New EEF trial: can adventure learning improve students’ skills, behaviour and academic results?

A new study will test two different adventure learning programmes - one focused on outdoor activities like hiking and canoeing, another based on challenging activities with military veterans – to find out if they can help improve pupils’ behaviour and boost their attainment, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) announced today.

 2,300 13 and 14 year olds (Year 9 pupils) will take part in the EEF-funded Adventure Learning trial, and engage in one of two different adventure learning programmes: Outward Bound® or Commando Joe’s

Pupils in the Outward Bound group will go on an intensive 5-day residential in wild settings in either North Wales, the Lake District or Scotland. They’ll take part in challenging, adventurous activities such as rock climbing and gorge scrambling.

Trained outdoor learning instructors will deliver the course in collaboration with teachers from the pupils’ schools. Learning strategies such as growth mindset theory, goal setting and feedback will be used by instructors during the course with the aim of boosting attainment in the classroom and skills like resilience and motivation.

Similarly, the pupils in the Commando Joe’s group will take part in challenging activities delivered by military veterans over five consecutive days. Pupils will respond to an imagined nationwide blackout by supporting one another to implement an emergency response: belaying equipment, setting up shelters and rescuing injured people. 

Delivered in schools, the course will combine physical activity with the use of metacognitive skills and instructor-facilitated reflection sessions to try to improve attainment, behaviour and other skills like perseverance and team-work.

An independent team from Sheffield Hallam University will evaluate the Adventure Learning trial to find out what impact both of the programmes have on the pupils’ outcomes in self-regulation and maths, as well as their relationships in school and behaviour in the classroom.

Sir Kevan Collins, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), said:

The evidence is clear that adventure learning programmes can have a positive impact on academic outcomes, as well as other skills like resilience and motivation. But we know less about why this is.

It might be that pupils develop skills like perseverance and resilience through adventure learning that have a knock-on impact on academic outcomes, or it might be that these programmes help boost engagement in lessons. This major new trial will help develop our understanding and provide valuable and relevant evidence for schools and teachers to use in their decision making.

Over 2,000 teenagers will get the chance to take part. Between them they’ll experience a wide range of adventure learning activities, from kayaking and mountaineering, to imagined emergencies with military veterans.

Nick Barrett, CEO of The Outward Bound Trust, said:

Since 1941, at Outward Bound we’ve learnt the outdoors is a different kind of teacher, providing personal experiences you won’t get from the traditional classroom. We’re excited to have been selected as one of the interventions in this trial as it will give teachers, as well as the wider industry, the opportunity to deeper understand how adventure learning can improve the life chances for young people.

Michael James Hamilton, founder of Commando Joe’s, said:

Commando Joe’s have retrained veterans with the right aptitude to inspire and model outstanding behaviors to support thousands of young people in schools across the country.

We are so privileged to be selected as one of the interventions in this trial. To have the opportunity to have clear evidence of the impacts that adventure learning can support teachers, pupils and the community and ultimately give young people the skills to succeed and thrive in a modern Britain.

Notes to editors

  1. The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is a grant-making charity set up in 2011 by the Sutton Trust as lead foundation in partnership with Impetus Trust (now part of Impetus–The Private Equity Foundation), with a £125m founding grant from the Department for Education. The EEF is dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement. Since its launch the EEF has awarded £96million to test the impact of 160 projects reaching over one million children and young people in more than 10,000 schools, nurseries and colleges across England. The EEF and Sutton Trust are, together, the government-designated What Works Centre for Education.
  2. Secondary state schools in England can apply to take part in the trial. More information can be found on the EEF’s website.
  3. The Outward Bound Trust is an educational charity with a mission to stop self-doubt, remove limitations - whether real or perceived, and end the fear of failure in young people. We help teach young people the most important lesson they could ever learn: to believe in themselves. It’s the super power that transforms their behaviour throughout school, higher education, work, and beyond.
  4. Commando Joe’s was established in 2009 training veterans as instructors/mentors, to bring about significant change for the most disadvantaged young people. We are passionate about building life skills, raising attainment, behaviour and attendance in our schools, inspiring young people to achieve their best. ‘No Child Left Behind’ is our founding ethos. We provide school and community based projects offering challenging personal development activities with a military ethos designed to engage young people, build their character, enhance self-discipline and attitude towards others. Over the past 10 years, more than 1,000 schools, 175,000 pupils, 3,500 teachers across England have benefited from our innovative teaching methods and our commitment to a sustainable school-led model of positive change.