A Sutton school has committed to teaching pupils outside permanently in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Students at the all-girls Sutton High Prep School will be taught outside in a purpose-built classroom at least once a week.

The initiative was decided upon after the school’s pupils, who are aged between four and 11, told headteacher Anne Musgrove that they “wanted lessons that connected with nature”. Numbers below 10 are written out in full In a bid to deliver for its students, Sutton High Prep School has commenced a multi-million-pound extension to its buildings.

Led by pupils’ architecture and design ideas, the new outdoor teaching terrace will be known as The Look Out and will accommodate 24 children when it opens in September. Names of things don’t need quoting The floor of the terrace will have a graphic paving system for outdoor maths and students will be able to grow fruit and vegetables in planters.

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A compost making facility will also be on hand.

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Only natural materials will be used in the building’s construction, and the project will also feature new indoor classrooms, however they will strive to replicate the feeling of being outdoors in nature.

The indoor classrooms’ design will incorporate plants and greenery as opposed to overstimulating bright colours and graphics.

Indoor classrooms will also open straight onto a woodland area and children will be able to flow freely between the two spaces.

Of the innovatie project, Ms Musgrove explained: “Just prior to the pandemic, we initiated a teaching programme called Brains Matter in which every morning children were asked to chart their emotional barometers and understand how and when their moods change and why.

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“We also had weekly assemblies about how the brain works.

“This stood the girls in great stead when the pandemic hit because throughout lockdown, they were able to notice when they felt better and why – and it was invariably when they were outside, immersed in the environment.

“When pupils returned to school, and we were at the beginning of our planning stages for the extension, it became clear from pupils that they were now unhappy with being stuck inside all week.

Combined with the obvious mitigations to the spread of Covid that being outside presents along with the benefits of increased exposure to natural sunlight and vitamin D, it seemed like the obvious thing to pivot more towards outdoor learning.

“The idea is that at first children will all have at least one lesson a week out there - and that’s in all weathers (so wellies have become part of the required school uniform).

“They’ll learn plant and wildlife names, conservation skills and meteorology but as teachers research how they can use the environment to enrich more formal teaching, from maths and biology to history to art, they will use it more frequently.”

Ms Musgrove also said she hopes the extension contributes to the mental wellbeing of her students, continuing: “With this extension, we really have the opportunity to positively contribute towards the children’s health and wellbeing.

The headteacher added: “An NHS survey not long ago showed that the proportion of children experiencing a mental health disorder had increased from one in nine in 2017 to one in six by July 2020, with more sedentary lives and isolated activities like mobile phone use playing a major factor.”

She concluded: “Schooling should be more about getting top grades – this means moving away from the principle of a classroom having four walls and creating spaces that provide the opportunity to take lessons into the great outdoors.”


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