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School grounds - msstt

Creating a garden or outdoor classroom in school grounds

Tip: Before you read this section you might also find the general advice about creating community projects useful.

Improving the grounds of your school has a positive impact that goes beyond just making the area look better. It can bring a whole range of benefits to your pupils and local community:

  • Encouraging more active lifestyles
  • Food growing and healthy eating
  • Practical hands on learning and a chance to apply skills in subjects right across the curriculum including design and technology, maths, geography, English and science
  • Outdoor learning can suit some children better than classroom based learning
  • Build soft skills like teamwork
  • Improve concentration
  • Ensure your school gets the benefits of green space

There are lots of options for things to include in your outdoor space. By ensuring you have done a sound assessment of risk you can incorporate wider range of featured than you might realise:


Many schools design in features that encourage activity. This can be specially designed equipment but that can be expensive to buy and install. You can also achieve a similar result with clever use of natural materials and recycled materials.  

Natural Play

We’ve become accustomed to formal play equipment being the way children play outdoors but there are lots of benefits to designing in play equipment using natural materials. Elements like tree trunks, sand, low boulders, landscaped grass banks can be cost effective, great fun, an opportunity to explore risk in a safer way, to learn about the natural world and let children’s imaginations run wild.

Nature trails

Nature trails are a great way to use outside spaces and can often be incorporated into your school grounds if you already have existing hedges, trees and garden areas. You can get a lot of fun and education from just creating a nature trail using information posts and setting challenges at each one.


Some people are cautious about installing a pond in school but with a fenced dipping platform, good policies, good design and fencing to ensure access is supervised, they can be an excellent learning tool. They are an excellent way to learn about biodiversity and to connect pupils with the natural world.

When placing the pond it’s a good idea to avoid overhanging trees as they leaves will fill the pond and need clearing out. You should also ensure you have a nearby water source so you can top up the pond if needed.

Teaching resources

We've created some resources and worksheets to help you make the most of teaching maths, art, literacy, science and other subjects in your school grounds, outdoor classroom or other outdoor environments.

Get the resources

Fire pit

Again with care and the right approach a fire pit can be an excellent addition to your garden providing lots of learning opportunities. You’ll want to take care about positioning to avoid fire risk (for example not placing them under trees) and smoke causing problems for neighbours. It’s also a good idea to include some seating around the fire pit and to design it so the fire is contained.

Food growing

A space for food growing is good for encouraging healthy eating, especially if you can use the produce in cooking lessons. It can also be brilliant for teaching science and other subjects.

Good foods to grow are those that are easy and have a crop that is ready in early summer. They include: radishes, beetroot, carrots (but you’ll want fine soil for these), herbs, potatoes, lettuce (great as you can harvest it and it will grow back) and strawberries.

Raised beds are great as the ensure access is easy for everyone (and you can also place them on hard surfaces). Design them so that the height suits the users – lower for younger children, higher for wheelchair users. A maximum depth of about 1 metre is good so children can reach right to the back.

It's also a good idea to make sure there is someone who can access the school and take care of the garden during the summer holiday.

You can also read more about food growing projects here.

Bird boxes

Adding bird boxes not only creates a home for wildlife but can be a great crafting project for your pupils and a teaching tool. Some schools even install a camera in the boxes so it’s easy to get a view inside in nesting season.

Bug homes

Creating a home for insects and other invertebrates is great to mini-beast safaris and the bugs of course. This can be as simple as leaving behind piles of sticks when you are building your garden or you can easily create a purpose built bug hotel.

We produced a guide to building a bug hotel.

Green roofs

A green roof is a roof that has some form of vegetation grown on it. They can be anything from a thin covering of sedum to a full garden with trees! Groundwork in South Yorkshire have created a full guide to creating green roofs.

Friendship bench

A friendship bench is a distinctive seat or bench, often designed by pupils, where students can go when they feel they need someone to talk to. Other children and staff can then see that some help, company, support or comfort is needed and can then provide it.

Forest Schools

Forest Schools is an approach that is becoming popular. You do not need to be a Forest School to do outdoor learning or arrange trips to woodland, but it’s an approach you might want to consider.

It is a philosophy originally pioneered in Scandinavia and doesn’t actually require woodland, despite the name. It requires a level 3 practitioner and is described by the Forest School Association as:

  • a long-term process of regular sessions, rather than a one-off or infrequent visits; the cycle of planning, observation, adaptation and review links each session
  • takes place in a woodland or natural environment to support the development of a relationship between the learner and the natural world
  • uses a range of learner-centred processes to create a community for being, development and learning
  • aims to promote the holistic development of all those involved, fostering resilient, confident, independent and creative learners
  • offers learners the opportunity to take supported risks appropriate to the environment and to themselves
  • is run by qualified Forest School practitioners who continuously maintain and develop their professional practice

You can find out more about Forest Schools on the Forest School Association website.

More tips for for your school grounds project.

  • demonstrating how these spaces will help the pupils learning experience schools will make themselves more attractive to potential funders
  • Schools are already community hubs and reach out into the wider populace. Be creative - think how any new development can engage not only the school population but also the wider community – how will the space be used outside school hours? If the space will only benefit the school and pupils it may be difficult to demonstrate why they are eligible for external funding. Could community groups use the building at evenings and weekends? Is there a heritage or ecological aspect they can exploit – could the building/ space also be a community resource for local history or ecological learning?
  • Applications should demonstrate how the project will change the lives of children for the better
  • Propose something different – lots of schools will apply for funding for an outside classroom area
  • Remember as specified in the guide each open space will have different issues that need to be addressed - What checks are required for visitors and contactors on site during school hours (CRB)? Will the timeline need to adhere to school hours/ holidays? What are the health and safety implications of what may be for a period an open work site with children nearby?
  • Could you have a focus on healthy living, wildlife or the arts? You need to make the project current and relevant.
  • You will be expected to have consulted the community/ target group you want to reach before you prepare your bid. This could include questionnaires to pupils and families, making contact with local youth groups, talking to community organisations, sheltered housing schemes, Sure Start, and voluntary groups to see if they would use your space, and what they would like to use it for. Early consultation can help you design a great project which will benefit as many people as possible, strengthening your bid for funds. Quotes from young people and the potential beneficiaries in particular help to make a bid stand out.
  • If you are seeking funding to renovate a play area ensure that you advise how the new space will impact on the user's health and wellbeing – could outdoor gym equipment could be incorporated?

Below are some links to sites that deal specifically with outdoor school projects and potential external funders. You will also find a newspaper article/ blog where teachers offer specific advice on this subject.

Useful Links

Community project in schools – case studies

Gardening with children – funding guide

Council for learning outside the classroom

Countryside classroom – ideas for eco learning

Learning through landscapes

Grants 4 schools case studies

Ofted guide on learning outside the classroom