1. Where are you now?
The first step of the process is to evaluate what you already have in place. Are different outdoor areas being used in different ways? Do some places get too hot in summer or exposed to biting winds in the winter? How do people feel about the grounds? Do they reflect the ethos of the school?
2. Group involvement
The key to developing successful school grounds is to invite input from lots of different groups. However, real engagement ought to consist of more than simply asking pupils to draw pictures of what they’d like to see; it’s about tapping in to their expertise as the grounds’ main users.
3. Decide where you want to be
The next step is to consider your end goals. What would you like to be able to do outside? What experiences do you want your pupils to have? At this stage, don’t think about the things you want to have, as this can limit what you end up with – focus more on your desired outcomes.
4. Decide your priorities
Perhaps you want grounds that will enable your pupils to get close to nature. Maybe you want your pupils to be challenged through play, to learn about risk taking and how to play well with others. Or will your main focus be on taking learning outside or developing your pupils’ forest skills?
5. Seek inspiration
Check out the free resources on the Learning through Landscapes website, or those created for Outdoor Classroom Day and International School Grounds Month – these will help you appreciate the scope of how much you can do with classes outside.
6. Plan your route
In this stage, consider the changes you need to make in order to meet your objectives. These might entail physical alterations, but could equally involve changing the attitudes of staff or providing extra training. Consider the whole site, not just parts, so that everything works together. Then focus on your first priority.
7. Develop your ideas
Don’t simply copy an arrangement you’ve seen elsewhere – review what your specific needs are, and then search for pictures of different features and spaces that will help inspire the change. At this point you may need to bring on board a specialist; a wildlife or play specialist for a specific feature, or a landscape architect for a more complex project.
8. Make the changes
At this point, we’ve reached the fourth stage of your project. You may find that some of the things you need to do and the changes you need to make can be done by yourselves, such as creating a growing area or as creating a bug hotel; others, such as creating an amphitheatre for example, will require more specialist skills.
9. Keep going
Ensure your staff receive the training they’ll need to make the most of the changes, and ensure that your grounds staff are fully informed of how you intend to use your new outdoor space in future. You can download a guide to maintaining your school grounds in a way that supports pollinating insects via our Nation website.
10. Start again
Finally, conclude the process by returning to stage one and asking yourself ‘Where are we now?’ Review what you’ve done, compare the end result with your original objectives and assess the impact that it’s had across the whole school. Then start planning your next project!
Mary Jackson is the projects manager at Learning through Landscapes.