New research explores efficacy of expeditionary and outdoor learning – points to links between improvements in pupil-teacher relationships, positive character development and better achievement

New research into the impact of school field trips on students’ aptitudes for learning, indicates that certain types of ‘character development’ intervention can positively influence the quality of key student-to-teacher and student-to-student relationships. Moreover, the research suggests that the improvement of these relationships provides a more solid foundation for the development of both desirable characteristics and academic progress.

“More than just a ski trip”: watch the full version above

The research, from the Cambridge-based Relational Schools Foundation, and led by Dr Robert Loe, measured the quality of students’ relationships with their teachers and with one another, before and after a leadership development expedition. The findings suggest that the nature of the expedition – a week long programme for 10-16 year olds to Andorra run by the Challenger Multi-Academy Trust (MAT) as part of its Character Development programme, and which involved team-building and survival-type activities as well as skiing and social events – had a very positive impact on relational quality.

It found that, after the leadership expedition, students felt they were more likely to be listened to and understood, more likely to feel acknowledged, appreciated and supported by their teachers, and that they could trust others in the class more than before. They were also more likely to feel their teachers had a fuller understanding and appreciation of their skills and talents. The teachers themselves reported having more respect for individual students, more of a sense of loyalty and commitment to them as a group, and more faith in their ability to overcome future challenges in their relationships with students.

Dr Loe, Director of Research and founder of the Relational Schools Foundation, explains:

The premise of our hypothesis is simple but challenging. It is that true success in the development of positive characteristics as well as academic achievement and other things like community building, public service, and leadership – depends upon getting relationships right. This research shows how character strengths best express themselves through relationships, and are best developed in the context of healthy relationships. It indicates is that the types of activity Challenger students engaged with in Andorra, and which their schools build into their more routine curricula, create a good context for the development of those positive relationships, and therefore positive characteristics. It suggests that schools seeking to develop these vital attributes have to challenge the very concept of what a classroom is.

Schools in the Challenger MAT, supported by its sponsor, the Challenger Trust, have a distinctive focus on the development of essential character attributes, such as resilience, ambition, confidence and courage. Through their rich curricula, which include a high proportion of learning outside the classroom, Challenger schools aim to develop characteristics likely to help young people engage with the education system, raise their academic achievement and improve future employment opportunities. This is a key part of the Challenger Trust’s aim to improve social mobility.

The research report, together with new a short film, was launched last night at a reception at the Millbank Tower, London. Hosted by the Challenger Trust, the event brought together practitioners, policy makers, researchers and others with an interest in improving social mobility through the development of positive characteristics in schools, and aims to raise funds so that more young people can benefit from its work.

Commenting on the evening, Charlie Rigby, Chief Executive of the Challenger Trust, said: “For almost 20 years, the Challenger Trust has had the privilege of helping young people to make new beginnings. We have worked with over 100,000 young people in some of the most socio- and economically- challenged communities of the UK, improving their social mobility and inspiring them to achieve beyond their wildest expectations. Our sponsored school programmes aim to develop those character attributes that are essential for young people to engage with life-long learning, succeed in work, and live productive, healthy and happy lives. We work hard to ensure that no-one is excluded from attending an activity due to lack of financial resource, and rely on the generosity of our supporters. We hope that this excellent research, which we believe clearly demonstrates the positive impact of our approach, encourages more people to engage.”

The film was made by production house, Oskie Creative. This is not the first collaboration between Relational Schools and Director, James Fowler, who came together in 2015 to produce The Relational Teacher.

Commenting on the new film, Dr Loe said: “It reveals practitioners reflecting on what true classroom engagement feels like, exploring the impact of meeting students in new and challenging contexts and exploring what good relationships look and feel like. It also reveals how young people’s perceptions of their teachers and their own capacities as learners and human beings, change as a result of being led and leading others in challenging settings. With moving testimonies from individuals who have been given life-changing opportunities, we are sure the film will help Charlie and his colleagues gain the support they need to reach more young people with their work.”

Stephen Chamberlain, Chief Executive of the Challenger MAT from whose academies the children were drawn commented:

We are delighted that students of all ages from across our academies in Bedfordshire and Essex have had this unique opportunity to gain new learning experiences that have not only helped to develop aspects of their character in new and challenging environments and with students from a diverse range of backgrounds, but have also found greater motivation, resilience and determination in their approach to achieving excellence in their academic performance as well.

To find out more about the film maker please visit James’ Personal Website or that of Oskie Creative.



    • Debbie Simpson

      This was a fantastic opportunity for our children to develop their independence, skills confidence and talents. Also to create new relationships and see other countries and cultures. My child enjoyed this so much.

Leave a Comment