A PROJECT allowing Borders school pupils to learn outside of the traditional classroom setting has received glowing reviews.

Fourteen students from S3–S5 at Selkirk High School have been awarded a Forest and Outdoor Learning Award (FOLA) as a result of a successful pilot in December.

The goal of the qualification, awarded by Newbattle Abbey College, is to help participants develop the skills and understanding to work sustainably in forest and outdoor environments.

Judy Paul, lecturer at the college, said the scheme had helped people who found it hard to engage in traditional classroom learning due to the size of classes, noise, neurodiversity or poor mental health.

“Every one of the 14 participants said that their learning experience was more relaxing and it was easier to learn being in a non-pressured, outdoor environment,” she said. “Confidence was built around the safety measures agreed by the group themselves and supported by trained facilitators. Participants presented differently and were often unrecognisable to teachers in a very positive way – speaking, engaging, feeling happier and motivated in this environment. People who found it hard to engage in traditional classroom learning due to the size of classes, the noise, neurodiversity or poor mental health found a place to feel safe and share experiences motivating them to participate, to try new things and learn at their own pace. Attendance too went up for some pupils.

“Some of the practical activities undertaken will leave a lasting legacy such as helping to uncover ancient pathways created almost 200 years ago on the Riddell Estate which had been covered over with thick vegetation.”

The project received funding from the Harris Trust, a charity created following the death of 19-year-old Borderer Harris Macdonell, who was autistic.

Its success has resulted in the trust funding two further programmes and providing resources to train two members of staff so that Selkirk High School can deliver its own FOLAs.

The school has now committed to embedding the qualification within a new programme of outdoor learning, which will be added to the curriculum from autumn 2024.

Fifteen pupils have already chosen this as a subject for S3, described as a “hugely significant” result by Ms Paul.

Three primary schools in the Selkirk cluster – Lilliesleaf, Knowepark and Philiphaugh – have also embarked on a forest school programme and it is hoped that they will achieve a level 2 award in the autumn.