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Researching your local area: what are the opportunities for fieldwork?

Fieldwork can be can be carried out in a number of locations, both in or very close to the school grounds, or within the immediate local environment. Depending on the nature of your location (for example rural, urban, coastal etc), the confidence and experience of the staff team and the nature of the children involved, there are a number of opportunities for local fieldwork.

We have listed some initial ideas and suggested frameworks to whet your appetite. The 'preparing and resourcing your fieldwork' section provides further information about the activities and links to relevant resources.

Immediate School Grounds

  • Weather and microclimate studies. Where is the best place for a wind turbine, solar panels etc.? Using basic weather recording equipment. Links to sustainability, design & technology, maths

  • 'My special place'. Using geotagged photos to describe a route to a special place in the school grounds, using geographical prose. Links to GIS, ICT, literacy

  • 'Find the photo'. Children are given a close up image of a feature in the school grounds and have to work in teams to find objects. Improves observation skills

  • Garden and seating. Children work out the best place in the school grounds for some new seating and/or a wildlife garden. Links to sustainability/ESD, design and technology, maths

  • Mental maps. Children complete a mental sketch map of the school grounds. Good as a wet-weather alternative. Links to team building and group working

  • School grounds ecosystems. An investigation of soils, aspect and plant biodiversity. How and why are there variations around the grounds. Opportunity to create your own map. Links to science, also ESD

  • Flood risk. Using collecting buckets or rain gauges to find out how much water comes off the roofs of buildings in a rainstorm. Waterproofs required! Links to flood risk maps, maths to calculate areas plus volumes

Of course, the immediate school grounds can also be used as a way of trying out and practicing fieldwork techniques which may subsequently be used further afield. These include the use of GPS, using digital cameras effectively, field sketching, ‘pre-calibrating' environmental quality scores, and using more technical equipment such as quadrats and clinometers. If you are feeling brave there is also opportunity to try out other techniques within peer groups such as questionnaires, extended interviews and videos or DVDs.

Going slightly further afield into the local town, suburb or village can yield an additional range of opportunities.

Local hinterland

  • Clone town surveys. To what extent is your local town the same or different to other high streets in the country? Links to sustainability, design and technology, maths

  • Air pollution. Using lichens as bio-indicators of pollution. Conduct a transect away from a point/linear source of pollution such as a road. Links to GIS, ICT, literacy

  • Shopping ‘roots' survey. A look at globalisation through the origin of different products available in high street retailers. Where are products manufactured? Links to map skills, history

  • Perceptions of the local area. An opportunity to carry out extended interviews, podcasts / audio recordings of people - focusing on change and the future. Good or bad? Links to ICT, literacy

Making contact: who can help you with your fieldwork?

Making contact with relevant organisations
There are a whole host of individuals, groups and organisations that can provide resources, assistance and support. Some may even provide free materials or offer their staff time for free to help you with out-of-classroom activities.

Who can help?

Organisations can support in a variety of activities:

  • Visits, including learning within the school grounds or local area, and extended schools activities on or off the school site

  • Do not forget activities provided by youth organisations, including voluntary organisations, cadet groups and local authority youth service provision, sports clubs, dance, theatre and arts organisations, and youth sections of organisations, such as the St John's Ambulance and RSPB

Mapping provision - Which providers?

In the first instance you will need to find out where activities are taking place, at what time, and for what age groups. It is also important to personally familiarise yourself with any new fieldwork or activity sites and to ensure that the resources offered by the provider are suitable for the age of children that you are taking out.

Below are some important questions that you may ask or share with external providers. They should also form part of your planning process:

  • How can you most effectively achieve the objectives of the visit? Are there opportunities within easy reach (geographically)?

  • How complicated are the arrangements likely to be? Would it be better for you if an external organisation handled them, for example coach transport to a site or location, facilities booking, etc?

  • The age and abilities of the young people - how accustomed are they to learning outside the classroom? Will they respond positively to an unknown face intervening and facilitating?

  • How experienced are you? Will it be more supportive for you to work with an external provider?

  • Can you find an external provider that can offer what you are looking for? How will you judge that they offer high-quality experiences, with safety effectively managed?

  • Do you feel you could forge a successful partnership with them? Could you see yourself using them from year to year and building a working relationship? This often happens in the case of residential fieldwork, for instance when groups re-book a field centre for the same week each year

  • What is the cost of the external provider? Do prices quoted include everything? Do they include travel? Note that many providers are ‘free', but you may still have to pay for the cost of travel to their place of work or fieldwork location

The key players and what they offer

There is a whole host of providers that can be used to assist in the planning and delivery of a KS3 fieldtrip, as well as some organisations that may just offer resources. The organisations listed below are really the big hitters, but you are also likely to find either local organisations or independents that would offer much the same thing. These could include local Environment Agency staff or Local authority staff, for example planners. NAFSO (National Association of Field Studies Officers) has a directory of local field centres.

  • Field Studies Council. National organisation of 17 centres which provides both field courses and publications, including fold-out charts and guides. Can be residential or day visits. Costs vary - £15.30 student/day

  • RSPB. Offers curriculum linked activities through the Living Classrooms programmes at over 40 locations across the country. Costs vary from £110 per day for each field teacher or £2.50 per pupil for half a day up to £4.50 for a full day

  • National Trust. The Trust operates a large education service for schools at many of its properties, welcoming 500,000 students per annum to its sites. The activities cover a wide spectrum of the curriculum including history, science and geography. Schools can join the National Trusts as group members to enjoy free entry to properties. This costs between £32 and £102. Additional charges are made for educational support. Typical prices start from £2.50 per pupil for half a day to £5.50 for a full day

  • WWT. The Trust has nine centres across the UK where active learning programmes focus on wetland habitats and the creatures that live there. Some visits are free to some sites (for example, Greater London schools can visit the London Wetland Centre in Barnes for free). Costs are charged for other centres

If you require further information, the Learning Outside the Classroom website includes a section on sources of additional help.

Local Universities and HE colleges

An additional and often untapped source of information, help and support may be local universities and other HE institutions. There may also have the benefit of students that can support supervised work, as well as access to equipment, for example, a set of GPS devices.

What you should know before you go

Preliminary planning and permission

There are a number of things to consider when doing the initial organisation for a trip. This is really an ‘initial checklist'.

Initial discussion with HoD, HoY or head teacher

  • Aims and educational objectives (including links to KS3 PoS)

  • Group involved

  • Date, duration and location of activities

  • Plan and itinerary, including any contingency measures

  • Staffing implications and use of parents as helpers, etc

  • Discussion with colleagues of children out of school

  • Put dates in school diary

Consult schools guidance documents and contact LEA, for example Advisor

  • Safety, insurance and local regulations. Insurance cover for staff and pupils

  • LEA guidance (generic and technical advice)

  • Charging procedures and affordability issues

  • Consult guidance prepared by professional associations, for example RGS-IBG, GA

Obtain permission and approval for activity from:

  • Head/governors/advisor/EVC

  • LEA if required

  • Education Committee if necessary

  • Parents and carers

Once some of these early logistical elements are considered, you are then able to get down to the organisational elements for the local visit:

Initial site visit: If you are leading a group it is essential that you visit the site during the planning stage (you can reclaim travel costs from the overall trip budget). The purpose of this visit is to familiarise yourself with the site, complete risk assessments and meet any sites owners, guides or landowners. This will also be the time when you can get involved in some initial geographical research, finding out for example about the history of an area, speaking to people about changes (you may even consider interviewing them ready as a podcast).

Money: Estimate costs and allow a margin (say 10%) for any unforeseen expenses. These should be collected and banked well in advance. Your school is likely to have a policy on charging for trips and what to do about children / parents who cannot afford such trips. Even a local trip may involve some expenditure for hiring school minibuses for example, or even buying in additional staff cover for the visit.

Transport: Ensure that any rail, bus, coach, car and parking arrangements are completed in advance. Make sure that everyone involved is aware of the location and departure/arrival times. If you are taking students in your own or a hired vehicle remember to check your insurance, the condition of the vehicle, school/authority regulations and licensing (especially for minibuses when a license is issued post 1997).

Insurance: Check that the LEA holds public liability for losses against injury, death and property damage. Outline the insurance position in writing to colleagues and parents/carers.

Informing parents/guardians/carers: It is a good idea to send home a letter at the beginning of Year 7 outlining the importance of fieldwork and its place within your school curriculum. That way, hopefully, you can get parents or guardians on your side and they can foresee future trips and potential cost implications. For each trip, you should give information in writing in the form of a consent form. This needs to be signed by parents/carers and then returned to you, including any monies if relevant. The form should always include medical information, any costs, operating guidelines, the location of the visit, contact numbers and departure and arrivals times.

Using the stakeholders

Stakeholders are people who should be consulted or can help assist with the local fieldwork visit.

Parents and carers

Parents and carers can be used as additional adults on school trips, but they should be subject to CRB checking as a precaution beforehand. If parents are assisting in an activity which also involves their own children, do not place them in a position where their duty of care to the group might conflict with their parental role. Ideally, they should be given responsibility for a group that does not include their child.

Local Authority Advisor

There are several different job titles for local authority advisors who can help you with planning learning outside the classroom:

  • Advisor/Consultant for Educational Visits

  • Learning Outside the Classroom Advisor

  • Offsite Visits Advisor or External Visits Advisor

  • Enrichment Visits Advisor

  • Outdoor Education Advisor

Often Advisors will have experience in education, teaching or youth work and in leading high-quality visits. They will generally provide advice and support on risk management in a variety of contexts and have sufficient practical experience to provide generic and/or technical advice on a broad range of activities. They may also be able to organise, facilitate and deliver effective training (for example, for visit leaders and teachers).

Colleagues, formal and informal support networks

An important, but perhaps underutilised source of advice, guidance and resources include:

  • Forums, for example the SLN Geography Teachers' network

  • Colleagues from other schools or regional networks. You can establish links here so that resources and expertise can be shared

Shorter term preparation and planning

Towards the end of the planning phase there are a number of components that make up the final checklist.

Developing a framework. The purpose of this is to include a detailed plan or schedule so that the learning aims and objectives can be realised. Such a plan should not only include specific locations and sites for activities, but also group sizes, etc. Whatever plans are made, be prepared to review them regularly, especially in terms of changing weather, group sizes and staffing.

Resourcing the fieldwork activities. This is all about careful preparation of the resources that will be required for the fieldwork, for example diagrams, maps, handouts and recording sheets. It can also include GIS maps and web pages. You will need to prepare any equipment and check it is functioning, for example, replacing or recharging the batteries in digital cameras.

Preparing the children. This is an important, but often neglected area of the pre-fieldwork preparation. The children themselves need to be inducted and trained in the fieldwork techniques as well as what to expect within an unfamiliar environment. It is possible to use ‘virtual fieldwork' (for example photos and videos) to simulate the location. This can be a particularly important tool for reinforcing health and safety issues or what to wear in terms of appropriate clothing and footwear. Use this also as an opportunity to share the aims and objectives of the fieldwork and to assess any prior learning or experiences (such as from primary school).

At this point staff should be allocated responsibility for any pupils with special needs, or children who may have behavioural problems that could interfere with the smooth running of the trip or visit.

Preparing and resourcing your fieldwork

This section provides a selection of brief ideas for fieldwork, building on the ideas outlined in 'researching your local area' above.

Sample activities

Clone Town?

To what extent is your local town the same or different to other places? There is some concern that all our town and city centre high streets are beginning to become homogenous. By looking at the type and variety of shops near the high street it is possible to see what extent they really are ‘clones'. See the New Economics Foundation websites for more information, or have a look at the full fieldwork activity.

New design for school grounds

Assessing the best places for a wilderness or nature area, seating spaces, greenhouse, active play-space and pond. School grounds are increasingly important not only as green spaces, but as having a more important function as areas for children and young people to relax, socialise and just enjoy being out-of-doors. Start by completing a basic sketch or mental map of the area and then work in small groups to be in charge of creating or managing different zones. This can be supplemented by activities such as environmental quality surveys or even simple wildlife surveys involving quadrats. The Growing Schools website has a number of good resources. There are also resources available on the Learning Through Landscapes website.

How to improve?

Assessing the environmental quality and quality of life of contrasting areas in the local town or village and providing a supporting plan of improvements.

Best place to put renewable energy: Wind farm and solar

Making a judgement on the best places to site different types of renewable energy in the local area. This is a very topical theme with the relatively high costs of energy and fuel. The activity can be carried out at a variety of scales and locations. Wind potential, for example, can be measured using wind speed recorders or your qualitative scales (based on Beaufort descriptors) and compared to a database of averages. Grid sampling methods can be used to compare different locations and see the impact of altitude.


Geocaching is like a treasure hunt adventure which uses a GPS to find caches and clues in the landscape through a high-tech treasure trail.

Urban studies

Most schools are located close to urban areas of some description, making these accessible and familiar locations for fieldwork.

Ecosystem studies

Wherever you go, whether in urban or rural areas, it is very difficult to escape vegetation. There are plenty of examples of small scale habitats from the school grounds and roadside verges to woodlands and river corridors.

Resources you may find useful