Increased role for outdoor learning and natural environment in new school curriculum

Sue Williams, Team Leader for Health, Education and Natural Resources, tells us about the role the natural environment plays in the new Curriculum for Wales, and how her team has helped develop the way pupils learn in, about and for the natural environment.

When children start to return to school in Wales this week, all primaries and some secondary schools at year 7 will begin teaching the new Curriculum for Wales, following the biggest review of education in 30 years.

Curriculum for Wales covers all learners aged 3 to 16. From September 2023, all year 7 and 8 pupils will be taught through the new curriculum with the roll out year on year, until it includes year 11 by 2026.

Settings now have the freedom to develop their own curriculum, taught through 6 Areas of Learning and Experience:

  • Science and Technology
  • Humanities
  • Health and Well-being
  • Mathematics and Numeracy
  • Expressive Arts
  • Languages, Literacy and Communication

At its heart is the aspiration for every child and young person in Wales to become:

  • ambitious, capable learners, ready to learn throughout their lives
  • enterprising, creative contributors, ready to play a full part in life and work
  • ethical, informed citizens of Wales and the world
  • healthy, confident individuals, ready to lead fulfilling lives as valued members of society

Influencing the curriculum

From an early Call for Evidence in 2016, our Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills Advisors have been involved in shaping and developing the new curriculum.

We have ensured that the Sustainable Management of Natural Resources (SMNR) and the climate and nature emergencies can be taught in a meaningful and authentic way, and the supportive role that a connection to nature and outdoor learning can play in a whole school approach to attainment and physical activity and mental well-being is appreciated, understood and implemented.

Working with our partners in Wales Council for Outdoor Learning we have submitted numerous consultation responses, commented on a plethora of guidance material and kept our educator community up to date via our Outdoor Learning Wales Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Our Wales Outdoor Learning Week campaign has helped motivate and inspire teachers and learners alike to embrace outdoor learning, while our Children’s Rights Approach has ensured we uphold and promote children’s rights throughout the process.

We are thrilled that being outdoors is now recognised as equal to the indoor classroom, and outdoor learning is positioned as a central pedagogy (teaching method) which all settings will engage in.

Benefits of outdoor learning

Welsh Government explains the benefits of outdoor learning and connecting to nature in their curriculum guidance:

“Learning outdoors can lead to high levels of well-being, confidence and engagement. Being outdoors supports social, emotional, spiritual and physical development, as well as providing authentic opportunities for learners to develop and consolidate cross-curricular skills.
“The outdoors provides opportunities to inspire awe and wonder, and allows learners to be themselves in open, relaxed and stimulating spaces.
“Learners who are able to engage and connect with the natural world can build an empathy for the environment, showing an awareness of their potential impact on the living world. They can begin to explore the concept of sustainability in a practical way.
“Outdoor environments can provide unique opportunities for learners to improve balance and co-ordination, develop motor function and explore their physical potential…learners can develop their ability to assess and experience risk, helping to develop resilience and confidence.”

Resources for educators

In order to support the roll out of the new curriculum, we have co-produced resources such as the High Quality Outdoor Learning for Wales document which supports teachers in the assessment of learning in the outdoors.

We have also developed a wide range of NRW material, from hard-hitting Climate Change resources to Promoting Mathematics and Numeracy through nature via Peatlands, Orchards and the Wales Coast Path.

And the work continues. We can’t afford to sit back and leave it all to the teachers – they need our support and help.

We are in the process of producing resources for Coed y Brenin and Bwlch Nant yr Arian visitor centres to help self-led groups make the most of our land.

In a few weeks we will be launching a range of sand dune resources that we have developed with the Sands of LIFE team, shortly followed by resources about wildfire developed as part of the Healthy Hillsides project. All these resources will be supported by a range of online and face-to-face educator training courses which can be booked via Tocyn Cymru.

Alongside this, we are continuing to develop our YouTube Learning channel and we regularly add case studies to our website so people can access information when they need it.

Two further pieces of work led by Qualifications Wales have also required our attention. Qualified for the Future is looking at the current GCSE structure and content and the changes required for the future. Our main message has been that sustainability can no longer just be taught in geography and the sciences – every learner needs to understand their place in the world and their impact on it.

Qualified for Life is looking at non-GCSE subjects. Recently, we co-ordinated a group of NRW experts to get involved in a review of Agriculture courses. The idea is to eventually have a clear path through from the new curriculum to qualifications and assessment.

Find out more

You can find out about the education service we offer at NRW, alongside a wealth of learning resources, on our Education, Learning and Skills pages.

If you have any questions or suggestions for new resources, please get in touch with us at We love to hear feedback!

For an overview of the new curriculum and how education is changing, go to gov.Wales

Explore more

Newsletter sign up

Sign up to receive monthly updates from Natural Resources Wales