GTC Scotland

The General Teaching Council for Scotland

The great outdoors

With climate change now a global crisis, schools are encouraging their pupils to get out and learn more about sustainability, ecosystems and nature.

Outdoor Learning was formalised in the Scottish Curriculum in 2010 via Curriculum for Excellence through Outdoor Learning and, although it has been part of the GTC Scotland Professional Standards (as an element of Learning for Sustainability) since 2013, some teachers still lack the confidence and skills to provide quality outdoor learning opportunities for their pupils.

With that in mind, we highlight outdoor learning hacks from courses that have been accredited with Professional Recognition by GTC Scotland. These are ‘Teaching in Nature’ and ‘Lead Teacher in Outdoor Learning’.

Start planning

Scottish Natural Heritage highlights key elements for success when learning in a new natural place. These are time, collaboration and finding people who know a place well.

Here’s how you can get started:

  • form a group of like-minded colleagues;
  • find your place – a local park, woodland and even hotel grounds within walking distance are a good place to start;
  • visit your place with colleagues and meet the site manager/landowner/others who know it;
  • create a routine – plan, deliver and evaluate regular sessions at and about your place at different times throughout the year;
  • integrate this with other indoor and outdoor class work;
  • share challenges and successes and collaborate with your colleagues throughout;
  • go with the flow – don’t over-plan, take opportunities to learn more about the place from others, form partnerships and go off on tangents – the most successful outdoor learning projects never end up as planned!

Where to go?

Anyone can exercise access rights over most land and inland water in Scotland, providing they do so responsibly. See for information on the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.
Take a walk near your school, chat to the children and their families; get them involved in choosing your site. You don’t need to be the expert; be prepared to learn with the pupils as you go along.

Visit for suggested sites.

Don’t reinvent the wheel

There are a wide variety of free resources available to help you plan outdoor learning activities. Learning through Landscapes’ Poetree project encourages using a tree as a stimulus for creative writing. Create a critter encourages thought about biodiversity and adaptation, and 10 ways to measure a tree is a fun way to get pupils thinking about different ways of completing a task.

You can find out more about the Learning through Landscapes Scotland programme, as well as download free resources at


Mark, a primary teacher in Fife, took his P3 pupils to nearby Loch Leven National Nature Reserve to see how outdoor learning could benefit his class. Literacy was the main focus of his visit, encouraging his pupils to expand the breadth and depth of their writing. The site is well known for having served as a prison for Mary, Queen of Scots. The children learned about historical storytelling, fiction vs non-fiction, how to take notes, photography and sketching. On returning to the classroom, they created comics of the routes they took on their walk and of Mary.

This was not a one-off trip as Mark revisited the site with his class to build on their learning. He said: “It has made me think more about the purpose of outdoor learning and perhaps just letting children enjoy the outdoors for even a small part of their day.”

The resources and programme have impacted Mark’s teaching and planning skills, both in the classroom and in the outdoors, with a view to expanding his outdoor learning in different subject areas and natural spaces. Scottish Natural Heritage’s ‘Teaching in Nature’ programme supported Mark with this work. The course helps teachers work together to use a natural place to plan, implement and evaluate relevant, challenging and fun learning experiences for their pupils.

More information can be found at