The Adventure Learning trial evaluated interventions from two organisations: the Outward Bound Trust (OBT), and Commando Joe’s Education Services (CJ’s). Both evaluations were delivered over 5 days, with optional follow-on activities for schools. The OBT programme was delivered at one of their residential centres and was delivered by trained instructors. Activities included gorge walking, wild camping and hiking. The CJ’s programme was delivered in schools, utilising classrooms, halls and playing fields, and was also delivered by trained instructors. Activities were based on a ‘top secret mission’ and required teamwork, communication and listening skills. In both interventions two teachers or support staff were required to attend to support with behaviour.
The Adventure Learning trial was designed to contribute to the research base around outdoor adventure learning, and how it can affect non-cognitive and academic outcomes. It was unique for the EEF as it aimed to understand the relationship between these outcomes over time.
The data collection and the optional follow-up activities in schools in this project were affected by high levels of attrition, partly due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The data collection for the primary outcome (self-regulation after 1 year) was delayed and disrupted, leading to 65% attrition as far fewer tests were completed due to Covid-19, and pupils experienced substantial disruption to their education and lives during this time.
With these caveats in mind, pupils who experienced the OBT programme showed very small or no additional improvements in their self-regulation compared with pupils who did not experience the programme. Pupils who experienced the CJ’s programme showed small improvements. This was the primary outcome for the trial. This was the same for pupils who are eligible for Free School Meals.
However, pupils in the OBT intervention group showed moderate improvements in their behaviour 12 – 18 months after the intervention, compared to pupils in other schools. Immediately after the intervention students showed small positive changes in self-regulation and small positive improvements in school engagement compared to students in control schools. Again due to smaller than expected numbers of students providing outcome data, these results have a low security rating.
Pupils in the CJ’s intervention group showed large improvements in their behaviour 12 – 18 months after the intervention, compared to pupils in other schools. Immediately after the intervention students showed moderate positive changes in self-regulation and moderate positive improvements in school engagement compared to students in control schools. Again these results have a low security rating.
Pupils reported both programmes as an opportunity to engage in challenging activities beyond their peer group that allowed them to demonstrate greater confidence, self-regulation, teamwork and deepened relationships with staff and peers.
Staff and pupils were positive about the activities, resources and professionalism of the instructors in both programmes. Pupils that received the OBT intervention experienced activities where the level of challenge was hard, but achievable, allowing them to experience success, increase their sense of self-worth and to advance a growth mindset. Pupils that received the CJ’s intervention described the missions as high quality and authentic. The activities were designed to strengthen peer relationships, improve team working and communication; whilst also encouraging pupil independence.
The evaluation team will be publishing a follow-up analysis of the impact of participating in either of the programmes on GCSE outcomes. The EEF has no plans for a further trial of either programme.