RCEs from The Netherlands and Germany join hands to connect Youth to the outdoors

This article is based on a report submitted by Detlef Lindau-Bank.

ACEWild (Alternative Curriculum Education out of the Wild) is an initiative that shows schools with pupils aged 11-16, how they can support disadvantaged or more vulnerable young people in gaining experiences, qualifications and work opportunities in the outdoors. The aim is to connect these young people to the environment. The focus of this project is on Vocational Education, Learning and Training. ACEWild is an Erasmus funded project with partners from the UK, the Netherlands and Germany.

The first meeting in Norfolk, in November 2014, and the second meeting in the Netherlands (RCE Rhine-Meuse), in April 2015, were good opportunities to explore the principles behind the guiding idea of the project.  During the kick-off meeting project members shared their experiences, ethos, and current methodologies for evaluating impact. They also discussed the role of outdoor learning in general, environmental education and education for sustainability in the context of their work. This was put in a practical context with the groups that ACEWild is targeting such as vulnerable students, those demonstrating ‘challenging behaviour’; those that do (or will) struggle with the traditional curriculum and are (or will) be at risk of becoming NEET (not in education employment or training).  

Project members recognised that there were differences in opinions about methods applied and how a programme and ‘replicable model’ could look like in each country. Every country had a different starting point in terms of education in the area. Everyone agreed that it was important to implement the project in such a way that would account for this, without losing focus of the original concept and idea.

All partners analysed their activities using action research methodology and developed a summary presentation analysing the impact of the programme. A case study format was developed to help share best practices and disseminate the programme benefits widely. All partners were encouraged to use this as a starting point for developing their own case studies. During the second meeting, participants discussed, developed and shared several evaluation tools which can be found on the ACEWild website. 

Recently, a third meeting took place at RCE Oldenburger Münsterland (Vechta, Germany) where all partners presented their first results. It showed that the evaluation tools were not only reasonable but also implementable. The results of the outdoor activities seemed positive and definitely worth further evaluation over a longer period of time. Observations showed that the students did improve in confidence. Emotional wellbeing however was hard to measure. Overall students improved their speaking and listening skills and their cooperative way of interacting.

In summary the outdoor learning courses seemed to have had an impact on the well-being, behaviour, and mindset of the pupils. The evaluation provided evidence that the programme seemed to work for young people with challenging behaviours. The project is to be continued.