HEMS 1: Embedding outdoor learning into special school culture

Faculty: Health, Education, Medicine and Social Care

Supervisors: Prof Marie-Pierre Moreau, Dr Sara Spear, and Dr Elsa Lee

Interview date: 30 March 2022

Children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), and particularly those with complex, severe, profound, and multiple learning disabilities (CSPMLD), are more likely to experience poor wellbeing (Gutman et al., 2010), lower achievement, and difficulties transitioning to adulthood, compared to their peers (DfE, 2011). Being outdoors can have a positive effect on children’s wellbeing (McCormick, 2017), and the literature on outdoor learning in schools shows a range of benefits for pupils (Nielsen et al., 2016).

However, there is little research on the use and influence of outdoor learning in special schools and for pupils with CSPMLD. It is important to understand outdoor learning within the special school context, including the kinds of school cultures that influence that shape that context, to identify the potential benefits and challenges for both staff and pupils.

The successful candidate for this project will investigate the following:

  1. How outdoor learning is used in a selection of special schools for pupils with CSPMLD.
  2. Whether participation in outdoor learning influences the mental wellbeing, and communication, social, and independence skills of pupils with CSPMLD.
  3. How the provision of outdoor learning can be embedded into special school culture.

The research will take a case study approach, utilising special schools for pupils with CSPMLD who self-report different degrees of outdoor learning. A qualitative research approach will be adopted, to gain in-depth insight from staff and pupils.

Data collection methods will include semi-structured interviews with classroom staff, to capture their views on outdoor learning and its use within their school, and observation of outdoor learning within the schools utilising creative, participative methodologies with pupils, to reflect on outdoor learning.

The research is expected to:

  1. Contribute to knowledge in outdoor learning and special education, evidencing the influence of outdoor learning on mental wellbeing, communication, social, and independence skills for pupils with CSPMLD, shared via academic and practitioner journals and online teacher networks.
  2. Make recommendations on the use of outdoor learning for pupils with CSPMLD and how this can be embedded into school culture, disseminated through a policy briefing paper.
  3. Create interdisciplinary collaboration through the supervisory team to further research collaborations around including neuro- and physical diversity in the drive to reconnect humans with nature, and promote biodiversity and environmental sustainability.

The successful candidate will be supported by an expert team with strong experience in doctoral supervision. They will be invited to join and contribute to ARU's Cluster for Education Research on Identities and Inequalities (CERII).

Prof Marie-Pierre Moreau is a Professor of Education and CERII Director, and her research focuses on education and inequalities. Marie-Pierre has extensively published in this area, and has advised the European Commission on various matters, including research, education and inequalities.

Dr Sara Spear’s research focuses on promoting health and wellbeing. Her recent projects include exploring physical activity culture in primary schools and enhancing parental engagement in special schools.

Dr Elsa Lee is an experienced researcher in the environmental sustainability education field with a growing publication record in wellbeing, outdoor engagement, and art.

If you would like to discuss this research project prior to application please contact sara.spear@aru.ac.uk

Apply online by 27 February 2022.

Funding notes

This successful applicant for this project will receive a Vice Chancellor’s PhD Scholarship which covers Home tuition fees and provides a UKRI equivalent minimum annual stipend for three years. For 2022/3 this will be £15,609 per year. The award is subject to the successful candidate meeting the scholarship terms and conditions. Please note that the University asserts the right to claim any intellectual property generated by research it funds.

Download the full terms and conditions.