Guidance and Support

Outdoor learning, within Learning for Sustainability, is already embedded in CfE, in our GTCS standards and school inspections.  Learning in the outdoors can make significant contributions to literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing.

In order to enhance the outdoor aspect of the curriculum and comply with government guidelines there are a number of ways Outdoor Learning can support education recovery and build a richer curriculum beyond COVID-19 within the refreshed CfE narrative

Below you will find links to a host of guidance and support resources, including a growing bank of practical lessons for teaching CfE outdoors.


1. The Importance of the Outdoors as an approach to learning

Entitlement – Education Scotland’s ‘Curriculum for Excellence through Outdoor Learning’ set out a vision for all schools and educational settings to provide frequent and progressive outdoor learning opportunities which are clearly part of the curriculum.  These opportunities need to be regular and sustainable.

Safety – The outdoor learning space naturally facilitates room for physical distancing of both staff and pupils, reducing airborne and surface transmission risk of infection.  A move from a’classroom‘ to a ‘learning space’ model for CfE delivery, enables physical distancing alongside high quality learning and teaching both in school grounds, local spaces, and home environments. 

School Estates – On average over 50% of a school estate is outdoors, in many cases these environments are not yet being maximised to their proven potential.  Outdoor learning space naturally lends itself to becoming a high-quality teaching space that can be utilised or transformed relatively quickly and at reasonably low cost.  

Engagement in Learning – The outdoor environment has proven benefit for learning by giving relevance and depth to the curriculum in ways that are difficult to achieve indoors, including opportunities for study in the local, natural and built environments.  We know that children and young people are more likely to be engaged in learning outdoors, not only will this raise attainment, it will help them make connections experientially, therefore facilitating their development into confident and responsible citizens.  

Health & Wellbeing – The benefits of active and outdoor learning in terms of education, physical and mental wellbeing, are well documented and will have a long-term positive impact on pupils, families, staff and the wider school community.  We can capitalise on learners’ potential to develop as they experience new challenges.

Life-long Skills  & Attitudes – The outdoor environment encourages skills such as problem solving and negotiating risk.  Learning outdoors contributes to our National objective of ‘creating a more successful country’ in that it facilitates children and young people becoming:

healthier – learning outdoors can lead to lifelong recreation;

safer & stronger – outdoor activities can span social divisions and provide opportunities to assess and manage risk;

greener – the outdoor environment is the ideal setting to promote understanding of global sustainability issues;

wealthier & fairer – the outdoor environment offers opportunities for leadership, and allows children and young people to showcase a wide range of skills and abilities which are not always visible in the classroom, in turn increasing engagement and raising attainment.

Interdisciplinary Learning – With an innovative, responsive and flexible approach to learning and teaching, a significant part of the curriculum can be taught outdoors.  New technologies will add further value by allowing learners to review and share their outdoor learning experiences.

Outdoor Education Centres Fit for the Future (issued 14 Aug 2020) – here


Outdoor Learning Research Benefits – here




2. Scottish Government Guidance

The Scottish Government has produced a framework for safe practice in offsite visits and has recently issued guidance on school visits during COVID 19.

Going Out There: Scottish Framework for Safe Practice in Off Site Visits – here

Advice for Schools: Visits and Trips Autumn Term 2020 (issued 14 Aug 2020)here

Reopening and operation of Outdoor Education Centres (OEC) and reintroducing visits by schools (issued 14 Aug 2020) – here

Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on preparing for the start of the new school term in August 2020 – version 3 (Updated 11th Sep 2020)here

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues: advisory note on physical education, music and drama in schools – here


3. Education Scotland Guidance

Education Scotland’s ‘Curriculum for Excellence through Outdoor Learning’ has set out a vision for all schools and educational settings to provide frequent and progressive outdoor learning opportunities which are clearly part of the curriculum.  These opportunities need to be regular and sustainable.

Curriculum for Excellence through Outdoor Learning – here

COVID-19 Return to educational establishments: Practical subject guidelines – September 2020 – here

E’s & O’s Outside – here

Learning For Sustainability – here

HGIOS 4 has specific references to OL & LfS – here

SCOTLAND’S revised CURRICULUM FOR EXCELLENCE Putting learners at the heart of education – here

The Revised Curriculum Narrative in poster format – here & here

Outdoor Learning in the National Improvement Hub – here


4. Other National Outdoor & Off Site Visit Guidance

Mountain Training & Sportscotland Guidance for Those (Leaders, instructors, and coaches) Involved in Organised and Formal Led Walking, Scrambling & Climbing (Including indoor climbing and bouldering) Activities – Scotland (Issued 22nd Sep 2020)- here or here

Phase 3: Return to Sport and Physical Activity – Sportscotland Guidance (issued 18th Sep 2020) – here

SQA, First Aid

Scottish Canoeing

NHS – Travel Health Guidance for Schools – here

HSE – Risk & Outdoor Learning – here

HSE – Busting Health & Safety Myths – here

High Quality Outdoor Learning – Scottish Version here/ English version here

Loose Parts Play – here

Fire Guidance – SAPOE (Scottish Advisory Panel for Outdoor Education) – here

Fire Guidance – Outdoor & Woodland Learning Scotland – here

Early Years – Realising the Ambition: Being Me – here

Early Years – My world Outdoors, Care Inspectorate Guidance – here


Early Years – Space to Grow: Early learning, childcare and out of school care services: design guidance – here

Outdoor Learning Core Brief


5. East Lothian Council Guidance

Safety – continue to provide advice about safe practice of all aspects of outdoor learning.  Currently for school grounds, local area & home learning and eventually back to UK & world wide travel.  All advice will be based on the SG ‘Going Out There’ framework, NGB guidelines and ELC guidance, including advice on risk assessments and ratios with adaptation to comply with current COVID guidelines.

Safety and Good Practice in Managing Off Site Visits – here

First Aid – COVID update – here

All Generic Risk Assessments for Off Site Visits (and an editable template) – here

Sample Letter to Parents – here

Sample Bikeability Letter to Parents – here

ELC – Photo/Video Consent Form (11 yrs and younger) – here

ELC – Photo/Video Consent Form (12 yrs and older) – here

Parental Consent Form – here

Equality Act and school trips, updated April 2014 – here

Home Stay Guidance – here

Transport Guidance – here

ELC Employers Liability Insurance (19/20) – Certificate

ELC Public Liability Insurance (19/20) – Letter


6. Advice and support from ELC Outdoor Learning Service

School Improvement Planning – advice on how to develop an outdoor progressive programme, through CfE delivery, specifically focusing on Numeracy, Literacy and Health & wellbeing.

School Ground / Local Area advice – advice on how to maximise the use of school grounds, community and local green-spaces to facilitate learning whilst physical distancing restrictions remain in place.  Advice on accessing green-space within walking distance of all schools across East Lothian – including the safest routes to access these.

Delivery to pupils- advice on what activities would be appropriate for a given learning intention to teach in the outdoors complementing classroom work, and the logistics of delivering high quality teaching safely and confidently.

We currently have a number of pupil programmes running:

Additional Support Needs – help with planning and adaptation of learning activities to ensure access for ALL, inclusion and equity whilst maintaining a whole class approach.

Care-experienced / Vulnerable/ Disengaged / Challenging Young People – outdoor learning is an approach often used with these young people to re-engage them with education and or develop skills for work. East Lothian has a pool of associate outdoor instructors and supply teaching staff ready to take on projects of this kind.

The Old School House at Innerwick – is available as a supplementary learning space for indoor & outdoor learning.

Alternative Terminology
When planning and presenting new ways of working remember a  classroom does not need to have walls.  The outdoors is an approach to learning which can be incorporated at appropriate times into every area of the curriculum.  Consider using alternative terminology:

A move from ‘classroom’ to ‘learning space

A move from ‘Outdoor Activity’ to ‘Outdoor Lesson’ 

A move from ‘Outdoor Learning’ to ‘Learning Outdoors
e.g. Learning numeracy outdoors


7. Networks for Outdoor Learning

There is already a wide network of outdoor professionals throughout Local Authorities & Independent schools who form SAPOE (Scottish Advisory Panel for Outdoor Education), whose role is to advise, support & deliver Outdoor Learning.  East Lothian is also part of the NNOL (National Network of Outdoor Learning), made up of organisations including representatives from Government, Councils, professional bodies, schools and the third sector, who support and deliver Outdoor Learning across Scotland.

ELLO (East Lothian Learning Outdoors) is East Lothian’s networking group for communication, sharing best practice and maximising the potential for learning outdoors. If you would like to represent your school on ELLO then please email with your details.


8. Staff Training / CLPL – Outdoor Learning

Online and physically-distanced ‘on the ground’ training will enhance staff competence, build confidence and encourage creativity.  New and adapted modular courses are available both locally and nationally.  


9. Awards

The following awards are delivered and supported by the Outdoor Learning Service across East Lothian Council primary and secondary schools. A number of them can be used to deliver SQCF points:

Primary school awards :

Secondary school awards:


10. Resources to Purchase & School Grounds Advice

Following contain links to suppliers of recommended equipment and books:


11. Teaching Resources – Outdoor Learning Lessons

Below you’ll find links to quality teaching ideas and resources to minimise the ‘prep’ time for school staff. 

  • Just for ELCNote these are only accessible to ELC education staff – you need to be logged in to your Edubuzz account to access. Please don’t request access – just ensure you are logged into your Edubuzz account and you will see it!
  • ELC Outdoor Learning Service e-Learning – all our e-learning category of blog posts on our Edubuzz website (Absolutely anyone can get here 🙂 )


12. Thought provoking Outdoor Learning related short videos

Some videos worth watching to make us think about Learning Outdoors

Could you be suffering from ‘plant blindness’? – video


13. Case Studies & Practitioner Enquiry – Outdoor Learning

What can be done with out of the box thinking?…

Natural Connections Project