend to teachers.
Indeed the continuation of a forum for discussion and the dissemination of practice within the sector was something for which there was felt to be an ongoing need. Vocal support for the opportunity to share skills, experiences and methodology, to network and work in partnership saw the group’s final meeting (in its current incarnation) end as it had begun – with a discussion about how to continue to work with the sector’s uniqueness and how to further develop its commonalities.