The area in which a school sits can be hugely beneficial to the education it provides. Richard Merriman, Headmaster of Foremarke Hall, explains the advantages of a Derbyshire site

Great British Life: Pupils working on one of the Greenpower carsPupils working on one of the Greenpower cars (Image: as supplied)

Research regarding children going outdoors usually focuses on the benefits of the exercise they will get from it, and I agree, it is undoubtedly good for their health. But of at least equal value is the education to be gained from spending time outside the classroom. Derbyshire is the perfect location in which to achieve this.

Creative approaches to teaching both academic subjects and life skills are invaluable and one of the fundamental beliefs at Foremarke Hall is that children learn through practical experience that engages the senses and creates excitement. It is also important that this fun approach is used as part of core lessons as well as in extracurricular activities, for pupils of all ages, and our immediate and wider location is a huge asset in helping us to achieve that.

For Pre-Prep, one of the ways learning is brought to life is through our Forest Schools programme – using our environment as a learning tool. Children are inspired to explore and be creative. The forest floor becomes a blackboard, twigs and conkers are counting tools, the outdoors becomes an engaging classroom. There is the most amazingly well-resourced stock cupboard, literally on our doorstep!

Inspired by a Year Two trip to nearby Rosliston Forestry Centre where the children were taken to learn about animal habitats and the importance of trees, a bug hotel has been created in our 55-acre grounds. The brainchild of the Reception team in Pre-Prep, it attracts a variety of insects, with regular visitors including woodlice, beetles, ants and butterflies. The hotel allows Pre-Prep pupils to become nature detectives, making sense of their science studies about biodiversity, habitats and food chains. Concepts such as these are much easier to understand in the big wide world when they’re set in context than in the classroom, and when the children are more engaged and motivated to understand and learn.

Great British Life: A trek in the woodA trek in the wood (Image: as supplied)

At the beginning of the school year at Foremarke, pupils from Years 5 to 8 go on outward bound exercises. This year, Year 6 went to Buxton for two nights, Year 8 to Wales and Years 5 and 7 took part in team-building exercises on our site with overnight camping at Foremarke for the Year 7s. This approach binds and galvanises the pupils at the beginning of the year. They are energised to understand strengths and weaknesses and they learn to look after each other. This start of year experience sets the tone for the whole year, with team work, physical and mental challenges, curiosity and discovery all central to the exercise.

Among the innovative approaches we take to Science and Technology is our involvement in Greenpower-F24 and membership of the Young Engineers organisation. We have benefited from the involvement and support of several Derbyshire companies in this. Made up of girls and boys in Years 7 and 8, the Foremarke Racing Team builds and develops vehicles for the national Greenpower Formula 24 electric car races for schools programme, which sets out to inspire children to be our future engineers. For those pupils involved it is very much ‘hands-on’. Our newest car FR-7K was assembled by a group of Year 7s and, as with all our vehicles, responsibility for driving and the battery changing at circuits around the country including Goodwood, sits primarily with the young team.

A team of four pupils also goes to the University of Nottingham every year to compete in challenges which see them using Chemistry to solve crimes, really bringing the subject to life. Forensics, anion identification and chromatography have all been part of this in the past.

The National Space Centre in Leicester is another favourite ‘on our doorstep’ destination.

Lessons and tuition are, of course, core business, but we recognise the importance of providing young people with things to learn and enjoy away from the classroom – and we have the facilities to allow them to do so. It is in this way that they discover life-long interests, previously unrecognised skills and strengths and get the all-important chances to let off steam and have some fun.

Providing that holistic approach is more important – and more successful – than relentless concentration on academic achievement. Out of classroom hours, the magnificent surroundings of Foremarke Hall lend themselves to a truly broad range of fun activities: tree climbing, sailing on the school lake and den building all allow children to be children. Playing on the hay bales in the local farmer’s fields or a walk to the caves by the river are other typical ‘on-site’ activities.

Derbyshire’s schools really are perfectly situated to bring learning to life, and allow pupils to have that all-important fun too!