Young potential unlocked in the wild

Our courses present challenges which encourage young people to overcome physical obstacles, says Martin Davidson

Outdoor pursuits at the Outward Bound Trusts Loch Eil Centre, have helped increase young peoples confidence and self-esteem
Outdoor pursuits at the Outward Bound Trusts Loch Eil Centre, have helped increase young peoples confidence and self-esteem

Modern society poses significant challenges to young people, particularly during periods of transition when they can be left to feel vulnerable, often becoming disengaged with their own learning and development. Indeed, the Annual Population Survey (APS) estimated that, in 2012, there were 33,000 young people aged 16 to 19 years not in education, employment or training in Scotland. This means that approximately 13 per cent of the young people within this age range in Scotland are outside of any form of recognised participation in society.

The Outward Bound Trust has been supporting the development of young people for over 70 years, providing them with challenging, adventurous and safe learning experiences in the outdoors. We help young people develop the skills and attitudes they need, to not only overcome the challenges they face, but thrive; be that in their education, training or work.

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In order to grow and develop individuals the trust believes it is vital that young people are equipped with key life skills such as perseverance, confidence and resilience to enable them to constantly adapt, change and develop to the evolving world and its resulting challenges.

Between October 2012 and September 2013, 54 donors in Scotland supported the trust in its mission to unlock the potential in young people through learning and adventure in the wild.

During this same time frame the trust delivered Outward Bound® courses to 4,951 young Scots, working with 137 schools and 13 youth organisations.

Constantly striving to increase the impact our courses have on young people has always been important. Through the development of a number of initiatives in Scotland, such as designing a wider range of education courses with particular learning objectives, developing our partnerships with schools and improving resources for teachers, we feel we are enabling further progress.

Measuring the impact of Outward Bound courses is another aspect of development and the trust employs a number of research methods in order to do this, which is presented in a biennial Impact Report. The third and latest Social Impact Report 2014 records how outdoor learning can contribute toward young people’s wider achievement, with 2,926 achieving the John Muir Award across the UK, 905 achieving the Adventure and Challenge Award in Scotland and 235 gaining credits towards qualifications such as BTEC Diploma in Sport or Public Services.

One particular course tested and included in this report was delivered as part of the Mark Scott Leadership for Life Award.

Now in its tenth year, this flagship Scottish project involves around 180 young people per annum and aims to tackle divisive issues in society through a combination of outdoor and community-based learning to deliver projects of practical benefit to local communities. New Philanthropy Capital, the organisation that analysed the data for this programme, said: “It is evident that Outward Bound is having a significant positive impact on a number of socio-emotional skills, namely resilience, optimism and self-efficacy.

Of all areas [measured], resilience showed the most significant effect. Outward Bound courses present young people with a new and challenging environment and encourage them to overcome physical obstacles. This could explain why ‘resilience’ sees the biggest increase in participants.”

In September 2013, 90 pupils from St Machar Academy in Aberdeen attended a five-day course at the trust’s Loch Eil Centre, in the Highlands. These pupils come from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds, with over 30 different languages spoken within the school, and 17 per cent are registered for free school meals. This figure is higher than both the average for Aberdeen city and the national average in Scotland, which are 10 per cent and approximately 15 per cent respectively. The pupils were aged between 12 to 14 and included young people who were not achieving their potential at school, were at risk of offending, some with special educational needs and who speak English as a second language.

Prior to the course, teachers at St Machar Academy reported that many of the pupils lacked confidence and the skills required to work with others effectively.

As a result of their Outward Bound experience, the teachers hoped that the young people would show an increase in their confidence and self-esteem and improve their ability to work with others.

Whilst completing the outdoor activities, such as gorge scrambling, raft building and hiking, the young people saw a landfill site and observed logging in the forest. The course director reported that these experiences sparked discussions about the environment and recycling. This had a significant impact on the pupils and they were able to link their own behaviours to the environmental issues they had learnt about.

Post-course questionnaires filled out by the pupils revealed that 84 per cent felt more confident to be themselves, 75 per cent said they were more aware of other people’s skills and qualities and 85 per cent felt they would be more likely to keep going when faced with difficulties in the future. One of the accompanying teachers, Hayley Jones, reported that the pupils’ memories of the course would provide “a continual source of pride and positivity for them”.

Looking ahead, our goal over the next four to five years is to further expand and strengthen our work in Scotland. We want to increase the numbers of young people to benefit from courses run at our Scottish centres by 40 per cent to around 10,000 annually and increase the number of fully-funded corporate projects.

• Martin Davidson is Scottish Director at the Outward Bound Trust