Starting an outdoor program at my school 

It can be hard to know where to start when creating an outdoor programme at your school. Here are a few ideas and pointers to consider before you begin. 


Who’s going to pay for it? You could organise an activity, put a letter out to parents, and get it paid for. But if the families in your school don’t have disposable income, or if this is an unexpected outlay, activities may not get off the ground if you don’t get enthusiasm from parents and expected numbers. Speak to the school bursar and management to gauge the type and cost of your first activity; you don’t want your program to fail before you start. Setting up activities on the calendar with sufficient time will help families fund activities. Make sure you are well organised and keep your families in the loop with enthusiastic letters and correspondence via your school website and social media. 

If you have school staff with existing expertise, this is a good place to begin. Consider a local or on-site activity that has low to zero cost. Remember that time and money come via school management support, so get some support. 

Management support

This is the key to a long-lasting outdoor program. School leadership will determine time and money to be spent. The following series of questions should be considered before you dive in. 

  1. How much in/out of hours time are staff going to spend on this program? It is important to remember that risk assessment writing and paperwork for outdoor departments takes time. Local activities can use between 2-10 hours of planning, but expeditions and trips can be 10-60 hours of planning or more!
    • Consider interspersing in house activities with a good outdoor provider; this will cut down on paperwork. 
  2. Will time spent on planning/running activities affect teaching and planning time, and if so, how do you compensate for this? Two possible answers are given below.
    • Reduce the teachers classroom timetable to help the program grow to success… is this affordable?
    • Incentivise teaching staff with financial benefits or management positions and/or training. 
  1. How you make your activities safe and accessible?
    • Consider training and development for teachers. Safety is paramount, so invest in training your staff or recruit those with existing expertise.  Financial benefits help with teacher retention at the school. Also, training/investing in teachers often increases the longevity potential of an ‘in house’ program. 

Create standardised infrastructure

This is the part that I see least of all when helping schools create and run outdoor programs, and it is the main reason that they fall apart or fade away. Your in house expert often has great lesson plans and planning documents that might be kept on their own computer, so when they move away, the documents move with them and also their expertise. Here are a few things you can do to keep your ideas alive, year after year.

  1. Reporting. Have your expert report up the line to management. This keeps management involved and interested.
  2. Create standardised paperwork. This allows other teachers to learn how to plan, and also encourages them to create their own activities. Have school drive space made available so everyone can access materials.
  3. Invest in training for staff. If your in house team are good enough they can train one another, if not, get outside help and qualifications, trying to have several teachers involved at any one time.
  4. Have a kit store and keep it well organised. If your teachers move on, you will always have some equipment, and if well organised, that kit will relate to the lesson plans, risk assessments and other paperwork that you have created as a team. I love walking into someone else’s kit-store with a lesson plan that has a kit list on it and instantly find everything I need! 

If you want to chat further about setting up activities at your school email Mat Barnsley at:


There’s gold in them there hills!

I’ve always liked shiny things. A treasure hunter at heart. Treasure comes in many forms, but non so familiar as pure gold! Maybe that was a subconscious reason that I ended up becoming an exploration geologist: travelling the world looking for shiny things fulfilled two of my greatest passions, and our gold hunting trip to the Arctic with Latymer Upper School was a really fantastic time that helped me with a third great passion.

Christophe Blanchard is the Head of Art at Latymer Upper, he runs the school’s expeditions programme, and he is a truly gifted individual. His pleasant manner and happy countenance pulls you in to listen to his smooth French accent as he tells you a story or a fact to do with something or other, of which he is brimming; and he has a lovely set of pearly whites to boot. If I could afford to employ him as our company photographer I certainly would, because his photography skills are stunning! And he does most of it with his phone, with what seems to be little to no effort at all for him. He truly has a knack for it. His students and his school are lucky to have him.

Sarah Fordyce is a bundle of fun, and I am pretty sure she could kill you in a fight! She is always where the action is, and she doesn’t hold back to get stuck in with the hard work. She is a great example of someone who sets the standard for her students. She wouldn’t ask anyone to do anything that she wouldn’t do herself.

Great integrity was what I saw on this trip in Sarah. Her students look up to her; they respect her, and she seems to have found the very most perfect balance of friendliness and discipline with her students, something that all of the teachers out there know, is the holy grail of success and development in the classroom. I guess that’s why the school trusts her with the position of Head of Year 13. She sees them off into the real world. I can see she is good at that job; she gets the students prepared to face reality.

We found just over 2 grams of gold on this last trip, a good find for a place that yields 0.5 gram per metric ton of earth dug. The students worked hard and had a great time with the other activities such as spoon and bowl carving, fire lighting and canoeing and wild camping in the wilderness. But the best times were sitting at dinner with new friends sharing stories, great food and lots of laughs. Everyone on that trip made a new connection with someone else. They got to learn something about another person and hopefully something about themselves too, and that to me is treasure.

Mat Barnsley