Sarah Stepney, Headteacher, Mayfield Primary School

“We don’t mind what learning activities adults and children choose to do outside, we just want them to go outside and be in nature and use the resources around them, and not feel that all learning has to be contained to the classroom. It’s just really good for lots of pupils, that physical activity and being outside. I mean, everyone knows just being around green makes you feel better.” – Sarah Stepney

Sarah is a teacher, nature enthusiast, amateur artist, educational leader and innovator, and Headteacher at Mayfield Primary School.

Sarah and her former co-head, Paula, pioneered a schoolwide initiative called Out and About. Out and About is a rather simple but powerful practice. Once a week, each class spends part of the day learning outside no matter the weather, rain or shine (splashing in puddles is not off limits!). Sometimes classes use Out and About time to play games, to go for ‘wellie walks’ to the school’s conservation area and pond, or even to climb a tree. Other times they study for SATs but in a more relaxed and green environment. Often, learning becomes more physical and rooted in the surrounding natural landscapes: children can construct a story or build a model of circulation of the heart with ‘bits and pieces’ like pegs and pebbles, sticks and stones, or whatever they can find while wandering through the school grounds.

Out and About was inspired by pupils’ experiences in Artscapers, an arts-in-nature approach led by Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination. Wanting to sustain the spirit of Artscaping, Sarah and Paula first trialled Out and About with their Year One classes. They found even a simple walk across the school grounds each week, noticing what had stayed the same and what changed, created fruitful learning opportunities. When Sarah and Paula became co-heads at Mayfield, they rolled Out and About schoolwide which has been transformative for children and staff.

Children learn differently outside beyond the limits of the classroom. They can walk, talk, make connections with peers and express themselves more freely without the pressure of a classroom. Teachers also benefit from spending sustained time alongside pupils outside – they make new connections and discover children’s diverse capabilities. Time pressures and a full curriculum can make it hard to get outside each week, but Mayfield teachers do it. Sarah advises, if it’s important enough, you’ll find the time and you’ll do it. You can always find the time.