Guest Blog - Ingrid Skeels

5 November 2014

The view from LTL

In 1977 when I was 9, I left my old Nottingham primary school - grey, gritty and rather boring - and arrived at Edwalton.  At that moment, school and learning went from black and white to colour for me.  It's a feeling that stayed with me and eventually inspired my book, St Cuthbert's Wild School for Boys...
Edwalton was another mixed and normal Nottingham state primary school, but it was also different.  It had a playing field, it was next to a wood, it had a garden, and the school kept chickens, two sheep and a goat.  And most amazingly, many of the teachers were passionate about all this, and lots of our learning centred around it.
What followed for me were three of the most wonderful, rich, colourful, learning-full years of school I could imagine, culminating in the final year spent in The Hut: a wooden classroom where you just learnt about nature with Mr Wright. And what a magical and yet very real year that was!
Mr Wright knew about the woods - the animals, birds, insects and everything in nature - and he quietly passed all this across to us. We had lots of lessons outside, though they often didn't feel like lessons: we were caring for animals, exploring the woods, growing things in a garden and looking at tiny creatures through a microscope. And yet all of these things inspired school work: observing, measuring, recording, calculating, researching, describing, drawing and creative writing, which I remember carrying out with a sense of deep engagement and purpose, and often with excitement.
In a way, these outdoor activities - facilitated by Mr Wright - actually taught us children to read, write and add up, and in a very real-life, healthy, whole, and rich way that utterly made sense to us.  And there was something about the space and freedom that we as children were given outside then, that meant there was also room to find our own interests and what we were good at.  In short, the whole experience also taught me what good learning really feels like.
Skip forward to 2010 and my own son is leaving his Bristol city primary school.  He has had a good education in many ways, and certainly a happy school life, with teachers that were good, dedicated and interested (and I am very grateful). And of course, not every school can have access to a wood, or chickens and a goat!  But even so, it was very different.
Almost all of his learning took place inside, in the classroom, and very little of it was through whole experiences.  What outdoor activity there was, was very structured and - if off the school premises - incredibly managed and overseen. And the teachers - through no choice of their own - were saddled with so many targets, learning objectives, assessments (of children and themselves), risk assessments and health and safety worries, that they could only do so much the other way, though they wanted to, and they did all they could.
And so there was a long period, around age 7 and 8, when my son really struggled with school, and other boys I knew did too.  Then one day, as he leapt around the living room with all the pent up energy from his school day, I said: "Well, you need to calm down, or I'll just have to send you to St Cuthbert's Wild School for Boys."  He stopped jumping immediately and his eyes gleamed: "What's that?"
Yes, what is that? And so I got to thinking, what would it be like if restrictions were worse for children, and a boy struggled even more, and then he got that sudden chance to go to a school that was like mine, but way more so: a wild school...  And what if I wrote a story about this, and it was really about the nature of school itself? And what if people read it, and it maybe helped to change things?
And so I did.  I hope you might read it, and if you like it, tell others. I do believe that stories can speak to a different part of us than research, articles and other information, and that sometimes they can help to change the way people think. And though no primary school child is ever again going to walk - as I did - a goat on a lead, alone, in the school day, up the road to a good patch of weeds, surely together we can all get more fresh air into learning.

Ingrid Skeels writes a blog on her website at www.wildschoolstory.org.uk/blog and works for Playing Out and Room 13 Hareclive, both concerned with more freedom and creativity in learning and in play.

www.amazon.co.uk/St-Cuthberts-Wild-School-Boys/dp/1484165020/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1414168414&sr=8-1&keywords=ingrid+skeels

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