June 2024

SELKIRK HIGH SCHOOL AND HARRIS TRUST Celebrate first Forest and Outdoor Learning Awards June 2024

Students from Selkirk High School with John Baxter (Home School Link Worker), Jane Macdonell (Harris Trust) and Judy Paul (Lecturer Forest and Outdoor Learning Newbattle Abbey College)

As a result of a very successful pilot in December 2023, 14 students from S3 – S5 at Selkirk High School have been awarded a Forest and Outdoor Learning Award (FOLA.)

This is an accredited qualification awarded by Newbattle Abbey College and students have now received either an SCQF level 4 or level 5 award to add to their qualifications or in most cases, start their portfolio of awards. But it is not just their academic qualifications that have received a boost.........

The FOLA is designed to build a connection with the natural world which boosts mental and physical health and wellbeing. It facilitates the learning of new skills through a person-centred approach, grounded in the forest school ethos. Young people benefit from creating their own programme of learning in line with their own interests and skills while being encouraged to manage and evaluate risks. It is truly holistic learning and each person has come out of the programme with more confidence.

Every one of the 14 participants said that their learning experience was more relaxing and it was easier to learn being in a non-pressured, outdoor environment.

Confidence was built around the safety measures agreed by the group themselves and supported by trained facilitators. Participants presented differently and were often unrecognisable to teachers in a very positive way – speaking, engaging, feeling happier and motivated in this environment. People who found it hard to engage in traditional classroom learning due to the size of classes, the noise, neurodiversity or poor mental health found a place to feel safe and share experiences motivating them to participate, to try new things and learn at their own pace. Attendance too went up for some pupils. Some of the practical activities undertaken will leave a lasting legacy such as helping to uncover ancient pathways created almost 200 years ago on the Riddell Estate which had been covered over with thick vegetation.

Fits with Ethos of the Harris Trust

This all sits well with the ethos of Harris Trust which was the reason they funded this project. Indeed it has turned out so well that they have gone on to fund two more programmes and provide resources to train two staff so that the school can deliver their own FOLAs.

Commitment from Selkirk High School

Selkirk High School have now committed to embedding the FOLA qualifications within a new programme of Outdoor Learning which is a brand new addition to the curriculum from Autumn 2024. 15 pupils have already chosen this as a subject for S3. This is a hugely significant result. As if this wasn’t enough, a group of three primary schools in the Selkirk cluster - Lilliesleaf, Knowepark and Philiphaugh - have now embarked on a forest school programme and it is hoped that they will achieve a level 2 award in the autumn and another member of staff from the cluster will be trained as a FOLA leader.

This has been a hugely rewarding experience for all pupils and staff alike and a massive thanks goes out to Harris Trust for having the faith to invest in this as well as The Haining Community Trust and the Riddell Estate for granting permission to use their estates.

Judy Paul

Lecturer Forest and Outdoor Learning Newbattle Abbey College